Monday, August 29, 2005


1. Systematization

Isolated, decontextualized technical objects must be combined with other technical objects and re-embedded in the natural environment in order to function as an actual device. Systematization is the process of making these combinations and connections. The underdetermined character of the final product of any technological development leaves room for social interests and values to intervene in the process of systematization. As decontextualized elements are combined, these interests and values orient choices and insure congruence between technology and society at the technical level itself. The process of systematization is central to designing the tightly coupled networks of modern technological societies but plays a lesser role in traditional societies where technologies may be more loosely related.

2. Mediation

In all societies, ethical and aesthetic mediations supply the simplified technical object with new secondary qualities that seamlessly reinsert it into its new social context. The ornamentation of artifacts and their investment with ethical meaning is integral to production in all traditional cultures. Only modern industrial societies distinguish production from aesthetics through indifference to the social insertion of their objects, the substitution of packaging for an inherent aesthetic elaboration, or aesthetic functionalism. From this results the artificial separation of technique and aesthetics characteristic of our societies. Ethical limits too are overthrown in the breakdown of religious and craft traditions. In any case, however marginalized, mediations remain an essential aspect of the technical process.

3. Vocation

The autonomization of the technical subject is overcome in the recognition of the human significance of vocation, the acquisition of craft. In vocation, the subject is no longer isolated from objects, but is transformed by its own technical relation to them. This relation exceeds passive contemplation or external manipulation and involves the worker as bodily subject and member of a community in the life of its objects. The idea of vocation or "way" is an essential dimension of even the most humble technical practices in some traditional cultures, such as the Japanese, but tends to be artificially reserved for professions such as medicine in most industrial societies.

4. Initiative

Finally, to positioning as the basis of strategic control of the work process and the consumer there corresponds the praxis of voluntary cooperation in the coordination of effort. In precapitalist societies, such cooperation was often regulated by tradition or paternal authority. Collegiality is an alternative to bureaucratic control in modern societies with widespread if imperfect applications in the organization of professionals such as teachers and doctors. Reformed and generalized, it has the potential for reducing alienation through substituting self-organization for control from above. In the sphere of consumption, informal coordination often appears as the users of products appropriate them for unintended purposes.