Module 1 - Background
"Invention is the mother of necessities.”
- Marshall McLuhan
Questions We Ask Ourselves
Marshall McLuhan's saying, "Invention is the mother of necessities", is an example of wit. How is it witty? What is the original saying? You need wit to think about technology, for wit demands creative thinking. And once you start thinking creatively, you start to see the effect of technology on us all. The usual saying is, "Necessity is the mother of invention." That makes sense: right now, for example, the world may be running out of oil, and as a result, the necessity of finding a new energy supply will lead to new inventions. Hence the necessity (need for energy) is the mother of invention. But McLuhan says that invention itself can be the mother of necessities: invention is the mother of necessities. He has a point. How can we live without inventions like refrigerators, washing machines, cars, computers, much less jets, the Internet, dams, electrical grids, cell phones etc? The answer is that we can't: these inventions have become necessities. Technology in general is a necessity for us. Society as we know it cannot exist without technology now. Once we see this effect in our lives, we are led to further questions about the effect of technology on us all:
Have we moved too far away from nature with our inventions?
Do our technological inventions control our lives now?
Is technology changing human nature itself to something beyond "human"? Are traditional societies doomed to extinction by the effect of technology on them? Is technological artificiality becoming a fact of life in beauty, food, clothing, and even attitudes?
Is the modern corporation good or bad?
Why are there terrorists?
What future technologies will change the world even more?
Our attempts to answer such questions are what this course is about. The course will deal with where technology came from, where it is now and where it will lead us. Will the technological society end in an Apocalypse? An apocalypse is a dystopia, an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives. Or will it end in an Eden, a place of complete bliss and delight? An Eden is a utopia, an imaginary and indefinitely remote place of ideal perfection
especially in laws, government, and social conditions. Or will technology have some less drastic effect? You will decide for yourself.
We will look at technology past, present and future in the course to give us a sense to the big questions of life, which are:
Where have we come from?
Why are we here?
Where are we going?
We will rephrase the questions to:
Where did technology come from?
What is the effect of technology now?
Where is technology taking us in the future?
Technology originally was the result of our living on planet Earth, where the environment was often hostile. Animals could threaten us, the weather could threaten us, the lack of food could threaten us, the lack of water could threaten us, and so on. We invented weapons, fire, the wheel, clothing, farming, wells and dams, etc., to deal with these threats. Technology was born. It developed over the centuries to the world we have now of space ships, jets, massive ships on the oceans, trains, trucks, cars, huge cities, suburbs, enormous electrical grids, power stations, highways, factory farms, manufacturing factories, office towers, dams, artificial lakes, etc. It is a world we take for granted, for we are all born into it. In order to understand it, we need to look at it more closely and creatively.
What inventions have become necessities in your life?
What do we mean by technology? According to one definition, technology is just "a piece of equipment or a technique for performing a particular activity." That does not sound too important. But another definition says that it is "the application of knowledge to extend human capabilities." That is...
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