Feenberg focuses on tech

Nov 28, 2002, vol. 25, no. 7
By Carol Thorbes

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A philosopher who professes to be neither a technophobe nor a technocrat has been awarded a Canada Research Chair in philosophy of technology at Simon Fraser University.

Andrew Feenberg (left), the son of a nuclear physicist and one of the pioneers of online education, will seek to answer the question: Is technology helping or hindering societal progress?

Feenberg's early sensitivity to the technology-society relation and his involvement in the early development of on-line education have given him a critical eye for the merits and drawbacks of technological evolution.

“I spent my whole childhood being far more aware of how the atom bomb changed society than most,” says Feenberg, currently a philosophy professor at San Diego State University. “One would have to be blind not to notice that ever more powerful technologies of destruction are ever easier to manufacture. Yet I would emphasize that society impacts technological development as much as the reverse.”

This is one of the preliminary findings of Feenberg's approach to tracking the evolution of the technology-societal relation.

Through his research for a book examining the theories of Herbert Marcuse and Martin Heidegger, Feenberg is seeking a deeper understanding of the implications of technology for human freedom.

Marcuse and Heidegger are two late, famous critics of technology. Feenberg was a student of Marcuse.

Feenberg's use of case studies to assess the interactions between public will, economic forces and technical innovation, and his examination of online education have led him to another initial observation.

“Major technological changes offer opportunities to redefine the activities they support,” explains Feenberg.

“Once the telephone and the Internet reached the general public, they were adapted to the demand for personal communication. There is a pattern here, which I'd describe as going from information to communication. I believe this pattern has democratic implications, which I intend to explore further.”

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