[by roy christopher]
"Technology marches on, over you or through you,
take your pick." -- Stewart Brand
As technology marches on, who, besides alarmist Luddites,
is keeping tabs on the changes it's bringing about? One such
person is philosopher Andrew Feenberg -- and he does it with
philosophical pedigree that no one else can claim
and from a critical stance that no other can
maintain. His many books on the subject illuminate numerous
aspects of technology's ever-increasing influence that are so
often overlooked in similar texts, yet he maintains an even
keel: Andrew uses and embraces technology, so his critical
perspective comes from the fray, not the forest.
Let the brief interview that follows serve as an
introduction to Andrew's philosophy of technology. His work
deserves focused attention from a wide readership.
frontwheeldrive: How does your approach to the
philosophy of technology differ from others in the field?
Andrew Feenberg: The main difference is my
background in Frankfurt School Critical Theory. I seem to be
the only person trying to synthesize that tradition and
contemporary technology studies. This leads me in a rather
different direction than most of my colleagues, some of whom
rely more on Heidegger, others on Dewey or democratic
Heidegger has been seeing a resurgence of interest and
has become the philosopher of choice among many web theorists
(e.g., Michael Heim, David
Weinberger , etc.). You're currently
working on a book about his philosophy. What
does Heidegger have to teach us about our relationship with
Heidegger approached technology in two different ways at
different stages in his career. His early work was influenced
by Aristotle's notion of techne and emphasized everyday
practical involvement with things in what he called a "world."
His later work focused on the devastating impact of modern
technology, its power to "de-world." There are important
things to learn from both these approaches although I do not
believe Heidegger is sufficiently concrete and socially aware
to make his own theories do the work of a real critical theory
Marshall McLuhan has seen a revival as well. Who else
would you say deserves renewed attention?
I studied with Marcuse and I certainly think his work
deserves attention. McLuhan is interesting too, of course, but
I am rather skeptical of his theory of sense ratios. Dewey is
also important for us today. The most neglected important
figure is Gilbert Simondon, whose work has influenced me.
You've been involved in researching and developing tools
and strategies for online education since the early 80s. What
still needs to be done in this area?
The major problem as I see it is the poor quality of the
asynchronous discussion forums available to teachers and
students. These forums have barely evolved since the old
Newsgroups of the 1980s. We need education specific designs
that will enhance and facilitate learning. All the effort of
designers of current learning management systems went into
making the presentation of materials and administrative tasks
easier or more attractive, and the part that involves human
contact, the web forum, was ignored. This testifies to a
deplorable attitude toward education.
What are your aims with the TextWeaver project?
To produce a web forum that is appropriate for education.
Is there anything else on which you're working, or other
areas of interest that you'd like to bring up here?
I am doing a lot of photography now. I have an exhibit at
Simon Fraser, where I am currently teaching. The catalogue [PowerPoint document] is
on my web page.