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Modern Technology Verses The Thinking Man Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 3043 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Humanity as a whole has witnessed through their own efforts, great advances in the creation, distribution and application of ideas, information and technologies designed with the intention to uplift the overall standard of living. With the use of these technologies mankind has entered the postmodernism era where the use of modern technology has become an integral way of life.

The use and consumption of modern media and the significance of the relationship between humanity and technology however comes at a price. The thoughts of how humanity relates to their own technological creations and mediated messages, the relationship between humanity and nature and the essence of technology with its inherent problems and possible solutions were advanced by the philosopher Martin Heidegger. His writings influenced the thinking of how mankind has allowed itself to become slaves to its own creation by becoming passive consumers of products and ideologies mediated by the producers of media and technology. The rise of consumerism, capitalism and its social implications were also issues of grave concern to Heidegger.

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His ideas and influence can be seen in the writings of philosophers Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno who expanded the ideas of Heidegger to describe various aspects of the social effects of the postmodern era and the influence of modern media. Taken from the view of how technology assists humanity to access the effects of media in contemporary life, the relationships between the producer and the consumer, the creator and the created, the message and the medium for the message and the relationships between the message itself and the consumer is one of great fascination and complexity.

This essay is an attempt to show these relationships, how they were formed, why they were formed and its effects on postmodern society through the ideas of Heidegger with support from the aforementioned philosophers.

In his essay The Question Concerning Technology (1977) Heidegger establishes that in order to understand the essence of technology a free relationship with it must first be established. To develop this free relationship the proper use of language is of utmost importance. The true meaning of the word ‘technology’ according to Heidegger (1977:13 ) “is a mode of revealing.” He then establishes that the word ‘technology’ is made up of two parts: technie and poiesis. Technie, according to Heidegger (1977) is defined as the skill or work of the craftsman and is inclusive of the fine arts. Poiesis is the process of bringing forth.

Heidegger argues that humanity has forgotten the true meaning of technology, which it is a mode of revealing, and this lack of understanding has caused humanity, through this distorted relationship, to create technologies that fulfil a specific capitalistic purpose. Heidegger suggests, that (1977:5) “modern technology … is a means to an end.” and humanity has allowed itself become the servants of technology. The creation of passive observers who have lost the ability to be revealers themselves instead of active participants is the end result.

Heidegger uses the concept of enframing to describe the relationship between man and nature. Enframing is a process whereby man can structure nature, human relationships, mediated messages and technology to instil premeditated agendas and to increase financial wealth. Heidegger explains that since modern technology created for contemporary living is used to serve a capitalistic purpose the essence of technology is enframing and this method of classification must in his word (1977:23) “… employ exact physical science.”

Heidegger also goes on to illustrate how humanity, through enframing, can also have adverse effects on nature by challenging nature to reveal itself as commodities to be used. Heidegger (1977) makes comparisons between the practices of a peasant and coal mining. The peasant is in the practice of letting (1977:15) “the forces of growth” take its course in the process of producing crops and in turn the peasant cares for and maintains the land. The land is not forced to produce and there it is a harmonious relationship between man and nature. With the use of mechanized tools, coal mining has made the land to be seen as a commodity to produce at (1977:15) “maximum yield at the minimum expense”. This according to Heidegger (1977) challenges and forces nature to produce financial wealth and the land is seen as a commodity to be exploited.

Heidegger uses the term ‘standing reserve’ to describe resources that are stored for human consumption and use. Furthermore he states that everything can be seen as a form of standing reserve by saying that (1977:17) “everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand.”. He goes on to give the example of the dam built on the river Rhine as a standing reserve for hydro-electrical power to the detriment of the river and the surrounding areas. Nature can also be a commodity to be brought, modified and sold. Plants are seen not for their beauty but as a standing reserve as medicines for pharmaceuticals, animals are captured and kept in zoos for viewing entertainment and stones are collected and sold for construction. Human activities are now also termed as industries to be exploited. The entertainment, music, art, leisure and media industries are a small example of the extent that the powerful concepts of enframing and standing reserve have on contemporary life. Human beings, especially in the world of advertising, can also be seen as human resources to be also used and exploited.

Although Heidegger was gravely concerned with the direction humanity is heading because of what he saw as its disregard for nature and loss of the true meaning of the essence of technology he offered a possible solution to what he saw as a frightening dilemma? The rediscovery of nature and the practice of not being dominated by technology. Heidegger (1977) also suggested a rediscovery of the true meaning of the word technology and having a free and healthier relationship with it.

We will now look at how the ideas of Heidegger the present media, production, distribution, consumption and technological environments and its effects on contemporary life.

In modern contemporary life, individuals and groups are inundated and coerced with messages and ideologies from various media houses, conglomerates and corporate entities into buying or believing ideas of what they should think about themselves, their social groups and society as a whole. These messages are transported through various media.

Heidegger’s view of our relationship to technology is one of enslavement. The fact that humanity is being graphically portrayed according to Heidegger as being (1977:4) “… unfree and chained to technology …” gives the impression that there must be an entity that was able to enslave humanity. This entity is the dominating force of the owners of media production and distribution that have the ultimate agenda to control the emotional, psychological and financial futures of its audience. The schema is basically capitalist in nature and is designed to keep the viewer or listener as a loyal, passive follower and consumer of the goods and services offered by the producer. Heidegger (1977) was correct in portraying technology as a contrivance, a device. This device is not however, forced upon the population. It is, in fact, eased into their consciousness. Marcuse (2004) noted that the overall strategy of media producers is one of identification of the beliefs of the people. The population are then, according to Marcuse (2004: 67) “… trained to identify their faiths with them.” This is the portal which Heidegger’s theories on technological dominance come through and the effects of media are felt.

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The mass media uses the science of enframing to emotionally divide, stereotype and enslave the loyal follower into believing that a product, concept, gadget or idea would give them piece of mind and a sense of security. For the producers of media enframing is a powerful ally who primary duty according to Heidegger (1977:27) is the “… regulating and securing of the standing-reserve …”

Heidegger’s use of the term ‘standing-reserve’ is an effective description of the consumers of mass media. The population is categorized by advertisers along the demographics of where they live, age group, gender, social status, income and other factors. Commercials or concepts are then targeted at these sectors through a variety of media. This concept of showing the differences in any given population to serve financial goals was not missed by Adorno and Horkheimer (2002:97) who state that “Something is provided for everyone so that no one can escape; differences are hammered home and propagated.”

In advertising, the population is looked upon as a human resource who, if properly coerced would buy into the capitalist’s agendas. The effect created from this form of advertising to the targeted audience from these messages is that the advertised product is essential for contemporary life and once acquisition of the new product is completed they would be at the forefront of their social group. The attachment placed on the feeling of acquiring the possession is actually not derived from the consumer but it is, in actuality, induced from the outside via the messages from the advertiser. The relationship between the consumer and the product is one of a slave to a master where the consumer feels that they must have the product to fulfil an emotional need. If the product is destroyed or misplaced the consumer may feel lost without the use of the product. An example of this kind of enslavement by technology can be seen in the rise, popularity and reliance of global positioning systems or GPS in vehicles and smartphones. In the area of transportation GPS systems has replaced the use of maps. These systems are programmed to do the thinking for the user, communicating with the user and giving directions to the locations of the best restaurants, the easiest traffic routes to take and also where the nearest gas stations are. The user is not required to think but have been conditioned to rely on pre-programmed instructions from an external, mechanical source.

We now look at Heidegger’s thoughts on the dangers of our relationship with technology and some of its effects in the postmodern age.

The view of Heidegger in regards to the concept of the standing-reserve gives rise to media producers taking advantage of the apparent gullibility of the consumer. The constant differentiations that distinguish peoples for all walks of life are being constantly broadcasted by the dominant media. There is a danger of a person of any race being typecast by certain behavioural patterns that the media claims through its broadcasting to be the typical behaviour of that race. This is but one of the aspects that philosophers Adorno and Horkheimer used to coin the term ‘The Culture Industry’ defining the industry as (2002:95) “… the false identity of universal and particular.” Adorno and Horkheimer (2002) continue their analysis of the media landscape by discovering that producers of media adhere to formulas that produce the greatest financial gain. These methods include stereotyping the behavioural the roles of the various demographics.

One of Heidegger’s the greatest fears concerns humanity’s relationship to technology and its disregard for nature. He saw that consumerism and the concept of objects being viewed as standing reserve will become so much a part of the emotional and social landscape that it will become all-consuming. The threat, according to Heidegger (1977:33) of “… everything will present itself only in the unconcealedness of standing-reserve.” has been gradually coming to pass. Heidegger (1977) gives the examples of how words like ‘industry’ are now being attached to various human endeavours, an example of the use of human resources and the profitability forest to supply wood to various industries. He concludes that man is also responsible for the way he things about himself and his surroundings.

An example of the power of the standing reserve on a world-wide scale can be seen in the rise and control of the American mass media that has dominated the lesser known media landscapes due to its economic power and reach. For these lesser known cultures, due to their lack of sufficient funding to buffer themselves from the onslaught of a well-funded, hyper-commericalized and heavily-mediated American media machine, have found themselves at the mercy of surrendering and at times disassociating themselves from their indigenous cultural norms in favour of the fabricated needs they consume via the mediated American cultural standard. The effects of this bombardment by outside sources have led to a change in the wants and needs of weaker populations. Due to the lack of proper resistance they will begin to aspire to the mediated American wants and needs, aspire to the American standard of beauty and absorb in ever-increasing volumes the cultural norms, language patterns and political views of the dominant media landscape. The American broadcasts to the weaker cultures however are only a construct of their culture industry. This construct can be seen in through the view of Adorno and Horkheimer (2002:108) who state “… the culture industry remains in the entertainment business. Its control of consumers is mediated by entertainment.” With this is mind producers of American media, are seeing populations from different countries who consume American content as merely the standing reserve of potential customers. The thoughts of Adorno and Horkheimer are similar to Heidegger in the belief that in postmodern life individuals are losing the ability to think for themselves due to outside influences.

This ability to be influenced by the media in terms of what to buy, what to eat, who to admire and when to shop are all effects of the process of enframing. The blanket marketing of goods and services to the consumer creates a situation where the individual is lost in the comodified sterotype of the typical purchaser of that product. The originality of the individual it therefore lost. The rapidity of how the message from outside is absorbed is a reflection of how the masses see themselves in relation to how they want to be seen by society. The more the masses allow themselves to be enframed by outside influences the easier it will be the masses to be manipulated into an identity they were previously foreign to.

Consumerism, in regards to the acquisition of gaining access to information, falls under the scope of technology being all-encompassing, encouraging the user to be always connected to information. The Blackberry smartphone has become one of status symbols of postmodern living. Under the guise of convenience and easy access to the internet the Blackberry smartphone encourages the consumer to be always connected to online content; the internet provides various paths of easy access to information and communication. In the postmodern age, access to information is marketed to be best enjoyed through a medium that is ubiquitous. The effects of being always connected to information makes, for the producer of content, an easier and more accurate way of tracking the viewing and listening habits of the consumer. Thus there is the possibility to accurately target specific commercials to users. Regarding the features of the Blackberry and the promise of easy access to multiple forms of information, the relationship between the consumer and the medium of information is even stronger than that of an ordinary handset because the Blackberry is seen as a necessary postmodern convenience. Due to the strong influence of the media in regards to mediating messages regarding the acquisition of certain possessions and that their possession constitutes the baseline standard that an individual has properly integrated themselves into the postmodern age, the choosing of not acquiring these possessions may seem, to the person whose goal is to attain possession of these assists, as irrational. This ‘technological rationality’, how we relate to technology, is a social process whereby according to Marcuse (2004) the producers of the culture industry give to the passive consumer goods that the consumer thinks they need but in reality, the need was mediated from the producer.

In the final analysis the same power that is has gripped the masses regarding the skewed relation to technology is the same power that can liberate humanity from it. Heidegger was very keen on questioning humanity’s relationship with technology. He was convinced that humanity can liberate itself from the clutches of technology. According to Heidegger (1977) his belief that humanity can be saved from the dangers of technology, not by creating better technologies and facing the danger head on but by re-establishing the original relationship with the word ‘technology’ will bring humanity in realignment with nature. Heidegger states this can be done by (1977:33) “… human reflection … ” He continues to state that when humanity reflects and continues to question the true meaning of technology the rediscovery of the meanings of ‘techne’ and ‘poiesis’ will come forth. He was of the belief that since humanity was once close to nature especially before the postmodern age we have the responsibility to rediscover our relation to nature. He was also of the belief in the use of technologies that would not place extraordinary demands on the environment. In his essay (1977) the use of a windmill was used as an example to show the harmony between technology and nature.


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