I’m currently at the end of my second day at the fount of information and innovation in digital media and composition that is DMAC at The Ohio State University. What happened to DMAC Day One, you ask? Lost to the sands of time (or the exhaustion of brain, more likely). In the spirit of sticking to a schedule, I’ll leave off an attempt to reconstruct Day One. In fact, I’ll abandon the task of reconstructing Day Two as well, even though it’s fertile territory for recording here: we experimented a bit with audio editing and watched parts of two documentaries (Living Proof: HIV and the Pursuit of Happiness and Errol Morris’ Fast, Cheap and Out of Control) on our way to capturing and dumping digital video footage.
Despite the centrality of those tasks to our work today, I find my brain returning to a minute comment made by Cindy Selfe this morning in our discussion of texts about multimodality. Cindy moves from the practical (what do multimodal texts look like and how would they be published?) to the theoretical (in what ways would LaClau suggest strategies with which to address the schism between composition and literature?) with aplomb. In one of these seamless moves, she mentioned the way in which Heidegger might have come at a listener’s attenuation to a sonic text. I think Cindy was on her way to another point, but I couldn’t help but linger with Heidegger for a moment. Once upon a graduate school time, I read a lot of Martin H.—Being and Time, Introduction to Metaphysics, etc., etc. I must have spent three semesters working with his essay “The Question Concerning Technology,” but hadn’t, until this morning, ever considered the ways that Heidegger might bring some interesting insights to the definitions of technology that we’re currently wading through. [In truth, I’m fudging the significant differences between technology and media here. Cut me some slack.]
If memory serves, Heidegger makes a couple of important moves in his essay. The first is to remind the reader of the etymology of the word “technology,” which springs from the Greek techne. As one of many points he extrapolates, Heidegger reads techne as linked to the artistic practice of bringing something into its true being, or revealing its nature. [The level of oversimplification here is quite stunning; MH is surely spinning in his grave.] The root of technology, then, is in art and philosophy—a far cry from the means to an end that we tend to classify it as today. The second important move, then, is to examine what happens when we recognize something, anything, as solely a means to an end. Here, “technology” becomes a kind of reductive, instrumental thinking—yet another way to complicate our everyday vernacular expression of the term. We might phrase this to resonate with a recurring question here at DMAC, what is lost when we see technology as only technology? Heidegger uses the example of a river, which, under a logic of technology (means/end thinking) is nothing but a continuous source of power when paired with the appropriate machinery. When we see the river as nothing but a power source, we lose everything else that makes a river a river: its aesthetic qualities, its role in an ecological system, its metaphoric value, etc. In essence, we’ve lost the true nature of the river, over and above its productive function.
So, if the logic of technology has hidden the true nature of technology—its potential for artistic and philosophical value—then can we use manifestations of that same technology (computers, video, audio, programs, etc.) to reveal it? And what would that look like?
And to rescue myself from ending with a question I can’t answer, I give you a multimodal approach to Heidegger’s essay itself, via John Zuern at the University of Hawaii.