Ihde, Don

Ihde, Don   Technology and the Lifeworld


Written at the heart of the intellectual push toward multiculturalism in the early 1990s, in Technology and the Lifeworld, Don Ihde offers a philosophy of technology that demythologizes pervasive modern assumptions, which skew our contemporary understanding of the role of technology in the 21st century:  modern societies are essentially and drastically distinct from past societies; Nature and Society are distinct and contrasting; and technologies are neutral. By investigating the ways in which technology transforms the environment from both a phenomenological and hermenuetic perspective, Ihde illustrates how all cultures across time and location have been technologically embedded.   Technology, according to Ihde, mediates perception about time and space.   Interestingly, in the first part of the book, Ihde distinguishes between different human-technology relations; in cases in which technology is embodied (eyeglasses), technology is perceptually transparent (I-technology) > World; in hermeneutic interpretations, we are aware of techonological mediation and technology and our relation to it becomes focus of perception I > (technology-world); in alterior relations, technology is perceived as quasi-other that we relate to I > technology – (world); in background relations, technology shapes lifeworld but from the invisible side.   No matter the relation, Ihde ends Part I by making clear that technology transforms the human lifeworld; therefore, technologies are non-neutral.  In Part II, Ihde shifts focus and investigates the ways in which cultures embed technologies.  As he illustrates, cultures are transformed by technology in various ways depending on the ways and rates in which different cultures use and adapt to technologies.  Consequently, technologies are multistable.  Ihde moves toward conclusion with an explanation of the curvatures of the contemporary technological lifeworld created in a large part due to proliferation of image-technologies: pluriculturality; burden of conscious decision, which creates prolieferation of choice, rise in undecidability, concern with reversibility, no sense of closure; a materialization of conceptuality through mathematics and computers, which leads back to a percievability, and  what Ihde calls oscillatory phenomenon.  Ihde ends by recommending ways in which modern sciences can be restructured to preserve this earth we have inherited.


Key Concepts:


Technologies:  artifacts of material culture that we use in various ways within our environment (1); a technological object becomes what it “is” through its uses (70);  technologies do form intentionalities and inclinations within which use-patterns take dominant shape (141); technologies are multistable because different cultures can pick up and use technologies in different ways (164);


Technics:  human action employing artifacts to attain some result within the environment (12)


Technofact:  object in which the very materials themselves have undergone levels of transformation (70);


Technology transfer:  change in use as technology changes context


Phenomenology:  philosophy based on perception and bodily activity; analysis of human experience; study of relation between self and environment (21); provides microperception; phenomenology of human-technology relations attempts to discover structural features of those ambiguous relations (72). 


Hermenuetics:  philosophy based on textual interpretation (21); provides macroperception, which informs and/or orients microperception


Lifeworld:  perception based on senses and based in relations between actional humans and the concrete material world of bodily things and beings, which is available to everyone (37).  Also based on cultural acquisitions of knowledge. 


Pluriculturality:  lifeform arising out of the use of image-technologies catching up to cultures in various ways (164) ; a proliferation in ways of seeing due to relations with technology and ways in which technologies are embedded (174). 


Key Quotes:


What is needed is much is a much more radically demythologized story of the structures and limits of human-technology and of the non-technological possibilities of relation to an environment or “world” (17).


Heidigger’s Being in Time was an account of human spatiality within the World, of human temporality within the World, and of the various structures and dimensions of human-world relations (23). 


Our actions are embedded in the multiple ways we interact with and presuppose our technologies, yet this multiplicity remains perceptually and praxically ambiguous (68). 


Postphenomenology:  Essays in the Postmodern Context


Writing in response to the contemporary trend to conceive of everything as a text and as socially constructed, in Postphenomenology, Ihde focuses on the intimate connection between technology and culture and what he calls a “perceptual-bodily referentiality” (6).  Drawing on a method of variation theory, postphenomenology can be considered a nonfoundational and notranscendental phenomenology that investigates our lifeworld and how technologies act as non-neutral “cultural instruments’ embedded in daily life praxis (13).  In Part 1 of this book, the collected essays investigate the various perspectives that have taken shape  in modernity and postmodernity.  Looking to the Renaissance at the conceived birth of modernity, Ihde investigates the work of Leonardi da Vinci, who Ihde claims is responsible for stimulating a new way of technological seeing, which is evident in his imagined technologies and guided by his technological spirit—“imagined world as giant machine set in motion by spirtual forces and controlled in its perfect mechanisms by a superior intelligence that has arranged everything according to mathematical laws” (17).  Da Vinci, according to Ihde, was responsible for his visual art, manifested by his visual imaginiation which transformed and reformulated perception itself toward the notion of objectivity (18).  Ihde also credits da Vinci with the invention of the observer (19). 


Ihde also turns back to Christopher Columbus’ contributions and credits Columbus for stimulating a bird’s eye view from above that contrasted with other cultures’ embodied ways of seeing and reflects “the European assumption…that instruments must mediate controlled interactions with nature” (24).  Today, Ihde argues we have a type of seeing he calls the “compound eye,” which is series of multi and alternative way of seeing the world or can be thought of most simply as  “multiple vision” or a “bricolage of the pluricultural” (29-30). 


Ihde also argues that there is no unitary Technology; rather there “is a multistable and diverse and ambiguous set of multiple directions whose ends are probably not predictable any more than any historical-cultural development can be adequately predicted” (34).  Our job is to begin to conceive of technologies as an ensemble, a culture, whose dimensions are not only economic and productive but also cultural and existential. 


Image technologies, according to Ihde, reflect a perceptual dimension of contemporary life that has the advantages of immediacy, pattern recognition, and gestalt quality (43)  as well as in its capacity to fragment, deconstruct, only to reconstruct in a series of often juxtaposed, nonlinear imagery, reinforces the bricolage quality of what is shown” (53).


Ihde also argues that although modern science can be marked by the development of experimental method, it is also marked by the essential embodiment of instrumentalation, ie. technologies (57). 


In Part II, Ihde investigates how a “variationally centered practice of phenomenology” operates (71).  He begins by demonstrating that culture is perceived through an interrelation of micro and macroperceptual dimensions.  In the post-modern, Western context, Ihde shows that perception is now both embodied and situated and that a hermeneutic perspective allows us to transpose between the two positions (87).  This perspective orders our current lifeworld. 


Ihde credits Heidigger for showing us that technology is “a way of seeing, of revealing a world” (113). 


Questions Addressed: 


How do technologies shape perspective and how does perspective shape culture?  How and how does technology and culture interact to order our world?  How has Eurocentric views about perception and technology influenced our understanding of modernity?  How would we categorize the postmodern perspective and how does this new perspective shape the way we understand and order the world?  What should our goals be in investigationg the interaction between technology and culture?  What methodologies can be used in this investigation?




Key concepts:

Postmodernism—proliferating pluralism, loss of centers and foundationalism; obsessions with text,  hyperawareness of “invention”—social constructed world;


Technoscience—reveals a perceptually identified microworld and macroworld experienced through mediation of instruments; technoscience has always been cross-cultural


Quincentennial—rereading of an event that is neceassarily situated in both nostalgia and ambiguity (21)


Postmodern pluriculture—for every contact the Euro-American technologized culture makes with the Other, there returns a countercurrent of the culture connected (28);

technologically mediated pluriculture has these characteristics: multiplicity of imagery; fragmentation into bits; fluidity in oand out of presence; and bricolage character (64)


Key Quotes:


It was Leonardo da Vinci who helped to make that “technological” way of seeng into a gestalt which could be refined and extended, even to the current and still perspectival respresentations that today capture our fascination” (19). 


What is needed is a deeper insight into the ways in which the ensemble of technologies related to cultural gestalts, particularly those of perspective adopted and of an implicit view of nature (26). 


Technologies must be understood phenomenologically, i.e., as belonging in different ways to our experience and use of technologies, as a human technology relation, rather than abstractly conceiving of them as mere objects (34). 


The dimensions of technology transfers are never simply economic or productive, but multidimensional and involve basic cultural and existential interchange (34). 


Technologies in ensemble are probably more like cultures than like tools (42)


In the modern world,…the network is what is beginning to make us aware of the displacement of our chauvinistic Eurocentrism…(114)


What is needed is not a rejection of the deep and essentially phenomenological insights into technology as a culturally embedded phenomenon wit its different gestalt features, but a deepening and more complex appreciation of all the facets of our technologically textured mode of life.  And that must include the explicit recognition of both the politics of our artifacts, and the demythologization of nostalgia and romantic views of previous times (114).


All histories are not revealing histories but concealing histories …(toward end)


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