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Man without technology ... is not man

Any stretch of time that deserves a name of its own--an age, an era, an epoch--must have at least a few distinct characteristics that make it stand out from the past. The problem is that all the features that the Khannas invoke to emphasize the uniqueness of our era have long been claimed by other commentators for their own unique eras. The Khannas tell us that "technology no longer simply processes our instructions on a one-way street. Instead, it increasingly provides intelligent feedback." How is that different from Daniel Boorstin's bombastic pronouncement in 1977 that "the Republic of Technology where we will be living is a feedback world"? And the Khannas' admonition that "rather than view technology and humanity as two distinct domains, we must increasingly appreciate the dense sociotechnical nexus in which they constantly shape each other"--how is this different from what Ortega y Gasset wrote more eloquently in 1939: "Man without technology ... is not man"?

The idea of hybridity that the Khannas assume to be their sexy and original insight has been with us for a long time--long before social media and biotechnology. While some dismiss such theorists of hybridity as Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway, who have questioned the epistemological foundations of the modern scientific enterprise, as being on the wrong side of the Science Wars, hybridity is by no means a postmodernist idea. Here is Daniel Callahan--a respected bioethicist who can hardly be accused of PoMo transgressions-- writing in 1971: "We have to do away with a false and misleading dualism, one which abstracts man on the one hand and technology on the other, as if the two were quite separate kinds of realities.... Man is by nature a technological animal; to be human is to be technological.... When we speak of technology, this is another way of speaking about man himself in one of his manifestations."

-- Evgeny Morozov


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