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Review: What Things Do (Part 3)

This is part three of a review of the book What Things Do: Philosophical Reflections on Technology, Agency, and Design. Read part 1 for the overview.

Chapter 3, "Postphenomenology" has a lot that isn't of particular interest for designers, although it does help set the stage for the author's reflections in later chapters. Like in most of the book, the author, Peter-Paul Verbeek, focuses on a single philosopher, in this case Don Ihde. Ihde is a postphenomenologist, which means he refutes the ideas laid out in chapters one and two by Jaspers and Heidegger respectively with regard to technology. Which is to say that technology does not alienate people from themselves, nor deny them a meaningful place to exist.

In postphenomenological thinking, "Human beings can only experience the world by relating to it." There is no "subject" and "object" (human and thing) as there is in classical thinking, but instead "subject and object, or human beings and world, constitute each other...Reality arises in relations, as do the human beings who encounter it."

For Ihde, "Things...are not neutral intermediaries between humans and the world, but rather mediators: they actively mediate this relation." Ihde has a term for this: technological intentionality by which he means that "technologies have a certain directionality, an inclination or trajectory that shapes the ways in which they are used." The example is writing. People write differently with a quill, pen, typewriter, or word processor. "[T]he technologies in question promote or evoke a distinct way of writing," Verbeek notes. Technologies, have their own "implicit user's manual."

Things can only be understood through the relationship that people have to them. Technologies have no identity outside of their use and can only be understood in this context. The same technology can be put to different uses in different contexts. Ihde calls this multistability. A single technology can be stable in multiple ways, in multiple contexts.

In part 4: What role does technology play in how people interpret reality?

Originally posted at Sunday, November 19, 2006 | Comments (0) | Trackback (0)

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Review: What Things Do (Part 2)

This is part two of a review of the book What Things Do: Philosophical Reflections on Technology, Agency, and Design. Read part 1 for the overview.


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