Nick Carr: Technology below and beyond

InsightaaS: Nicholas Carr’s Rough Type blog was very active in April, with eight posts in a two-week period, most of which would provide excellent input to Across the Net. Two weeks ago, we provided a link to Carr’s “The myth of the endless ladder;” here, we look at “Technology below and beyond.”  In this post, Carr examines the implications of a recent lecture by Bruno Latour. Latour is quoted here as stating that an elevated regard for the “laws” of economics have resulted in “a feeling of helplessness and for a few people who benefit from it an immense enthusiasm together with a dumbness of the senses.”Carr argues that “what Latour says about our current conception of economics goes equally well for our current conception of technology,” concluding with the observation that “When technological progress comes to be seen as a transcendent, implacable force, a force beyond human fashioning, it begins to foreclose opportunities at least as often as it opens them. It starts to hem us in.”

“Neither helplessness nor unbounded enthusiasm and indifference to consequences would have allowed humans to inhabit the earth for very long,” observed Bruno Latour in a lecture in Copenhagen in February. “Rather a solid pragmatism, a limited confidence in human cunning, a sane respect for the powers of nature, a great care invested to protect the fragility of human enterprise – these appear to be the virtues for dealing with first nature. Care and caution: a totally mundane grasp of the dangers and of the possibilities of this world of below.”

We live in two worlds, Latour says. There’s first nature, the earthly “world of below,” and there’s second nature, the transcendent “world of beyond.” Second nature reflects our yearning for a world “more solid, less transitory, less perishable” than that of the earth. Through most of history, second nature manifested itself in myth and religion. Now, argues Latour, it manifests itself in the “laws” of economics…

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