Final Lecture of the season: a discussion of “On Technology and Life”


The Graduate Institute’s 2020 summer lecture series ended on Tuesday night, July 21st, with a presentation entitled, On Technology and Life. Introduced by current Associate Dean for Graduate Programs Ned Walpin, faculty members David McDonald and Topi Heikkero discussed the role of technology in modern life.  

The conversation centered on Albert Borgmann’s text Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life. Published in 1984, the book introduces the idea of the Device Paradigm, which Borgmann claims is the pattern of modern technology. In his account, a device conceals the means—the “machinery”—while making a commodity available and thereby diminishing the need for ongoing human engagement. The two faculty members discussed the ways in which humans rely on technology to survive and live more comfortable lives. They then went on to speculate about where we cross the line between productive or helpful technology and technology that alienates us from each other and ourselves.  

As the alternative to a device-oriented way of life, Borgmann puts forward the idea of focal practice. This is where a person commits to an effort-driven and skillful task. Rather than envisioning a return to a world without technology, Borgmann suggests dedicating oneself to practices which provide a center for human life and allow one to live more deliberately by connecting one to their society and environment. Running, he suggests, is an excellent example because it helps a person to run through and be a part of their environment, and can overcome the distinction between means and ends that is so prominent in the device paradigm.  

After about 45 minutes of discussion, Mr. Heikkero and McDonald took questions from the audience. These questions propelled the subject forward and easily sustained the conversation until 8:30pm MT, a healthy 2-hour session.  

This year’s summer lecture series was held online and in addition to lectures, offered thematic conversations between faculty members. The response has been positive, and we may see more discussions from the faculty in the coming semesters in place of lectures or scattered throughout the semester.  

Thank you for joining us for this summer’s series! If you missed it, keep your eye on the SJC YouTube page. The recording will be posted within the week.  

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