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October 2008
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Technology, Society and The Enviornment: Week 5

Today is the Canadian Thanksgiving Holiday Monday so my class has been cancelled. I decided to postpone my blog on last weeks class until today as a bridge between the gap in class. This week were tasked to read much of Vanderburg’s book Living in the Labyrinth of Technology before we head back into class next week.

Vanderburg continued with the culture-based connectedness this week. He spoke about science, and coming from an engineer, it was interesting that science was not necessarily the absolute truth either. He did not say whether he believed religion, politics, economics, or culture was the answer but it was interesting that he inferred that all of these played a role in what our ‘ultimate’ truth was.

Our main focus in the lecture was Myths. Not a myth in the traditional, storytelling sense but as defined by Vanderburg “the interpolations and extrapolations that give us confidence to do anything.” The best definition I’ve found on-line comes from Princeton Universities Wordnet, which defines a myth as “a traditional story accepted as history; serves to explain the world view of a people.”

Pre-Industrial Revolution the Sacred or Central Myth of a society was cultural unity and hierarchy. Life was about Kings, Queens, Nobles and Peasants. They all believed in religion, learned from their ancestors and followed in their footsteps. We symbolize all that is known and anything that is unknown we try to symbolize as known (Vanderburg’s example was a tree. We know that a tree will not jump out in front of the car while driving. Why? Well we know what a tree does, i.e we can symbolize what it can do. But we also symbolize what it cannot do, not because we know what it cannot do, but because we know what it can do).

But what happened when the world industrialized?

The goal was to come full circle this lecture. To see that the technology-based connectedness now dominated the culture-based connectedness. During the Industrial Revolution the central or sacred myth was capital (money). Without capital we would not want machines to make goods quicker, but with capital there was a desire for increased profit.

Supporting this sacred myth of capital was the dominant myth of progress. Again to become a better society, a wealthier society, we had to move forward, be more efficient, and simplify labour further. This was further supported by the three great myths:

  1. Material Progress would lead to social progress: We would all be better citizens if we individually had more capital
  2. Hardwork: During the Industrial Revolution there was a movement away from the belief that God made you virtuous. Now individuals began to believe that working hard would make you virtuous.
  3. Happiness: To be happy in life one had to have material comforts.

Again all of this was only possible with an influx of money.

Vanderburg concluded the lecture that when capital became the sacred myth that it had weakend the culture-based connectedness. However, even though the culture-based connectedness was weakened, cultural unity had strengthened.