So how to understand human-technology relations? The first important step to take here is to see that technologies are in fact not part of the world, but part of our relations with the world. They are media, mediating how human beings are there in their world and how the world can be there for human beings. They let us experience the world in specific ways and let us be present in the world in specific ways. The American thinker Don Ihde has made an analysis of various ways in which technologies can, in fact, play a role somewhere between humans and the world. First of all, we can embody a technology.
Like a pair of glasses that you wear and you don’t look at them, but you look through them to the world. Enabling us, for instance, to read the text even when we are a little bit older. Secondly, there is a hermeneutical relation, where technologies give us an interpretation of the world. A thermometer doesn’t give you a sensation, it gives you a number that you need to interpret order to understand, for instance, if somebody has a fever or not. Technology is actually more on the side of the world, than on the side of the humans. It represents the world for us. Thirdly, there is an alterity relation, where technology is a quasi-other.
We interact with the technology, and the world behind it is not that important then. Like an ATM that gives you money. You interact with the machine, and the world behind the machine is not relevant in the context of taking money from an ATM. Fourth, technologies can play a role at the background of our experience. Then they form a context, they are not experience themselves, but they contextualize, as it were, our perceptions and our actions. For instance, the fact that we have lights in our houses which of course has also enabled us to change the rhythm of day and night.
So four relations between humans and technologies in the work of Don Ihde that help us to understand what technologies do to humans. If you take a closer look at them, you see technology moving ever further away from the human, as it were, from being embodied, to being read, to being interacted with, to being the context of our experience. At the extremes of those four is actually more. Contemporary technologies challenge the framework of Don Ihde, you could say. More intimate than embodied technology, for instance, is a technology with which we physically merge, like a prosthetic leg, for instance. Especially the advanced ones that also gives you sensations. And such technologies actually, we become cyborgs, so to speak.
We merge with technologies, and if you have a sensation through such a leg you cannot say any more whether it’s the leg or the human that has the sensation. It has become one new entity, a merger of human and technology. Now the other extreme, beyond the background relation there is a relation of being immersed somehow in a smart environment, where it extensive networks, et cetera, enable the material world around us to perceive us, to detect us, and to interact with us. Like in elderly homes, small beds that can detect if somebody steps out of bed or falls out of bed. Maybe even one level further, technologies that augment our relation with the world, like Google Glass.
Can look at the world through glass. At the same time, glass gives you information about the world that you can perceive. So it bifurcates our relation with the world, as it were. And gives you a double and split interaction with the world around us. So new technologies can also challenge the ways in which we need to understand the relations between humans and world, and they can organize all kinds of new interactions between human beings on the one hand and the world on the other hand. When they do so, it’s also important always to take into account there are two dimensions of this human-world relation. First, there is the dimension of how human beings are there in their world.
How we act, how we behave, how we do things, how we engage with the world. This is more the extistential line of thinking. And the other dimension is perception. How we perceive things, how we interpret the world. Hermeneutic dimension of mediation. Technologies mediate how the world can be there for us, how we can be there in the world from many, many ways in which technologies organize the interaction between humans and what.