Stiegler - Technological Infancy
I putting this note here more as a reminder to go an do some actual research on this topic. This is not in any way an authoritative note.
tl;dr - Modern technology conditions us as infants.
For Stiegler, humans are defined through their relation to technics. A key feature of this relation is memory. There are 3 types of human memory Stiegler talks about:
- epigenetic memory; our individually acquired memories.
- phylogenetic memory; genetic memory that is passed across different generations.
- epiphylogenetic memory; memory that is embodied in cultural artefacts and technologies.
Technologies (technics) shape our essence through this tertiary memory. It is as fundamental to our being as our genetic past.
Technologies also have the power to shape our future.
Just as we define ourselves, in a personal sense, through our memories and our dreams, technics defines a culture.
How, then, does it render us as infants?
For Stiegler, the Enlightenment was a great moment in human culture, summarised by the famous dictum “dare to think”.
People stopped relying on priests or kings to tell them how to act. They took power into their own hands. In Stiegler’s sense, this was a kind ‘coming of age’ for humanity, a transition from adolescence into adulthood.
Stiegler sees in modern technology a kind of ‘regression’ from this state of adulthood.
No sooner had we taken power into our own hands, than we began to hand it off to machines.
As modern technology became more complex, and its inner workings were hidden behind more and more ‘functional’ interfaces, people became alienated from the technologies they engage with every day.
This alienation is similar to the Marxist sense, but also different in that what we are alienated from is our being itself. Given that technics comprises a fundamental part of human culture and identity, and we are more alienated than ever from this identity, we lose the power to shape our histories and futures.
I agree with Stiegler’s analysis of our alienation from modern technology, but not so much of the notions of ‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’, especially when applied to the Enlightenment. One feature of enlightenment thinking is a turning away from myth (or at least a ‘rationalisation’ of it - think of how Oedipus has become a symbol of psychosexual frustration). Ironically, Stiegler became famous through his own wonderful reading of the ‘fogotten’ myth of Epimethius. If anything, the suspicion toward myth and the authority of tradition that characterises enlightenment thinking, also drives many of the missteps that shape our current, hyper-technological society that is too often concerned with present and future.