01 Jun

Culture and Technology

Friedrich Kittler argues that "culture cannot be had without technology, and technology cannot be had without culture" ("The Perspective of Print").  This seems like a fairly simply idea, but Kittler makes it complex.  What he’s trying to get at here is that they these two discourses (technology and culture) are always already the same thing.  Technology doesn’t emerge from culture (as a response to cultural needs and desires), nor does culture emerge from technology (as Internet culture or gaming culture that corrupts the minds of youth); rather, culture is a kind of technology (or system) and it is simply manifested through machines.

In Geoffrey Winthrop-Young’s article called "Silicon Sociology, or, Two Kings on Hegel’s Throne? Kittler, Luhmann, and the Posthuman Merger of German Media Theory", he explains Kittler’s position this way:

“This does not mean that computers are artificial human brains, or that they digitally ape specifically human ways of thinking.  Rather, they optimize certain patterns of information processing that were also imposed on human beings but subsequently were mistaken to be innately human qualities.  Where subjects were, there programs shall be – because programs were there in the first place.”

This gets to the crux of the matter: programs were there in the first place.  We mourn the loss of some pre-technical reality, or what Kittler calls the "ecologically sound Stone Age," but it is just a myth.  Human beings have always been engaged in systems, and with each technological change the preceding system has been seen as natural.   Kittler is trying to tell the history of media as a history of systems, both human and machine.