Technology as form of life

Essay, 2004

5 Pages, Grade: HD (High Distinction)


Remark on quotation: If there is only the page number mentioned,

then the quote refers to Winner, 1986.

- And to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life.

Ludwig Wittgenstein §19 (PI)

(i) What does Winner mean when he says 'technologies are forms of life'?

In his book "The Whale and the Reactor", Langdon Winner introduces technologies as forms of life. With this notion, he tries to overcome "our normal understanding of the meaning of technology in human life" (p. 12), which he declares as a "widespread and extremely narrow conception" (p. 12). Although it remains unclear about whom he refers to, the 'normal understanding' seems to be an understanding of technology as a "cause-and-effect model" (p. 11), to which he attests "empirical and moral shortcomings"(p. 11).

Winner endeavours to explain the connection between technologies and the everyday life.

What is needed is an interpretation of the ways, both obvious and subtle, in which everyday life is transformed by the mediating role of technical devices. (p. 9).

Nowadays, technologies are so interwoven into the texture of everyday life that life is unthinkable without them. At least for the western industrialized countries, it is valid that "Humans must adapt. That is their destiny" (p. 10). Winner describes this situation as follows:

We do indeed 'use' telephones, automobiles, electric lights, and computers in the conventional sense of picking them up and putting them down. But our world soon becomes one in which telephony, automobility, electric lightning, and computing are forms of life in the most powerful sense: life would scarcely be thinkable without them. (p. 11)

Originally, the expression "forms of life" (Lebensform) came from the later Wittgenstein. By rejecting his earlier ideas of the "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus", in which he sketches "language to be primarily a matter of naming things and events" (p.11), he stresses in the "Philosophical Investigations" the mutuality of language and the circumstances, the surroundings, in which it is spoken or written. In this ordinary language philosophy, he takes into account that words, symbols, and sentences, which are woven into (speech-) acts, in the end are based on the concepts of the human living in all its different social, cultural, and interpersonal forms. Language is not seen as a "non-spatial, non temporal phantasm" (PI, § 108), but as a "spatial and temporal phenomenon" (PI, § 108) taking place in various language-games, which are overlapping and criss-crossing. "The term language- game is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is a part of an activity, or a form of life." (PI, § 23)

Winner extends Wittgenstein's concept. For Winner a form of life is not only constituted by speech-acts, but also by acts like typing on the computer or driving a car. It is to be emphasised, that through these acts our forms of life alter, thus "technologies are involved in changing the practices and patterns of everyday life" (Winner 1997, p. 992). For example, the invention of the telephone is not only a means to the end communication, but also it established a new form of communication, through which the sense of the old ways of communication changed. Since the telephone is common, the writing of letters plays another role.

It is characteristic of the invention or introduction of new technologies that it requires manifold other technologies, which also require manifold technologies and so on. Thus, the changes a new technology involves are complex and multi-layered. For example, the car requires varied technical systems, construction and administrative systems of roads and freeways, legislation systems, etc. The car or the driving of a car itself could be regarded as a means to a certain end, but the conditions of this means have had a decisive influence on the social and material structure of our living-world.

Individual habits, perceptions, concepts of self, ideas of space of time, social relationships, and moral and political boundaries have all been powerfully restructured in the course of modern technological development. (p. 9)

(ii) Could technology make it possible to radically change what it means to

be human?

Brooting over the question with my sceptical, analytical, and constructionalistic orientation, I was always accompanied by Nelson Goodman, hearing him whisper "Can we give answers when we are still unsure of the meaning of the simplest terms in the question? Isn't this like trying to solve equations of higher algebra before we have the laws of arithmetic straight?". Taking his whispering seriously, the question divides into three sub-questions before an answer could be attempted:


Excerpt out of 5 pages


Technology as form of life
Murdoch University  (Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy)
Policy, Technology and Democracy
HD (High Distinction)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
453 KB
Short Essay 1C (1500 words) tries to answer the following two questions: (i) What does Winner mean when he says 'technologies are forms of life'? (ii) Could technology make it possible to radically change what it means to be human?
Technology, Policy, Technology, Democracy
Quote paper
Stefan Krauss (Author), 2004, Technology as form of life, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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