The truth of the matter is that our deficiency does not lie in the want of well-verified "facts." What we lack is our bearings. The contemporary experience of things technological has repeatedly confounded our vision, our expectations, and our capacity to make intelligent judgments. Categories, arguments, conclusions, and choices that would have been entirely obvious in earlier times are obvious no longer. Patterns of perceptive thinking that were entirely reliable in the past now lead us systematically astray. Many of our standard conceptions of technology reveal a disorientation that borders on dissociation from reality. And as long as we lack the ability to make our situation intelligible, all of the "data" in the world will make no difference.
—From the Introduction
About the Author
Langdon Winner is the Thomas Phelan Chair of Humanities and Social Sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
"This study of the idea of technology out of control makes an important contribution to our understanding of the problems of civilization. The basic argument is not that some persons or groups promote technology against the public interest (true though that is), or even that our technology develops in its own way in spite of all our efforts to control it (also true in some respects). Rather, Winner is concerned with a more subtle effect: the artifacts that we have invented to satisfy our material wants have now developed, in size and complexity, to the point of delimiting or even determining our conception of the wants themselves. In that way, we as a civilization are losing mastery over our own tools....
"As a source for readings and reflections on this problem, the book is rich and rewarding.... If it has a practical lesson, it is that of awareness: only by recognizing the boundaries of our socially constructed scientific-technological reality can we transcend them in imagination and then achieve effective human action.", Jerome R. Ravetz, Science
"Readers interested in technology, politics, and social change will find Autonomous Technology a useful guide and a thoughtful inquiry into the relationship between technology and society. In it, Winner outlines the paradoxes of technological development, the images of alienation and liberation evoked by machines, and he assesses the historical conditions underlying the exponential growth of technology. Winner brings together the ideas of several gifted observers of industrial society, among them Karl Marx, Lewis Mumford, Jacques Ellul, Herbert Marcuse, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Hannah Arendt, pointing up the importance (and shortcomings) of their thinking on technological and technocratic development. In asking the question, What have we created?, Winner evokes the myths of Frankenstein and Prometheus to illustrate the possibility that we may all face a permanent bondage to our own inventions. To answer the question, What is to be done about what we have created?, Winner explores the possibilities offered by epistemological luddism.
"The author, an assistant professor of political science, has read the many artists and social scientists concerned with the consequences of uncontrolled technological development. But his inspiration is also fed by the anti-technological reactions he witnessed in the early sixties..... The book is extremely well documented and written."—Sociology