Technology: Control for,
or over, Humans?
Technology is a human endeavor that involves artistic insight, science, technique, experimentation, and risk. The risks inherent in any experimentation are compounded by an apparent propensity to reach beyond our grasp. To Henry Adams (1963), it was building the cathedral Mont-Saint-Michel so “high on the summit of this granite rock” that the walls collapsed several times (1). In our own time, it includes our breaking the bounds of earth's gravity and reaching for the heavens. To Sir Alfred Pugsley, “a profession that never has accidents is unlikely to be serving its country efficiently” (Petroski 1985, 221). Among his contemporary writers, Faulkner (1956) rated Thomas Wolfe number one because he failed. “He had failed best because he had tried hardest.” Ernest Hemingway he rated last “not on the value of product at all but simply because Hemingway having taught himself a pattern, a method which he would use without splashing around to try to experiment.” Hemingway did not “attempt to reach the unattainable dream.” In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for literature in 1949, Faulkner said,
I decline to accept the end of man…. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.
In art, as in technology, or as in any human endeavor, never to have failed is life's greatest failure. For it means not having pushed oneself, or civilization, to the limits of achievement of that time. One only knows these limits by trying to go beyond them. In the creation of art or technology, we are creating ourselves. Unlike other species that derive their nature from their biological being, we are an unfinished product, never to be perfect or complete, always in the making.