THE SOCIAL AND personal impact of technology has become one of the defining issues of the present.By technology, we usually mean information technology, specifically computing and all the industrial, commercial, entertainment and office procedures it now drives. We do not mean the plough, the book, the printing press or even the radio or telephone, each in its time the harbinger of massive social and cultural transformation, on a scale we can barely imagine. Our present anxiety about technology defines the new and coming as the fulcrum of some unforeseen change which may lead to an irreversible dehumanisation. The technology to which we have been acclimatised for decades, centuries and millennia seems to us to be perfectly in tune with what we imagine to be our true selves.
Some technology is even seen as definitively human. For example, Renaissance humanists identified the essence of the human with a piece of technology—the book, and the written word in general—which still in the high school teaching of literature is seen as a humanising phenomenon.Why are certain pieces of technology seen as humanising and others as dehumanising? Why is the technology of the past our greatest achievement, and that of the future our greatest threat? It is never easy to find an answer to such questions without recourse to some all-encompassing ideology. I do believe, however, that we can detect in our linking of the question of our technology with the question of our humanity other telling anxieties that have been present in post-Enlightenment life: anxiety about speed and about hybridity, especially racial mixing.