Theodore Adorno: uncomfortable with technology?

Do not knock. – Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men. It expels from movements all hesitation, deliberation, civility. It subjects them to the implacable, as it were ahistorical demands of objects. Thus the ability is lost, for example, to close a door quietly and discreetly, yet firmly. Those of cars and refrigerators have to be slammed, others have the tendency to snap shut by themselves, imposing on those entering the bad manners of not looking behind them, not shielding the interior of the house which receives them. The new human type cannot be properly understood without awareness of what he is continuously exposed to from the world of things about him, even in his most secret inner- vations. What does it mean for the subject that there are no more casement windows to open, but only sliding frames to shove, no gentle latches but turnable handles, no forecourt, no doorstep before the street, no wall around the garden? And which driver is not tempted, merely by the power of his engine, to wipe out the vermin of the street, ped- estrians, children and cyclists? The movement machines demand of their users already has the violent, hard-hitting, unresting jerkiness of fascist maltreatment. Not least to blame for the withering of experience is the fact that things, under the law of pure functionality, assume a form that limits contact with them to mere operation, and tolerates no surplus, either in freedom of conduct or in autonomy of things, which would survive as the core of experience, because it is not consumed by the moment of action. (Adorno 1951: 40)

Hilarious. But I understand. My home is full of cheap aluminium sliding windows whose functionality espouses a pulpable economic rationalism over and above any sense of tactile humanity. It is as though the manufacturer forgot that he was making a window, and only remembered that he needed to make a *thing* that was cheap so it could sell. That said, I do most enjoy closing the doors of my VW Caddy. The doors are heavy, and they have been sprung just enough so that a light gesture of the hand is sufficient to set the door into a decisive closing movement which, without fail, ends in a sonic event that clearly and correctly confirms that the door is properly shut.

Perhaps Adorno should have read more Heidegger who says that technology is nothing more than a reflection of human society. The people at VW obviously clearly considered and refined the closing mechanism of their doors. The dope who designed the windows in my house clearly didn’t give two hoots.

(Disclosure: I do not own shares in VW)

[EDIT: I take back everything I say about Heidegger. As I read and re-read his famous essay “The Question concerning Technology” I’m starting to realise that Heidegger is making some very opinionated points about the impact (modern) technology has on humanity. I’ve also been reading this thesis about Heidegger and Environmentalism]

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2 Responses to Theodore Adorno: uncomfortable with technology?

  1. mark says:

    The keynote at a haptic and audio interaction conference described the lock mechanism on Mercedes doors: the mechanical actuator is silent but their studies showed people hated not hearing a sound on ‘lock’, so they added a speaker system to generate a click sound, then did more study and found people felt *really* assured if they heard two clicks of precise frequency relationship spaced half a second or so apart. So the doors now do that. Germans!

    • Brilliant. I do enjoy observing the tiny design differences between my Ford Festiva and the Caddy. Case in point … if I dont put on my seatbelt in the Caddy the car waits 20 seconds, then starts beeping to remind me to put it on. If I dont put on the seatbelt in the Ford, the car starts beeping immediately and stops after 20 seconds.

      The Caddy says: “excuse me sir, I do believe you might have forgotten to put on your seat belt, might be an idea to put it on before you drive too far.”

      The Ford says: “PUT ON YOUR FRICKIN seat belt. Ohhh, forget about it”

      I think Heidegger is right … the technology just mirrors the values of the person/persons who have created it. Technology is not a thing in itself independent and divorced from human society … on the contrary, it reflects it.

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