Ihde: Technology and the Lifeworld, Part 1

This was my "questioning" for Part 1 of Ihde's Technology and the Lifeworld. This post is part of a series from my CMNS 857 Philosophy of Technology seminar with Andrew Feenberg. For more information, see this linked post.


I find Ihde's text refreshingly approachable. I’m familiar with Ihde's more recent work and this text was informative of themes he continued to develop in his research. In particular, my inclination to jump (sometimes too quickly) to the question of “So what?” was found satiated with his phenomenology of technics. The ontology of technics he develops with its three conceptualizations of the human-technology relationship provided me with frames or lenses (Idhe and his optics) to apply to my own embedded lifeworld that is subsequently saturated with technologies (could it be any other way?).

While preparing my thoughts for my question this week I was reflecting on how a vast majority of educational technologies want to sever users’ heads from their bodies. We are expected to interact corporeally with our hands and eyes. The curve of our fingers as we punch away at little keys, the cupping of the mouse to direct the computer to what we want to.

I worked for the distance education office completing literature reviews in my undergrad. They wanted research to support whether to have the video of an instructor or just his/her voice while mapped onto a PowerPoint presentation (Note the assumption that it would be a PowerPoint. Surely there are no other ways to teach online!). The “research” was “overwhelming”: Having an instructor’s face/head visible via video while a student was watching a PowerPoint presentation put too much strain on the students’ cognitive load and therefore only audio of the instructor’s voice should be included. At the time I wrote up the report and sent it off without a second thought. In reading specifically the fifth chapter I returned to this idea of chopping off instructors’ heads to lighten the cognitive load of students. Funny that this “research finding” would be inconceivable were it applied to a face-to-face classroom. Can you imagine? “I am sorry, Dr. X, but you’re going to have to put on this black sack on your head. The students just can’t pay attention to your presentation slides and your face at the same time.” Really?!

Do the three summations of this phenomenology of technics truly suggest a continuum that might be able to make available further analysis of the human-technology relationship? While I appreciate the distinction between foreground and background technologies, the assumptions made about the “background” I am not fully enrolled in. More specifically, how do we account for the complexity of social relations that are mediated via networked computers/devices (i.e. Internet, mobile devices)? Would it be a more complex combination of embodiment, hermeneutic, and alterity relations as Idhe alludes to in a few of his examples? Finally - acknowledging my ignorance of the second half of the text - are we (universally) really after totalization?

Embodiment Relations = (Human-technology) → World
Hermeneutic Relations = Human → (technology-World)
Alterity Relations = Human → technology-(-World)


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