On April 29, 2013, I gave a talk entitled "Humanity on Rails" at RailsConf in Portland, OR. The talk was a brief introduction to the philosophy of technology, targeted toward the Ruby and Rails developer community.
This is a quick bibliography and a set of useful links related to my talk. The philosophy of technology is already a fairly large topic; so this is not an exhaustive list, but more of a selection of resources that I myself happen to be familiar with. Feel free to leave any additions that you think are worthwhile in the comments!
Updated: The video is now available on Confreaks.
Resources related to the talk itself:
- Slides available on SpeakerDeck.
- James Gary took some pretty detailed notes here. Thanks James!
- The video of the talk on Confreaks.
- The Toyota commercial on YouTube.
- You can find this page at http://daniel-azuma.com/railsconf2013
Here are a few fairly accessible books that are good for getting started:
- Albert Borgmann, Holding On To Reality, 1999. This is Borgmann's take on the nature of information and the metaphysics of information technology. It's a relatively quick read for people such as software engineers who are already well-versed in manipulating information, and serves as a useful jumping-off point into more difficult topics.
- Neil Postman, Technopoly, 1992. Postman is a popular writer who covers some of the same ideas pioneered by thinkers like Ellul.
A selection of the "classics" on philosophy of technology:
- Albert Borgmann, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life, 1984. An influential work in which Borgmann introduces his "device paradigm" and how it describes the shape of modern life.
- Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, 1964. Jacques Ellul's classic work on technique as natural force and how it works itself out in various spheres of human existence and interaction. Dense but highly influential.
- Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, 1977. Heidegger's essay is perhaps one of the quintessential works on the philosophy of technology, but it is quite abstract and requires a careful read.
- Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964. Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase "The medium is the message" in this work, describing how the form of media and communication affects perception of its content.
- Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization, 1934. This is the work in which Mumford introduces his celebrated polytechnic vs monotechnic distinction, describing the different ways in which technology justifies itself as it interacts with human institutions.
Some more recent work of interest.
- Andrew Feenberg, Questioning Technology, 1999. A critic of many of the traditional ideas in philosophy of technology, Feenberg emphasizes the various ways in which technology exists as a social and political phenomenon.
- Richard Lanham, The Economics of Attention, 2006. An lesser known but interesting work that explores the implications of the information economy and how it privileges attention.
- Carl Mitcham, Thinking Through Technology, 1994. A textbook-like overview of the work on philosophy of technology to date. Good discussion on philosophy from an engineering vs non-engineering perspective.
Books related to engineering and open source:
- Samuel Florman, The Existential Pleasures of Engineering, 1976. A sustained rebuttal against much of the negativism in contemporary studies on the philosophy of technology, this work promotes engineering as a rewarding and essential human activity.
- Samuel Florman, The Civilized Engineer, 1987. A follow-up to Florman's earlier work, discussing the nature of engineering and how engineers should approach their craft in a healthy and socially conscious way.
- Eric Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Revised Edition, 2001. A classic study of the nature of open source and how software engineering communities ought to be structured.
- Steven Weber, The Success of Open Source, 2004. This work by a political science scholar covers some of the same ground as Raymond's work, but from a more academic angle, showing how and why open source works as a system of economic and political organization.
Books related to faith/spirituality and technology:
- Albert Borgmann, Power Failure, 2003. Borgmann repackages many of his earlier ideas on technology and applies them towards a Christian audience.
- Quentin Schultze, Habits of the High-Tech Heart, 2002. Schultze's work is not as rigorous as some others, and has a particular theological bent that I find a little less satisfying. However, this is a very accessible and practical work that could be a useful entry point.
- Egbert Schuurman, Faith and Hope in Technology, 2003. Schuurman is a civil engineer who covers technology, philosophy, and theology. This is a solid work, and while I have not yet read Schuurman's other books, I expect they will be just as fruitful.
A collection of other related work of interest:
- Martin Buber, I and Thou, 1937. A classic work on the philosophy of relating, comparing relationships of ontological parity and ontological dominance. I've found this a useful foil against the unhealthy kinds of relating privileged by some modern technology, and even an interesting model for relating to technology itself.
- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1985. Postman discusses the implications of modern mass media, and television in particular, applying McLuhan's ideas to argue that entertainment culture has obliterated human communication.
Groups, lists, blogs, and other online resources:
- Philosophy in a Time of Software: A mailing list comprising software engineers interested in philosophy. Some great discussion here.
- Steve Klabnik's blog. Steve is one of a handful of Rubyists actively involved in studying and discussing philosophy and its relationship with engineering.
- The Digital Society: A Facebook group related to technology and culture, with an additional emphasis on Christian theology. Good source of interesting links.
- The Wikipedia entry on Philosophy of Technology has a bunch of links and a larger bibliography that may be of some interest.