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In his essay, “The Question Concerning Technology,” Heidegger states that the current conception of technology, according to which it is a means and human activity, can be called the instrumental and anthropological conception of technology. Explain why this definition of technology cannot represent the essence of technology.

Martin Heidegger makes it clear in his essay, “The Question Concerning Technology,” that the true essence of technology is much deeper than what people perceive on the surface. It isn’t in the machinery of technology that guides its function, but the way of thinking that it creates. While Heidegger’s definition that refers to technology as being instrumental and anthropological is correct as a definition, it only scratches the surface of what he describes as a deeper meaning, because the essence of the way in which it sculpts society is much deeper.

The traditional definition of technology doesn’t factor into the cause, which is the essence of technology. But even deeper than the cause of technology is the idea of being responsible for something, which is at the centre of cause and therefore reaches the center of instrumentality. Being responsible for something means bringing it into presence or creating something into being. By revealing something, a person is creating a way in which to produce truth. As the reader can already see, this reaches much further than the simple definition of technology and how it relates to the instrumental and anthropological conception of technology, and digs deeper into the essence. This is where Heidegger digs deeper into technology’s essence.

Though truth is the essence of technology, it is not always possible to bring something out of concealment. For example, modern technology cannot always bring something forth out of concealment. Often, modern technology challenges to bring forth something into existence. Modern technology is brought forward as a result of a challenge.

He has a much more critical take on modern technology than that which was used historically. For example, he states that peasant farming is that of respect, because the farmers tend the land, cultivating it and living with its patterns. Modern technology, however, often destroys the land and whatever stands in mankind’s way of producing more profits from the land, or even from people who may be enslaved in the process of creating technology. In essence, he argues that man is essentially a product of technology – that humans serve technology and therefore people are resources to their own demise.

“Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which today we particularly like to do homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology,” (Heidegger, 1)

The very essence of technology is its grasp on mankind to consistently try to improve upon itself, but all that drive is doing is pushing people further into a world of technology that cannot be sustained.  But what Heidegger doesn’t consider is the ability of mankind to survive. He underestimates people’s ability to stop what they are doing for the purpose of survival.

Take, for example, the motor vehicle. This is just one creation that has controlled the course of mankind and has produced people as the resource in which to preserve its production. It has enslaved people in a capitalist culture where they are essentially chained to a production line for the sole purpose of creating more and more vehicles. But it goes much further than that. Mankind has taken it upon themselves to fight wars over oil and many people have died. Take the recent war in Iraq, where many innocent people were killed to foster control of oil. However, oil production and use has brought the potential for an even bigger death toll if humans are unable to stop their obsession and control the substance’s effect on the environment. Heidegger would assume in his definition that humans would create their own demise, but it can be argued with convincing results that mankind will be the ones who develop technology that can eliminate the need for oil in motor vehicles. Already, trucks and cars that run on electricity have been produced and this is one way in which people won’t become a resource to technology, but the agent in which technology is improved. This is the type of deeper meaning to which Heidegger refers.

Heidegger does refer to this “survival” aspect briefly in his essay when he says, “The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control,” (Heidegger, 2). But he states the essence of technology will control mankind and turn it into a resource for its evolution because people use the world only as a resource and this way of thinking consumes the minds of mankind. This way of thinking confines people to defining truth as scientific knowledge, which limits people, blocking them from essence of technology. He does confer that scientific knowledge does have validity when arguing for truth, but it doesn’t get to the true essence of what something, in this case technology, really is. He contends that truths are revealed poetically, aesthetically and religiously as well as scientifically.

Heidegger goes on to relate the essence of technology as being that which is interpreted by the individual. Technology can convey a different meaning to each person. Take, for example, the creation of email. One person might see it as being a hindrance because it eliminates one’s ability to communicate with whom they want to be in contact with because they are unable to work the email, or read that which is sent to them. Another person could see the technology as being profoundly useful because it makes communicating with people much more quick and efficient. Another person could look at email and think of all the ways in which they could make money – by placing ads at the side of the email, for example. Whatever way a person interprets the technology, it is still an interpretation of how it relates to truth, which is the essence of technology. This is the essence for which Heidegger is speaking. Technology breeds creation and this creation is the revelation of truth.

His theory reflects closely with Marshall McLuhan’s “The medium is the message,” which describes that the form by which the message is communicated dictates how the message is received. In Heidegger’s case, it could be said that “The technology is the truth.” In other words, the effect technology has on a society’s way of thinking is the message, or the truth of technology’s effect on society.

In his essay, “The Question Concerning Technology,” Heidegger maintains that technology is a way (or mode) of revealing and that every bring-forth is grounded in revealing. Explain what Heidegger means when he claims that technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, the realm where truth happens.

To answer this question, it is most important to reveal what Heidegger meant when he said “bring forth.” He is essentially referring to poeisis, or more simply stated, bringing forth into existence, or even more simply put, creating. This revealing refers to the relationship of people and the world in which they live – but it goes further than that, because it also refers to the way in which people live.

Take for example the way in which people live today. Many people are consumed by the Internet and television. These two mediums control much of what people do each day. The amount of time people spend with these activities is one of the truths that Heidegger describes. The truth for people today is that mankind enjoys wasting a lot of their time in front of screens. This truth can bring out deeper meaning, and it is all linked to Heidegger’s claim that the truth behind technology is not what it is in the material sense, but in the way in which it brings out the essence.

One truth can lead to another. For example, the truth that is revealed through the expression of human desire for computers and televisions has crafted another truth, which is consumerism. The many people sitting around watching TV or a computer are confronted by advertisements, which lead them to make purchases and continue the trend of consumerism, all while turning the wheel of the capitalist system, which is the ultimate truth of Western society at this point in time.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the existence of the first man. He is standing alone in a forest and is faced with the simple needs for survival. What is the truth in this instance? The man desires food, so he goes off on his search for food and he finds berries. At this point there is no technology to reveal a separate truth. Now the man sees a deer. He cannot catch the deer, so he grabs a stick and fashions it into a throwing spear. And here is the first piece of technology that the man comes across. After throwing the spear and killing the deer, the man can taste that the meat is delicious. Now, when he is hungry, he will use his technology to kill a dear. So his truth is revealed through the technology and so he now desires deer. But was his truth already revealed prior to crafting the spear? Without it, he would not have known that he enjoys the taste of venison. The spear allowed him to reveal his desire to consume the animal.


“Challenging happens in that the energy concealed in nature is unlocked, what is unlocked is transformed, what is transformed is stored up, what is stored up is, in turn, distributed, and what is distributed is switched about ever anew. Unlocking transforming, storing, distributin, and switching about are ways of revealing,” (Heidegger, 7)

What he means here is that the process by which people create technology reveals what they want, or what their nature is. But is the truth revealed or is an addiction created? This is not addressed by Heidegger. For example, while millions of people are watching television or are on their computers at any given time, is their true desire revealed, or are they addicted to the technology? Surely some people thoroughly enjoy the two mediums, but others might be addicted. Video games are certainly addicting, and it can cause people to become depressed. Because a person gambles does not mean it’s an activity in which they enjoy. In fact, many people kill themselves to become free from the devastating grip of gambling. The aforementioned points prove where Heidegger falls short. He presumes that whatever technology a person uses is their truth. But just because a person can, does not mean a person wants to.

Heidegger sees that there is an issue with the current human “progress,” which calculates itself by its achievements, despite how much they might impact society. When the essay was first published, in 1954, the consumerist culture was just beginning the manifest itself in society. Capitalism was drawing closer to its dominance of virtually every corner of Earth. It was in this time when little regard was given for the environment and its many delicacies. This is the time when Heidegger was correct in saying that people are feeding their egotistical need to claim their dominance by creating to the point where it is a detriment to the world. Could Heidegger have predicted the devastating effects factories were having on the ozone layer?

It wasn’t until several decades later that scientists began creating technology with the environment in mind. Now, there are countless products that consider the harmful effects on nature. And some technologies are eliminating many of these unhealthy byproducts, such as greenhouse gases. In the previous question, the example of electric cars was given to explain mankind’s effort to mitigate the harmful effects of products such as motor vehicles, which produce mass amounts of fumes that pollute the air.

The creation of technology might not only reveal people’s truths, it also changes us and this is a scary proposition due to the unpredictable outcomes of any given piece of technology. But there isn’t really a difference between revealing people’s truths and  the changes that manifest themselves in who people are. After all, people are changed based on their desires and their desires are their truths. A person may not have known that all they want to do is sit around and play video games all day, but that is what they will do if given the opportunity, and that might be the activity that completes them as a person and creates their truth.

“Technology is a way of revealing. If we give heed to this, then another whole realm for the essence of technology will open itself up to us. It is the real of revealing, i.e., of truth,” (Heidegger, 5)

People’s consistent desire to exploit their reality by creating more and more technology, in itself reveals the truth about mankind. It might not be in the products that humans create, often tp to the detriment of nature, but it is in the desire of creating these technologies that the truth is revealed. By pushing themselves the boundaries of greed, desire and world dominance – through their desire to create technology – people are showing their true colours, their essence. Technology is so powerful that it doesn’t need to be created to have its true essence revealed, because its true nature is shown by revealing human nature. Technology, in its very core, is human nature. And what more is human nature than the way in which we live?

?            In his essay, “The Question Concerning Technology,” Heidegger names the demanding claim which gathers man to order the self-revealing as standing-reserve “enframing.” Explain why enframing is the essence of modern technology.

Enframing, as Heidegger describes, is a way to understand being and also a way of revealing human nature. He states that technology allows mankind to reveal what they are. But he also states that mankind learns about who they are too late. The effects of any given piece of technology on society is difficult to predict. But he claims that even the question about how mankind is to relate to the technology always comes too late. People don’t decide quickly enough their stance on any given piece of technology, he states. However, technology has been given its limitations and considerations for the effects of technology are widespread.

Take, for example, human cloning, which was outlawed by the United Nations General Asssembly in 2005. The UN stated that human cloning violates human dignity. While it is unknown whether human cloning would be to the detriment of society, it is an example of technology being halted because of mankind’s stance on technology.

As another example, stem cell research, which was initially unfunded by the George W. Bush administration for eight years, was then lifted and then funded by the Barack Obama administration in 2009. This shows there is some discussion prior to lunging into a decision about using or attempting to develop a particular piece of technology.

Granted, examples such as these may not have been the case in Heidegger’s time. And perhaps he didn’t have enough faith that humanity would evolve and put certain limitations on advancements in technology. But one can easily agree that many initiatives don’t consider the effects on nature and on humanity.

Heidegger’s claim that people question how technology will affect people comes too late is challenging to quantify. After all, if Heidegger is referring to a piece of technology, then it must have been invented. He doesn’t have an account of the technology that hasn’t been implemented. There could be many inventions that were thrown aside because they could have had too much of a negative effect on society. But for the most part, this isn’t likely true, and it is largely because the majority of the people who are affected by the technology have no stake in its existence. For example, a person who invents a violent video game does nothing but reap the financial benefit of its creation, while the masses play the video game and a violent behavior seeps into society. Some of these people who played the video game could eventually end up in jail and some of the people who come into contact with the gamer could end up being victimize. So while the effect on society is widespread, the creator of the technology doesn’t likely have any participation in the damaging outcomes, so they would not likely put a lot of consideration in the damaging effects. But even given damaging effect, Heidegger claims there is a purpose for enframing with all types of technology.

“Enframing comes to pass for its part in the granting that lets man endure – as yet unexperienced, but perhaps more experienced in the future – that he may be the one who is needed and used for the safekeeping of the coming to presence of truth,” (Heidegger, 17).


This passage explains that without experiencing technology, mankind cannot know its effects and not go through the process of discovery. But it is ultimately the greed of people that has kept many of the damaging technological advancements in place even after they have been experienced and seen to be damaging. Take, for example, the atom bomb. Because governments have an overwhelming desire for power, they often use technology to the detriment of others and to nature itself. Money is another motivator. Products such as violent video games are clearly to the detriment of society, yet manufacturers continually release games that feature people murdering each other in increasingly brutal ways.

Whether good or bad, technology still helps mankind reveal who they are through enframing, and this is the point that Heidegger was trying to communicate. Without technology, mankind would still be concerned with only the basics of survival. But it is people’s curiosity that has led them to create technology that will help them discover. The first man who had just made his spear to kill a deer is now looking at the stars and wondering what is out there. So he creates a telescope. He then wonders where the edge of the Earth is, so he begins to walk and makes himself shoes. It is nature and the world, coupled with human curiosity that leads man to create items that will allow him to satisfy that curiosity. And it is the world that lures man and provides him with resources from which to make his tools that create more technology and then reveals more of what man is, or enframing.

Heidegger doesn’t necessary see the human relationship with the world as being destructive, but he does caution that without thinking ahead about the effects of enframing with the world, mankind can become a resource to technology, which could lead to mankind’s destruction. He states that a reorientation is needed with the world in order for enframing to successfully proceed. This reorientation would require mankind to think about the effects of technology before the piece of technology enframes society. Any other way would take away from the possibility of making advancements in other areas of life, such as spirituality.

He also points out that humans could become a standing-reserve if they continue on their current path of enframing. This makes people a resource to technology. Technology needs people for its survival. This means that mankind isn’t necessarily a good, but instead, it is good for something. For example, the newspaper reporter is at the mercy of the paper press, which distributes copies of newspapers to the readership. As another example, the lumberjack is at the mercy of the forestry industry. Put into other words, people are being turned into slaves for the purpose of serving the technology turbine.

“The coming to presence of technology threatens revealing, threatens it with the possibility that all revealing will be consumed in ordering and that everything will present itself only in the unconcealedness of standing-reserve,” (Heidegger, 18).

Taken as a whole, technology has taken complete control over humanity, turning it into a product. While individual technology items may be considered before implementation by a wide audience, the overall power of technology allows very few people in this world to be free from the harmful effects of technology. When most of the world works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., technology is planning its next move. And it is usually the people working those 8 hours who are fueling the turbine and letting the wheel spin some more.

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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