Do Artefacts Have Politics? By Langdon Winner
I read a chapter from the book Modern Technology: Problem or Opportunity? (Winter, 1980). In this extract Winner contemplates whether technologies have political power by themselves or if human interference gives them this power. He cites Lewis Mumford, a 20th century historian and philosopher of technology, who argue that two types of technologies exist. These are those that are authoritarian and those that are democratic. Winner argues that most technologies are at first seen as being democratic, like the television which Daniel J. Boorstin argued had the power to “disband armies.” However, he argues authorities influence the technologies. For instance, when Robert Moses blocked the trains and buses from entering Jones Beach, a park he wanted to keep blacks and the working class away from. Most interesting is the idea that technology has political power in of itself. Engels argued that “the automatic machinery of a big factory is much more despotic than the small capitalists who employ workers ever have been.” He believed authority was needed, however. Plato used the analogy of a ship needing to be steered and organised by its captain. The notion of the technology and the need for resources dictating people is very interesting, and has inspired a few dystopian ideas.