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Living in the Labyrinth of Technology by Willem H. Vanderburg

Living in the Labyrinth of Technology

Part of the Heritage Series


Living in the Labyrinth of Technology by Willem H. Vanderburg

From the very beginnings of their existence, human beings have distinguished themselves from other animals by not taking immediate experience for granted. Everything was symbolized according to its meaning and value: a fallen branch from a tree became a lever; a tree trunk floating in the river became a canoe. Homo logos created communities based on cultures: humanity's first megaproject. Further symbolization of the human community and its relation to nature led to the possibility of creating societies and civilizations. Everything changed as these interposed themselves between the group and nature. Homo societas created ways of life able to give meaning, direction, and purpose to many groups by means of very different cultures: humanity's second megaproject. What Das Kapital did for the nineteenth century and La technique did for the twentieth, Willem H. Vanderburg's Living in the Labyrinth of Technology seeks to create for the twenty-first century: an attempt at understanding the world in a manner not shackled to overspecialized scientific knowing and technical doing. Western civilization may well be creating humanity's third megaproject, based not on symbolization for making sense of and living in the world, but on highly specialized desymbolized knowing stripped of all peripheral understanding. Vanderburg focuses on two interdependent forces in his narrative, namely, people changing technology and technology changing people. The latter aspect, although rarely considered, turns out to be the more critical one for understanding the spectacular successes and failures of contemporary ways of life. As technology continues to change the social and physical world, the experiences of this world 'grow' people's minds and society's cultures, thereby re-creating human life in the image of technology. Living in the Labyrinth of Technology argues that the twenty-first century will be dominated by this pattern unless society intervenes on human (as opposed to technical) terms.


'Willem H. Vanderburg's work is highly regarded by many, but Living in the Labyrinth of Technology is surely his most important book, Vanderburg compellingly explains how daily life in modern society has evolved to become routinely blind to the forces of authoritarianism and conformity. We learn, painfully, not only how the everyday of modern life fails to question the meaning or ethics of its constructed reality, but why. The book's disturbing explanation cannot comfort readers, but it does offer the chance to reflect on our cultural drift and, just possibly, to realize the need to resurrect normative purposes for our being. A major work.'
John Byrne, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, University of Delaware

; 'An important contribution to the ongoing debate about where current events are leading us, Living in the Labyrinth of Technology is dense with profound, disturbing, and often surprising insights and connections. Vanderburg's writing is excellent - clear and refreshingly conversational - and he performs an important role in pulling together Jacques Ellul's ideas about technology and technique and updating Ellul's conclusions to the present at a time when the downside of technique seems to be accelerating.
Stuart Dreyfus, College of Engineering, University of California, Berkeley

About the Author

Willem H. Vanderburg is the founding director of the Centre for Technology and Social Development and is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto.

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Book Info

Publication date

23rd July 2005


Willem H. Vanderburg

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University of Toronto Press


550 pages


Impact of science & technology on society



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