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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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Definitions of “Technology”

Historians of technology have for many years pointedly resisted giving a prescriptive definition of the term “technology.” This stance, somewhat paradoxically, reflects the disciplinary maturity and confidence of their field. They have frequently observed that no scholarly historian of art today would feel the least temptation to try to define “art,” as if that complex expression of human creativity could be pinned down by a few well-chosen words. And similarly, as the noted historian of technology Thomas Hughes has written (2004: 2), “Defining technology in its complexity is as difficult as grasping the essence of politics. Few experienced politicians and political scientists attempt to define politics. Few experienced practitioners, historians, and social scientists try to inclusively define technology.” Most historians writing on technology have defined the term mostly by presenting and discussing pertinent examples. Many historians studying the twentieth century have focused on large technological systems, such as electricity, industrial production, and transportation, that emerged in the early decades and became more or less pervasive in the West during the second half of that century.

Other historians even of the twentieth century, however, would strongly prefer to examine technologies from the perspective of “everyday life” or from a user’s perspective. Even what might on the surface be considered the same technology can look quite different when ...

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