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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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Chapter 23

Semiotics of Technology

ROBERT E. INNIS

The fundamental premise of a semiotic approach to technology is that technology can be analyzed with the conceptual tools of semiotics, the general theory of signs. Semiotics has as its goal to explore the “logic” of signs and the “factors” of semiosis, the production and interpretations of signs. Signs are the carriers or supports of semiosis, which is itself a complex phenomenon. Signs, in the most general sense, are meaning-carriers, while semiosis, which relies upon signs, is meaning-making, on both the productive and receptive side. Signs are produced, intentionally or unintentionally, and they are interpreted, both operatively and thematically. The possibility of a semiotics of technology is dependent upon the successful application of the semiotically informed category of meaning to technology as such on both the structural and the process sides. A primary concern is whether semiotics is being used to model and hence to interpret technology or whether technology is itself an intrinsically semiotic phenomenon. This is a kind of ambivalence that, rather than being theoretically debilitating, can be extremely enlightening when we try to grasp technology in its root structures.

Both semiosis and “technics” are dependent upon a fundamental materiality. They are through and through material processes. While signs are embodiments of meaning, tools, in the broadest sense of that term, are embodiments of technico-practical intentions ...

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