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The Labyrinth of Technology

The Labyrinth of Technology: A Preventive Technology and Economic Strategy as a Way Out

Willem H. Vanderburg
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 494
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  • Book Info
    The Labyrinth of Technology
    Book Description:

    Exposing the limitations of conventional approaches to the engineering and regulation of technology, Vanderburg suggests that the solution lies in a preventive strategy that situates technological growth in its human, societal, and biospheric contexts.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2107-7
    Subjects: General Science, Technology, Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Bill Vanderburg

    • 1 Preventive Approaches as a New Technology and Economic Strategy
      (pp. 3-50)

      Imagine that a group of scientists and engineers, having examined how technological development can best serve the public interest, recommends that the governments of the industrially advanced nations make healthy human lives, communities, and ecosystems their top priority. The reaction is bound to be overwhelmingly sceptical, if not downright hostile: such a recommendation would be taken as proof that these people spend too much time in the ivory towers of academe! Such people, it would be claimed, do not seem to appreciate that the results achieved in pursuit of these noble objectives would be in diametric opposition to their good...

    • 2 Individual Prerequisites for Preventive Approaches
      (pp. 51-88)

      Society guides technology down the road of human goals and aspirations by means of countless decisions involved in the engineering, management, and regulation of modern technology – decisions made by many people working in a variety of organizations and institutions. These decision makers collectively ‘steer’ technology into the future, much like driving a car. Since technology does not exist in a vacuum, it shares the ‘road’ with people and societies who, in turn, fundamentally depend on the biosphere. To avoid ‘bumping into’ those who ‘travel’ in the company of technology, the decison makers must employ negative feedback; they need to...

    • 3 Collective Prerequisites for Preventive Approaches
      (pp. 89-130)

      In chapter 1, I drew a comparison between preventive approaches for the engineering, management, and regulation of modern technology and the safe driving of a car. Drivers need to monitor where they are heading, compare this to their intentions (the ‘set point’), and use negative feedback to reduce the gap on an ongoing basis. Chapter 2 examined four ‘driving skills’ that individuals must possess in order to do their work as preventively as possible. The present chapter is concerned with the fact that not one but many people are collectively ‘steering’ technology into the future.

      The difficulties that face a...


    • 4 Tools for Map-Making
      (pp. 133-161)

      Mapping the ecology of the technology of a society or of an individual constituent technology is integral to the development of preventive approaches aimed at achieving a greater compatibility between technology and its contexts. To avoid the pitfalls of conventional approaches, such ecologies, and the design and decision making they guide, must keep together what belongs together: technology with its contexts, desired with undesired outputs, and performance values with context values. Our failure to do so has produced, among other things, the environmental crisis that, in turn, has given us a different perception of the integrality of the world, commonly...

    • 5 Context Values for Map-Making
      (pp. 162-182)

      In the previous chapter we showed that technology, society, ecosystems, and the biosphere are open wholes that depend on exchanges with their contexts. Such exchanges establish a reciprocal dependency that is not necessarily symmetrical but must be sustained if they are to be viable in the long term. It is essential to assess the interactions between a whole and its contexts to ensure this viability and prevent harm either to the whole or to its contexts. Performance values cannot help us in this task.

      We now turn our attention to the evaluation of such reciprocal relations between a whole and...


    • 6 Differentiating Sustainable Development
      (pp. 185-211)

      Implementing the design for a new constituent element of a technology involves a great many human activities within a way of life as well as a change in a society’s dependence on the biosphere. In a sense, the constituent is being connected to its human, societal, and biospheric contexts during each phase in its technological cycle. Preventive approaches must therefore intervene during the design phase, when most of these connections and their consequences are being decided either by commission or omission. For example, in specifying the materials to be used, the design in effect determines which activities in the way...

    • 7 Differentiating a Way of Life
      (pp. 212-246)

      In chapter 6, I showed how the activities that make up the way of life of a society are connected together and to the biosphere as a result of the constraints expressed as the first and second laws of thermodynamics. These activities are simultaneously linked in one, and only one, way of life left open by the cultural unity of a society (comprising what in cultural anthropology are known as a sacred, myths, and a hierarchy of values). In traditional societies, this found expression in religions with ‘gods in the sky’ and their relations with the earth. This cultural necessity...


    • General Introduction
      (pp. 249-251)

      In Part Four, I introduce four areas of application in which preventive approaches can greatly reduce the unwanted and undesirable social and environmental effects of technology. It may add clarity for the reader if I point out some general patterns shared by these four areas. A great deal about their current state can be understood as resulting from conceptually, methodologically, and practically separating in time, space, and the social what belongs together. Technological systems have been developed on their own terms by means of performance values as if they operated in a vacuum. Efforts have been almost entirely concentrated on...

    • 8 Materials and Production
      (pp. 252-292)

      In this chapter, I apply the generic map of the ecology of modern technology and the accompanying context matrices to the examination of the flow of materials and production processes in order to develop preventive approaches. From the outset, it is essential to recognize that this map contains a great deal of uncharted territory, and these lacunae must be transformed into useful ignorance if responsible preventive strategies are to emerge. It is, in fact, the implicit and explicit treatment of these lacunae that explains a great deal about conventional strategies, including their limitations. The shift to their more preventive counterparts...

    • 9 Energy
      (pp. 293-322)

      In chapter 8, I showed that, since a society can neither create nor destroy matter and energy, the activities of its way of life are interconnected through networks of flows of materials and energy. All inputs and outputs into these networks come from and return to the biosphere. The metabolic aspect of the way of life of a society can be made more sustainable by reducing the reliance on the biosphere, which is accomplished by transforming linear throughput patterns into circular ones for the network of flows of materials. Such a restructuring will also affect the network of flows of...

    • 10 Work
      (pp. 323-371)

      In the previous two chapters, sustainable development was linked to the reciprocal relationship that exists among human life, society, and the biosphere in terms of flows of matter and energy. The flows are required to constantly renew and replace the cells in our bodies, to support the many activities that constitute individual and collective life, and to maintain and evolve the built habitat. They come about as a result of networks of activities integral to a way of life and involve a great deal of human work. Via these activities, these flows contribute to individual and collective experience, and thus...

    • 11 The Built Habitat
      (pp. 372-418)

      The urban habitat increasingly interposes itself between human life and the biosphere. It sustains human life (with a variety of positive and negative effects) and depends on the biosphere for all matter and energy. The proportion of humanity living in this unique habitat has been growing exponentially along with industrialization during the last two centuries, rising from less than 5 per cent in 1800 to 15 per cent in 1900 and 43 per cent in 1990. This increase may be expected to continue in the twenty-first century because, in 1990, the urban population in the industrialized world was 72 per...

  8. Postscript
    (pp. 419-430)

    I, too, have a dream. In it, I find myself teaching in a new kind of engineering school. It all began when the plan of the former premier’s Council of Ontario, for a round table on professional education and the long-term viability of the province, was resurrected. It quickly became evident that the existing situation did not serve anyone’s interests. The intellectual division of labour in the professions was clearly causing a great deal of needless and preventable harm to the economy, human life, communities, and ecosystems. It necessitated an equally senseless patchwork of end-of-pipe approaches, which rarely got to...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 431-466)
  10. Index
    (pp. 467-476)