Sunday, August 4, 2019

Holding On to Reality :: Albert Borgmann Philosophy Technology Essays

Holding On to Reality Professor and philosopher Albert Borgmann proposes a respectful balance between current technology and the way it interacts with society in his recent book, Holding on to Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium. Like many technological theorists, Borgmann ponders, "the deeper question of whether the recent and imminent flood of information is good for anybody" (4). In response to this uncertainty, the author devises a theory and ethics of information with the intention of rectifying society's often-troubling relationship with science and technology. Borgmann's theory divides information into three distinct parts based on the way they affect reality - natural information illuminates reality, cultural information transforms reality, and technological information displaces reality. To understand these categories, and how they highlight key developments in information technology, it is important to know what the author means when using the term "information." In Borgmann's theory, information is ordered around the relationship between a person, a sign, and a thing. A person uses his or her intelligence - both native and acquired mental ability - to place a framework of context around a messenger or signal, known as a sign, in order to understand the message, or thing, which is presented to them (38). To provide an illustration: Imagine yourself on the shore of your local beach. As you are putting down your towel, you notice a trail of deep marks in the sand, stretching a great distance down the shoreline. Since you have been to the beach before, you know that these marks are footprints. You also know that if these were old footprints, the tide would have washed them away. After a moment of thought, you interpret this trail to mean that other human beings are present farther along the beach. In this case, the sign (footprints) communicates to us the presence of a thing (humans). Since the recipient of the sign (you), has the intelligence f rom previous experience or education to know what footprints are and what happens to them, you are able to place the sign in its proper context, and understand the signal of footprints to mean the presence of human beings. If we could not formulate a relationship between the footprints in the previous example and the presence of human beings, the footprints would be just another piece of formless matter and energy. The meanings we construct out of the signs and messages that we receive are important because they help us to make sense of our environments, identities, and realities.

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