Ours is an age of a multitude of socially undirected technical advances, divorced from any other ends than the advancement of science and technology. We live in fact in an exploding universe of mechanical and electronic invention, whose parts are moving at a rapid pace ever further and further away from their human center, and from any rational, autonomous human purposes.
It is hard to see today’s technical advances anchored to anything other than a human center. While consumerism seems to secure the human end of technical advancement, it is the production process that seems far less human orientated. Technical advancement in information technology is guided by engaging human applications, but the production and disposal of every i-device comes with stories of the human expense: whether factory conditions of Foxconn or the e-waste situation in Asia and Africa. Delivering and powering these products of invention bring further concerns that place infrastructure in the balance with the environment.
It is perhaps the magic of low prices and engaging devices that has shifted concerns about the teleology of technology away from the human to the environment. An effort to pressure technical advancement away from instant gratification to long term sustainability (or, rather, ongoing gratification).
So, is technical advances today more directed toward human ends than in the 20th century? Mumford argues that the first urban revolution involved a myriad of technical advances in agriculture, astronomy, literature, mathematics, and weaponry that exalted humanity, granting excess power to fulfill needs beyond the requirements of survival. And the agency of this revolution was the institution of Kingship. Kings stood at the center of the “urban implosion.”
In the age of the Infrastructural City, who is the king that makes production inhumane?
Who are these rulers that measure their power in “loaves of bread and jugs of beer”? What is the purpose of this quantitative surplus? And why does this particular croissant and this pale ale taste so much better than those?
The kings were wrong. The best bread and beer is made in small batches from whole ingredients by craftsmen.