Fallman, Daniel (2007). “Persuade Into What? Why Human-Computer Interaction Needs a Philosophy of Technology.” In Lecture Notes in Computer Science.” 4744/2007, pp 295-306.
2.2 Borgmann’s Focal Things and Practices
Borgmann is Heideggerian/dystopian/romantic (rather than pragmatic/Deweyian)
“Borgmann suggests that we need to be cautious and rethink the [engineering-like, design-oriented, “usefulness”] relationship—and the often assumed correspondence—between what we consider as useful and what we think of as good in terms of technology” …(Fallman quoting Borgmann:) “One the one hand, ambulances save lives and so are eminently useful; on the other hand, cars save us bodily exertion and the annoyances of fellow pedestrians or passengers and are thus, at least in part, a threat to the goods of community and our physical health in the form of exercise” [14, p. 21].
“This junction between the useful and the good—that some technologies may be both useful and good, while some technologies that are useful for some purposes might also be harmful, less good, in a broader context—is at the heart of Borgmann’s understanding of technology.”
Focal things are signified by “Commanding presence, continuity with the world and centering power”;
e.g. a hearth, which aside from its functional relation as heating and/or cooking, maintains cultural and symbolic focus as a “natural gathering point around which most activities were either centered or in some way related to.”
Commanding presence— puts demands on us, entrains “patience, endurance, skill…resoluteness”
Continuity with the world— it “connects us with other activities”; (Fallman quoting Borgmann:) “a focal thing is not an isolated entity; it exists as a material center in a complicated network of human relationships and relationships to its natural and cultural setting” [14, p. 23]
Centering power— it “comes to affirm the place where one lives and the direction of one’s life; …provides a centering experience, …” develops over time a sense that “this is the right thing to do and the right way of living.”
Focal things “tend to unify means and ends. Achievement and enjoyment are brought together; so are individual and community; mind and body; and body and world.”
2.2.1 The Device Paradigm
“Nevertheless, according to Borgmann, the understanding and appreciation of the role of focal things and practices seems to have disappeared from modern technology. It seems that the latter is rather guided by another kind of promise:” (Fallman quoting Borgmann:) “Technology … promises to bring the forces of nature and culture under control, to liberate us from misery and toil, and to enrich our lives. […] implied in the technological mode of taking up with the world there is a promise that this approach to reality will, by way of the domination of nature, yield liberation and enrichment” [1, p. 41].
“…we are typically not freed up at all by technology but rather made passive—and if we are freed up it is only to have time for more technology. In this downward spiral, we become consumers, increasingly disengaged from things and from each other.”
“modern technology, propelled by the advances in information technology, tends to operate to deconstruct things and reconstitute them into devices, which contributes to the style of modern life being short of a natural center, a hearth,…” (Fallman quoting Borgmann:) “In this rising tide of technological devices, disposability supersedes commanding presence, discontinuity wins over continuity, and glamorous thrills trump centering experiences” [14, p. 24].
Fallman quoting Borgmann re: the irony of technology: “The good life that devices obtain disappoints our deeper aspirations. The promise of technology, pursued limitlessly, is simultaneously alluring and disengaging” [14, p. 31].