Heidegger, Technology, and Pedagogy

Question 5A (English 6321: Rhetoric and Technology):  What does Heidegger have to say about the questioning of technology, revealing of technology, techne, enframing of technology, and essence of technology?  How do these philosophical concepts affect the way you think about technology?  In your response you should discuss the latter concepts, and then consider how they apply (or don’t) in your own uses and thoughts on technology.  For example, you can bring in considerations from your experiences as a teacher/student using technology to create and teach, as a gamer, as a traditional literacy user melding in with technology in order to produce and express evolving electronic literacies, such as your own humument, or your own digirhetorati analysis.

Technology, in its many forms, has been a central piece of human history for thousands of years.  The “thousands of years” may surprise those who link only the mechanical and electronic to technology, but technology can include basic tools and even writing.  Walter Ong professes that writing is a technology in Orality and Literacy in stating, “…writing (and especially alphabetic writing) is a technology, calling for the use of tools and other equipment (81).  Certainly there is a strong link between writing, rhetoric, and technology in our modern world.  As Cynthia Selfe writes in “Learning in the Twenty-First Century,” “the truly disadvantaged learner in [this] century will be the learner without technology” (50).  So should technology be a major part of Rhetoric and Composition?  It seems the question “should it” should be replaced with the statement, “it is.”  Those who fail to critically incorporate technology into their scholarship and pedagogy will injure their students and simply be blind-folded passengers on a ship that set off long ago.  A major figure in helping us theorize about technology is Martin Heidegger.  In this essay I shall explicate some of Heidegger’s thoughts on technology and connect those with my own views and uses of technology.

Let me begin with Heidegger’s “questioning concerning technology.”  In questioning technology in a complex and philosophical manner we create a way, or path, towards discussing technology.  In questioning a revealing takes place, a revealing directly linked to truth.  Thus, in our questioning of technology we create a means to open new spaces in our search for truths.  For Heidegger, “questioning is the piety of thought” (35), and it is with questioning that our journey with technology begins.  As I stated in the introduction, technology continues to be a growing presence in our world and as scholars of Rhetoric and Composition we must not avoid this “questioning.”  My own questioning has grown exponentially over the past few years.

As a teacher I had to begin asking myself questions such as, “what technology should I use in my classroom?,” “why should I use this technology?,” and “what are the implications of my use or non-use of technology?”  At first, before I began teaching in computer labs, my use of technology was limited to PowerPoint, e-mail, and even an “old-school” overhead projector on occasion.  Besides telling students they could use PowerPoint in their presentations, and asking them to e-mail me with questions or concerns, technology was not a major part of my teaching (this of course assumes a definition of technology that moves beyond the technologies of pen, paper, and chalkboard).  But as my pedagogy began including more and more technology I began to develop a much more complex relationship with technology.  It was no longer marginalized in my classroom but was now beginning to play a central role.  This central role not only affected how students turned in “traditional” essays (via e-mail or postings on WebCT,) but directly affected the types of assignments I was having students work on and, critically, the ways students were beginning to interact with, use, and present/display information.  Assignments were beginning to be multi-modal, as students were able to mix written text, images, audio, and video in their work.  It is no surprise that in “A New Canon for a New Rhetoric Education,” John Scenters-Zapico and Grant C. Ros write, “technology is creating a demand for present-day rhetoricians to be able to invent, arrange, stylize, and deliver their projects through a whole host of rhetorical means” (65), and to go so far as to state that “multimedia provides a sixth canon” to the traditional five canons of Rhetoric (63).  This fact has come to life in my Composition classroom.

My experiences with technology have now begun to mix with technology theory.  I see that the “questioning concerning technology” leads us towards questions concerning the “essence of technology.”  The essence of technology is not simply “what” technology is but “essence” represents a deeper understanding of the presence of something.  The concept is very Platonic and I associate “essence” with the Forms of Plato.  Just as a specific chair cannot totally explain the ultimate essence/presence of all chairs (their “chair-ness”), neither can a single piece of technology ultimately point to the overall essence/presence of all technology.  Thus, in our interactions with technology, we should be concerned with getting to and understanding some of the deeper issues, meanings, uses, and implications associated with technology.  In doing so, we are no longer absent-minded users of technology, but caught up in seeking and understanding its essence.  As Heidegger writes, “Thus we shall never experience our relationship to the essence of technology so long as we merely conceive and push forward the technological, put up with it, or evade it” (4).  Unfortunately, many in Rhetoric and Composition simply “put up” with technology instead of critically engaging it.

In my own experience as a student and teacher I have seen how technology affects our relationship to information and to the world.  I am glad that I have been able to experience education in a non-technological and highly-technological environment.  In elementary and middle school the technology I was exposed to, and my interaction with it, was very limited.  Very basic computing and the use of a tape recorder was the extent of my interaction.  In high school, in the early 1990s, I was exposed to calculators, typewriters, computers, and some video technology (in a Broadcasting class).  As an undergraduate my use and interaction with technology grew exponentially with the everyday use of computers, various software, e-mail, Internet, and chat rooms.  As a graduate student my interaction with technology leveled off as I continued to use computers, e-mail, and the Internet on a regular basis but didn’t acquire any new technology skills either as a student or instructor.  It wasn’t until my work as a doctoral student that technology once again became fresh and more complex, a welcomed challenge to my now consistent, but repetitive, use of aging technologies.  As a student and instructor I began integrating WebCT, Blogs, Wikis, Internet site building (Front Page and Share Point), Audio, Video, Social Bookmarking (Diigo.com), E-mapping (Bubbl.us), Smart Board, and technology-based websites such as Myspace.com and Zamzar.com.  I was beginning to be a new millennium rhetor.

The reason I discuss my personal-historical interactions with technology is because they directly affect my understanding of the essence of technology, an understanding that is constantly developing.  They also illustrate how the essence of technology moves beyond specific technologies.  If I were to have attempted some understanding of the essence of technology in 1990, it would have been much different than now in 2007, and that is because of my interactions with different technologies.  As my interactions with technology multiply, so to does my connection between technology and things such as reality and truth.  Yet, as Heidegger attempts to get at, there is an ever-elusive essence of technology that goes beyond specific technologies.  In trying to explain this essence, Heidegger points to the “revealing of technology” and to “techne.”

For Heidegger, “Technology is no mere means.  Technology is a way of revealing…i.e., of truth” (12).  Thus, the essence of technology is directly connected to the revealing of truth and does not merely point to human tools that are only means.  This is an important leap and central to Heideggerian theory on technology.  I see this connection to truth as a venue to deeply connect technology to Rhetoric.  While contemporary Rhetoric shies away from the development of ultimate truths, or Truths with a capital T, it certainly connects rhetoric to the development of reality.  Rhetoric as epistemic is central to contemporary Rhetorical thought and goes far beyond simply seeing language and rhetoric as dress of thought or as a simple tool of communication, just as Heideggerian thinking takes technology out of the simplistic realm of “means” and connects it to a deeper understanding of truth.  Technology, like/with Rhetoric is involved in this revealing/unconcealment of truth and reality.

Directly linked to this revealing, knowing, and bringing-forth is “techne,” a root word of technology.  Techne is linked to “episteme” (knowing) and also describes “the activities and skills of the craftsman” and “the arts of the mind…” (13).  These skills, and this knowing, belong to the revealing and unconcealment of truth, a “bringing-forth” as Heidegger calls it (13).  Understanding my students and myself as “techne-icians” seems sometimes a perfect adjective, and at other times quite dubious.  I say this because at times it does seem/feel that me and/or my students are directly involved in some important “revealing” in the work we are doing and presenting.  For example, when my students did Smart Board presentations and were using multi-media to present important information, while at the same time teaching the class how to use the Smart Board software, it felt as though the entire class, especially those presenting, were involved in learning and creating new realities—complexly involved in “episteme.”  The same was true when I was working on my Digirhetorati video analysis in my Rhetoric and Technology course.  I was integrating text, audio, pictures, video, and my new-found abilities to edit web pages, to create knowledge and present it in a highly technical manner.  But, the opposite is also true.  There were times when both my students and I were utterly confused and frustrated.  When you can’t get the video projector to work, or your web page doesn’t load, or the Internet won’t connect, or you can’t upload a video, or your PhotoShop collage looks like a 5th-grader did it!, those are the times that “techne” and “episteme” seem like laughable adjectives.  But I have come to realize that the successes, along with the struggles, are part of our inevitable interactions with technology, and that both are part of technologies essence.

These Heideggerian technological notions of essence, revealing and techne come most alive to me when I think about and experience video gaming.  I have been fortunate to interact with gaming since some of its early days and have kept up with the latest gaming technologies.  I played Pong on the Atari, Super Mario Brothers on the first Nintendo, Zelda on the Super Nintendo,Doom I on my PC, Tetris on a GameBoy, Madden Football on Playstations I and II, NBA Live on the X-Box and X-Box 360, Hot Shots Golf on my Playstation Portable (PSP), Tennis on the Wii, and am currently playing games, watching movies, storing pictures, video, data, and downloading new games on my Playstation III.  The leap in gaming technology over the past thirty years has been enormous and a pleasure to experience.  This “experiencing” is a complex and almost amazing thing.  There I am, holding a controller with up to ten buttons, using my “techne” to maneuver my way through various gaming situations, watching another world, one that I am “in,” reveal itself at every turn.  At that moment, I am caught up in the bringing-forth and essence that Heidegger talks about.  As Jos De Mul writes in “The Game of Life: Narrative and Ludic Identity Formation in Computer Games,” “critically elaborating on Ricoeur’s theory of narrative identity, the author examines the impact of computer games…on the cognitive, volitional, and emotional dimensions of human identity…” (quoted in Raessens xv-xvi).  This points to an understanding that gaming, and technology, is caught up in our lived experiences, in our reality, and in conceptions of reality, self, and truth.  All this points to technology’s essence.

This also points to Heidegger’s notion of the “enframing of technology,” which he describes as the “gathering…of the coming-forth” so as to reveal (19).  The enframing is a complex framework that helps structure the revealing which technology helps bring forth.  The pieces of technology I have discussed above, from software to hardware, are specific instances of this enframing which help order and structure.  And “since man drives technology forward, he takes part in ordering as a way of revealing” (18).  Man is caught up in the truth and reality-revealing of which technology is a part.  For some, the notion that technology is involved in this “revealing” signals a “post-human” world.  This scares some, excites others, but for Katherine Hayles in “Conclusion: What Does it Mean to be PostHuman?” it is just a simple fact.  Hayles thinks it is wrong to envision the human subject “as an autonomous self with unambiguous boundaries, [parsing] the solidity of real life on one side and the illusion of virtual reality on the other, thus obscuring the far-reaching changes initiated by the development of virtual technologies” (290).  While not all technologies are virtual technologies it is easy to imagine this post-human world, as was creatively done so in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, where the character Case loathes the idea of being stuck only in the meat of the physical body, and in the film AI (Artificial Intelligence) where we see a young computer-boy (David) who blurs the boundary between human and technological.

This severe blurring has yet to occur in my own life and teaching but it is not far-fetched for me to see our world, and my classroom, as “post-human” in some ways.  It is hard for me now to imagine my classroom experiences without the use of computers, various hardware and software, the Internet, and with the “old” technologies of pen and paper.  When technology begins to become invisible in our uses of it, then maybe that is when we are delving into the world of “post-human.”  And when technology helps us understand and create realities and truth then maybe that is when it is pointing to the heart of Heidegger’s essence of technology.

Works Cited

Artificial Intelligence. Dreamworks, 2002.

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace Boks, 1984.

Hayles, N. Katherine. “Conclusion: What Does it Mean to be Posthuman.”  How We Became

Posthuman. University of Chicago Press, 1999. 283-292.

Heidegger, Martin. “The Question Concerning Technology.” (class packet) 3-35.

Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy. Routledge, 2002. 80-85.

Raessens, Joost, and Jeffrey Goldstein. Handbook of Computer Game Studies. MIT Press, 2005.


Scenters-Zapico, John T., and Grant C. Cos. “A New Canon for a New Rhetoric Education.” The Realms

Of Rhtoric: The Prospects of Rhetoric Education. Eds. Joseph Petraglia and Deepaki

Bahri. Albany, NY: SUNY P, 2003. 61-71.

Selfe, Cynthia. “Learning in the 21st Century.” (class packet) 49-66.

Considering this was a course on technology and rhetoric, I have provided a few websites that would be of interest to new millennium rhetoricians (these were not used in the above essay):

$100 Laptops:


USC Games Institute:


The Digital Divide: