The Point of Technical Convergence

The following passage is taken from one of the last chapters of Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society, originally published in 1954.

However, one important fact has escaped the notice of the technicians, the phenomenon of technical convergence …. Our interest here is the convergence on man of a plurality, not of techniques, but of systems or complexes of techniques. The result is an operational totalitarianism; no longer is any part of man free and independent of these techniques …. It is impossible to determine, by considering any human technique in isolation, whether its human object remains intact or not. The problem can be solved only by using the human being as a criterion, only by looking at this point of convergence of technical systems.

[….]

Our highly specialized technicians will have a vast number of problems to hurdle before they are in a position to put together the pieces of the puzzle. The technical operations involved do not appear to fit well together, and only by means of a new technique of organization will it be possible to unite the different pieces into a whole. When this has finally been accomplished, however, human techniques will develop very fast. As yet unrecognized potentialities for influencing the individual will appear. At the moment such possibilities are only dimly discerned in the penumbra of totalitarian regimes still in their infancy. It should not be forgotten, of course, that while our technicians are trying to synthesize the various techniques theoretically, a synthetic unity already exists and man is its object.

I submit that we can read this prophetically and find the fulfillment of the “new technique of organization” that will unleash “unrecognized potentialities for influencing the individual” in digital technology, perhaps even seeing in the smartphone the symbol of technical convergence. A whole assemblage of political, economic, psychological, and social techniques find in this digital device a focal point upon which to converge on the human being.

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