Technique and design are a reflection of human aspirations. Can the philosopher Ortega y Gasset offer us the key to understanding them?

A few weeks ago, while attending a conference on the future of the industry, one of the speakers mentioned “Meditation on technique” (Meditación de la Técnica), written by the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset in 1939.

As soon as I opened my computer, I looked for the document and started reading it. I was struck by how a philosopher of the first half of the last century had managed to understand the technique and, therefore, design.

This is my outline of “Meditation on technique”, which I explain in more detail later.

 

Beyond a recharged style, typical of the time, Ortega y Gasset manages to reach the heart of the technique: the human quest to carry out a life project to become what we aim to be.

To carry out this “programme of existence”, we must fight against the obstacles of the natural environment, using, paradoxically, the opportunities offered by that same environment. To achieve this, we perform a chain of actions, sometimes resulting in the creation of artifacts. The technique is that scheme of actions.

However, Ortega y Gasset reminds us that technology is influenced by our own program of existence, which in turn depends on each era and people. A civilization where the greatest aspiration of the human being is to attain enlightenment will, by force, generate a technique totally different from that of a civilization where the entrepreneur is the most admired figure.

Through technique, we modify our circumstances, that environment that does not allow us to satisfy our needs. In this way, we create a new nature, we adapt the environment – inverting Charles Darwin’s famous postulate that only the best adapted individuals succeed. And, in turn, we also manufacture ourselves.

Here ends Ortega and Gasset his writing. To this, however, I would give continuity with the help of another philosopher and a sociologist: Vilém Flusser and Herbert Simon:

First of all, this new nature created by human beings creates, in turn, new obstacles that we must overcome and also offers new possibilities. So we return to the beginning. With this loop, the new environment again modulates the human being, who builds a new project of life and, consequently, gives rise to a new technique.

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