Techno-Ecologies – inhabiting the deep technological spheres of everyday life
Eric Kluitenberg, Media Theorist
Technology can no longer be understood as an alterity (otherness) that stands in opposition to biological and social relationships. Going about our regular practices of everyday living we inhabit complex technological spheres of life that require a different, a more ‘ecological’ understanding of our relationship to technology. In analogy to the ‘deep ecology’ movement, philosopher David Rottenberg recently suggested that the notion of ‘deep technology’ relates user and context in an ecological, symbiotic way(1). Similarly, the idea of ‘inhabiting’ technological ecologies(2) emphasises our connectedness to our environment (material, natural, technological) and our dependence on the resources available in that environment (material, energetic, biological, cultural). Mastering these conditions, which necessarily transcend the personal experience, is vital to our survival on this planet.

The concept of technological ecologies as spheres of life invites a more careful consideration of the relationships between the natural and the artificial – or even the collapse of the boundaries between them – in favour of looking at such techno-ecologies as complex assemblages, comparable to how, for instance, philosopher Bruno Latour treats them. Our perspective should, however, not be limited to these technological ‘actors’. In The Three Ecologies (1989) Felix Guattari expresses his worries about the intense techno-scientific transformations the Earth is undergoing. Guattari observes an ecological disequilibrium generated by these transformations, which leads to a general reduction of human and social relationships and the sustainability of the living environment.
Bartaku. Temporary photoElectric Digestopians (TpED) Worklab #5. Cultural Center Strombeek, Brussels. 2011
Photo: Bartaku
Bartaku. Temporary photoElectric Digestopians (TpED) Worklab #3. Preparing a group of 96 interconnected digestopians Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, London. 2011
Courtesy of Textile Futures, Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, London
RIXC (Rasa Šmite, Raitis Šmits, Mārtiņš Ratniks). Renew-Ability (incl. 'Talk to Me' and 'Renewable Network Interface'). At the exhibition 'Gateways. Art and Networked Culture'. KUMU Art Museum, Tallinn. Foto: Mārtiņš Ratniks
According to Guattari, it is the relationship between subjectivity and its exteriority – be it social, animal, vegetable or cosmic – that is compromised, in a sort of general movement of ‘implosion’. He warns against a merely partial realisation of the severity of these changes, and inadequate responses that may come from a purely technocratic perspective. It is the ways of living on this planet that are in question, according to Guattari, in the context of the acceleration of technoscientific mutations and exponential demographic growth. Only an ‘ethico-political’ articulation ‘between’ the three ecological registers that he identifies – the environment, social relations, and human subjectivity – would be able to clarify these questions.
The paradox is that these techno-scientific transformations are both the source of the current ecological disequilibrium as well as the only realistic means to address and potentially resolve the problems they create. Somehow, however, we cannot seem to make them work.

Siegfried Zielinski has pointed out that one important fallacy to overcome is to view the course of technological development as ‘progress’, or to consider our current state of technological sophistication as the best possible and the necessary outcome of a predictable historical trajectory. In his Variantology project Zielinski makes a radical break with any idea of technological progress or determinism(3). The Variantological approach emphasises that at any point technological development (and human development along with it) is contingent (it can go anywhere). Variantology does not look for ‘master media’ or ‘imperative vanishing points’. Instead it seeks out the moments of greatest possible diversity and individual variation. It operates in carefully chosen periods of particularly intensive and necessary work on the media, across different cultural and physical geographies – exploring the ‘deep time relationships of the arts, sciences and technologies’.

Finally, an exploration of inhabitable technological ecologies needs to take into account the phantasmatic dimension of technological apparatuses and systems. Such a more psychographic understanding of the depth of technology aims to uncover hidden, or not immediately visible or discernible psychological layers attached to the technological apparatuses – perhaps we might refer to these as a ‘technological unconscious’ – that underpin human experience and our subjective ties with technological environments. It considers technology not only as an extension of the body, but also as an extension of our deepest desires. It explores the void between the ‘real’ and that what is mediated by systems of language, media, and technology. It acknowledges the existence of a ‘third body’ (Klaus Theweleit)(4) that inserts itself between us and the (technological) objects. This third body only emerges in our interaction with these objects, but it is neither held by us nor by the objects alone.

Beyond questions of finite resources and obvious forms of pollution and environmental degradation, attempts to develop sustainable relationships with technology and our living environment should take into account far more complex layerings of the way we inhabit our current technological ecologies. Such a deeply informed ethical and philosophical perspective is indispensable if we hope to find less hazardous routes into the future.

2 In developing the concept of techno-ecologies Eric Kluitenberg refers to the book by Felix Guattari, ‘The Three Ecologies’ – Ed. note.

The Techno-Ecologies concept for the Art+Communication 2011 festival and exhibition is being developed by Eric Kluitenberg. The exhibition is co-curated by Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite and Eric Kluitenberg. The festival is organized by RIXC, The Center for New Media Culture in collaboration with MPLab (Art Research Lab) of Liepaja University. The festival is supported by the Latvian Cultural Capital Foundation, Riga City Council, EU Programme Culture 2000, Mondriaan Foundation, etc.

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