Technology of existence: a philosophical understanding


This text will try to analyze one of the fundamental technologies that have characterized and organized human history: time. Time in itself is not a technology, it is a dimension, a constituent property of our universe. Time is part of the existence of each of us. Time is becoming, and through it, we can perceive the existence of the other bodies in the universe; without it, immobility would reign supreme. However, when time is applied to organizational models and structures, when its measurement is applied to human existence and its social structures, in this applied form time is transformed from a dimension into a technology.

Every artifact related to the structure, organization, and measurement of the temporal dimension I call the technology of existence. The technology of existence is a collective technology, based on common symbolic meaning. Of all the artifacts that are part of the technology of existence, the clock is the primary one with which the technology of time manifests itself.

The question the text asks is: has time, through the technologies of existence, played a positive or negative role in human existence? Anticipating this, there is no answer to this question. Nor is it possible to find it in such a short text. What it is allowed to do, however, is to start thinking about this question, opening the dialogue with two opposing perspectives. The first one supports the positive role of temporal technologies on human existence, the second one is against it. To do these two different authors are used: in support of the positive role, Don Ihde and his concept of embodiment relations is used. While for the negative impact on human existence Marx thought is used, but to get to the gist of this ideas, the concept of Megamachine devised by Mumford will be used.

Application of the technology of existence

Existence technologies are abstract, without their application at the systemic level they cannot find their realization. In this section what will be described is the application of existence technologies within human societies. To do this, it is appropriate to have a system to refer to, going to highlight the role of temporal organization within it.

The first step to take is to describe a system. A general one will be described using the concept of “Megamachine” devised by Mumford (2014:381).
Mumford’s concept in this context is not important in the analysis of time technologies, but it does offer an important description of how they act within a human organizational system. By describing the application of technologies of existence within Mumford’s Megamachine, it is possible to highlight the contrasts that emerge from the interpretation of the two philosophers used in the text, Ihde, and Marx, when looking at the individual-technology-of-existence relations.

With Megamachine Mumford describe a system of hierarchical organization, divided internally into several specialized sectors that interact with each other in an organized manner, coordinating to create a result greater than the sum of the individual parts. The concept of Megamachine applies to any human system present in any era, and this is well evidenced by Mumford himself (2014:381).

According to Mumford, the smallest unit of the Megamachine system is the individual human, this is because the human body is not a specialized organism, but a plastic one and this characteristic of the human body applies to different environments and tasks. The Megamachine is made up of different units, and for the different parts to interact, it is important, Mumford points out, to create a common symbolic culture (Mumford, 2014:383). It is through the creation of common values, narratives, language, and symbols that it is possible to create a relationship between the individual and the Megamachine so that it can operate.

A machine is a body composed of multiple technologies that work together to create a greater result than the individual parts (think of a car is composed of the engine, lights, wheels, brakes, etc.). In the Megamachine the smallest unit is represented by the single individual, while what allows its functioning by putting it in motion, is a technology of organization, and therefore a technology of time. In fact, without organization between the different parts, there could be no coordination and the system would not work.
From the above we arrive at the following description: the Megamachine is a social machine present numerous times throughout human history. Its smallest unit is composed of the individual, and the first technology applied within it is the technology of existence since the first characteristic of the Megamachine to function is an organizational structure in terms of division and coordination of labor.

What has been said is important in this context as it is possible to describe a practical application to the technologies of existence, taking it from the abstract to the everyday dimension. From what has been said in this section it is possible to deduce implicitly, that when a human individual takes part in the Megamachine, his time and therefore also the rhythm of his life follow that of the Megamachine itself since he works and lives according to it.
Through the concept of Megamachine, it has been possible to describe the practical application in general terms of the technology of existence within human social systems. They represented an organizational system of human societies present throughout the entire course of human history, and through the temporal organization within them, colossal feats were achieved. Even today, systems of technological development, the pursuit of knowledge, large corporations, and entertainment systems can be classified under the idea of Megamachine.

Through this analogy, it was possible to highlight the importance of the technology of existence within human society. In fact, without organization and coordination of time between the different parts present in any human society, it would be difficult to achieve any result. Thanks to these structures of social organization it has been possible to have important advancements in technical and knowledge terms for the whole human civilization.
The technologies of existence are systemic, for this reason in the next two sections two types of relationships will be analyzed, the first following Ihde that of individual-to-system, and the second through Marx that of system-to-individual.

Don Ihde: the technology of existence as embodied relation

Don Ihde, carrier focuses on the analysis of actual artifacts and the way they interact with the users (Introna, 2017). Within his work, Ihde develops three categories of concepts with which he describes these relations: embodied, hermeneutics, and alterity relations. As mentioned above, the first category will be used for the analysis.

With embodied relations, Ihde describes the use of the context in which the subject takes the technologies within his experience in a particular way of perceiving through this technology and the reflexive transformation of my perception of the body and senses (Ihde, 2014:539). With this, the author attributes technology as a role of mediator between the subject and the world. A famous example is one of glasses. In fact, through them, the subject can perceive and represent

the world through sight, which would otherwise not be possible. This type of relationship can be represented as follows:

(I-glasses)-world (Ihde, 2014:540)

But how is this kind of relationship applicable to this analysis? The technology of time organization is a mediator between the subject and the world. Indeed, through the structure and measurement with which we organize time, we also give meaning and interpretation to existences. The role of mediator is all the more clearer as the technology of existence brings the subjectivity of the individual into a larger fixed time system, thus representing the subject in the world by determining it. Ihde refers to this representation as a continuum of relations (Ihde, 2014:540), and it is through these relations that the temporal technology is experienced, thus allowing the individual to take part in the organization of the temporal system. Applying the representation of the previous relationship to our technological analysis we have the following:

(I-technologies of existence)-world

Another important feature that Ihde provides and that it is applicable to the analysis is that of transparency. Indeed, embodiment relations can be more precisely described as one in which the technology becomes maximally “transparent” (Ihde, 2014:540). My glasses, Ihde points out, become part of how I ordinarily experience my surrounding; they “withdraw” and are barely noticed, if at all. I have then actively embodied the technics of vision (Ihde, 2014:540). Technics is the symbiosis of artifact and user with human action (Ihde, 2014:540). It is possible to translate this into our case. Individuals tend to forget the artifacts that lead to a temporal organization, we see the clock and what it shows us, but we forget what is behind the number. We know the day of the week, and we attribute meaning to that day, which is, however, constructed, as constructed as the glasses through which we see, both of which are, however, indispensable to our representation of the world. We do not realize it, but just as with the glasses, we live in symbiosis with the technology of existence in its many forms, without which, just as with the glasses, we will be blind in ordering our lives.

Ihde also points to an additional, deeper element that emerges from the experience of embodiment relations. He attributes to the relationship a desire for total transparency, total embodiment, for the technology to truly “become me”. (Ihde, 2014:541). If what the author says applies to the example of the glasses, it becomes even stronger when looking at the technology of time. Following its organization, adjusting our lives to its divisions and distributions, that temporal technology becomes us by manifesting and nourishing itself. The technology of existence becomes me.

What has just been saying is all the more positive, Ihde writes:

Only by using the technology is my bodily power enhanced and magnified […] by changing my capacities. These capacities are always different from my naked capacities […], but I want it in such a way that I’m unaware of its presence. I want it in such a way that it becomes me (Ihde, 2014:541).

This can easily be translated to the technology of existence. It changes us by increasing our efficiency and coordination on a systemic level. Looking to the Megamachine example, how difficult would it be to co-operate if each of us used a personalized method of organizing time? It would lead to inefficiency and organizational chaos. This is even more evident in our global world characterized by different time zones, in which human groups thousands of kilometers apart must coordinate to carry out their activities. Increased efficiency and organization lead to better systemic coordination, and this is undoubtedly an essential element in the development of any human society.

Through Ihde, it was possible to analyze the individual-to-system relationship within the continuum. Following Ihde though, the adoption of the technology of existence applied to the Megamacchine can be read positively. If the individual existence is embodied in the Megamachine system and this develops every day more, we develop within it increasing ourselves. But what can be said about the opposite direction system-to-individual? Does time technology favor the existence of the individual? In the following part, a reflection on this will be opened.

The technology of existence and the individual

In this section Marx’s thought will be used, what emerges from the following analysis is applicable to the concept of Megamachine introduced in the previous sections.

Marx throughout his work (2014:77) makes a most interesting analysis of the relationship between the individual-labor, and how these two elements together give rise to the identity of the individual. Marx starts from a perspective of material reality, namely that the only reality that can truly be considered as existing is the one formed by material objects and their continuous evolution. In this regard he writes, referring to the expression of the life of the individual:

What they are, therefore, coincides with they [individual] production, both with, what they produce and whit how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production (Marx, 2014:77).

Put another way, what Marx means here can be translated as “I am what I make,” it is my material production that gives me my identity. The individual sees himself through what he makes, his production is like the reflection in a mirror with the difference that the image in the mirror does not have material properties while what comes from his actions does, it is tangible.

Applying what has been said about identity creation to the technologies of existence, it is possible to obtain important reflections on the system-to-individual relationship. As has been described, the organization of time (i.e. technologies of existence) is fundamental in the coordination of human activities and therefore in the creation of material reality. The relevance of these technologies is directly proportional to the technological-industrial level that a society possesses. If within a rural society the subdivision of time can follow a more natural organization following the alternation of day and night together with that of the seasons, the same cannot be said of a technologically advanced civilization. An example of this are the millions of dollars spent on supercomputers at Wall Street to have a faster response to what is happening in the markets to beat the competition (Barrat, 2013:94). From this, we can say that the more the complexity of the social system increases, the more the technologies of existence applied to organizational structures become important. Complex societies create complex projects. To achieve realization, these projects need a division and organization of labor in terms of both capacity and workforce, and time (i.e. organization). It is in this subdivision that the problem highlighted by Marx of identity creation finds its form.

If, as we can see from daily experience, our existences follow the path of the technologies of existence (people organize their lives according to the week, hour, month, etc..), and these same technologies are used to organize the technological society and its complex projects, the identity of the individual is lost. This can be seen in the example of the Megamachine. Marx points out that we are what we produce, or to put it differently the conscious existence of men is their actual-life process (Marx, 2014:78). Since Marx relates a man’s consciousness to his productive activities, if this relationship is weak then consciousness will also be weak, and it will have implications in the entire process of his existence (i.e. identity problem).

This process is realized when the technology of existence is applied to complex technological societies. Time is the dimension in which the existences of bodies materialize. By channeling that materialization through the technology of existence within complex societies, for Marx, the relationship that is created is one that destabilizes the identity of the individual as he does not see the result of his actions.


In this text, an attempt was made to reflect on the use of time as a technology, trying to answer the following question: has time, through the technologies of existence, played a positive or negative role in human existence? In the first part of the text, given that time has abstract characteristics, we tried to translate the technology of time within the practical context using the concept created by Mumford of Megamachine. In this context, the Megamachine represents the reference system from which to begin the reflection of the technology of existence. Since the individual is the subject that perceives time, we obtain two elements that interact with each other concerning time: the system and the individual.

The relationship that arises from these two elements can be read through two different angles: individual-to-system and system-to-individual. Applying the thought of Ihde and Marx to these relationships, we can note the following:
Marx conceives of a relationship that can be described similarly to that of Ihde’s embodied relation. Indeed, as in Ihde’s thought, for Marx, we become what we are through technological

use. The differences in their conceptualization of the relationship lie essentially in two points. The first is the object towards which their relationship turns, the second is the interpretation of the relationship.
The two different relationships can be described as follows:

Ihde (I-technology)-world

Marx (I-technology)-identity

The difference lies in the object in which the relationship is placed. If in fact for Ihde the purpose is a representation of the world, for Marx instead is the creation of the identity of the individual. In fact, subject + technology = productive act, it is the productive act that determines the identity. In a second moment, it will define its relationship with the world depending on what identity is attributed to it (i.e. being a fisherman has different relationships than being a Google engineer).

The second point of discord concerns the interpretation of the meaning of these relationships. While for Ihde the relationship is as positive as ever because it changes and potentially increases the capabilities of the individual (Ihde, 2014:541), for Marx the judgment is context-dependent. For example, in an agrarian society in which the individual sees the result of his labor, the ratio may be positive, but in a society in which labor is particularized between different hyperspecialized departments, and thus the individual does not identify with the final product, it is negative (i.e. capitalist system).

In conclusion, there is no definitive answer. While it is true that in the individual-to-system relationship, following Ihde, can be defined as positive, since the individual “sees”(i.e. exists) through the technologies of existence applied to the Megamachine, therefore every development of the Megamachine is also a development for the individual. This does not find confirmation in the argumentation that Marx poses. In fact, by analyzing the system-to-individual relationship through Marx’s idea of material identity, we get that the technologies of existence can only create more uncertainty to the consciousness of the individual.

What perhaps emerges most from the following analysis is the need to think more comprehensively about the relationship between macro (system) and micro (individual), and the incompatibility behind it.


  •  Barrat, J. (2013). Our final invention.Thomas Dunne Books. St.Martin’s Griffin. New York.
  • Ihde, D. (2014). “A Phenomenology of Technics”. In: Philosophy of technology – The technological condition an Anthology, Schraff, R.C., Dusek, V. (red.) 539-560. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley Blackwell.
  •  Introna, L. (2017). “Phenomenological Approaches to Ethics and Information Technology”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrived 24 October 2021.
  •  Marx, K. & Engels F. (2014). “The German Ideology”. In: Philosophy of technology – The technological condition an Anthology, Schraff, R.C., Dusek, V. (red.) 76-79. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley Blackwell.
  • Mummford, L. (2014). “Tool Users vs. Homo Sapiens and the Megamachine”. In: Philosophy of technology – The technological condition an Anthology, Schraff, R.C., Dusek, V. (red.) 381-388. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley Blackwell.

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