Heidegger gives many perplexing statements in The Question Concerning Technology, that require some time to fully unpack. One puzzling statement that I believe is highly important to understand is where Heidegger says that the standard definition of technology is correct, but is not true (Heidegger, 6). The standard definition he is referring to is the “instrumental and anthropological definition of technology” (Heidegger, 5). This statement provides the setting in which Heidegger can pursue a “true” definition or essence of technology. By saying this he brings the focus of the conversation about technology to the essence of technology, and therefore, to a more historical perspective where he makes reference to other philosophers.
In this historical perspective, Heidegger makes it obvious that he wants to get to the primal essence of technology by using roots of words, leading to a more fundamental understanding of the topic. In doing so, Heidegger uses Plato to arrive at the word poiesis, as a bringing forth or revealing (Heidegger, 10). He uses this word to express the idea that poetry and art are ways of revealing the world, making the association between poiesis and technology. The association of technology and art does not seem to make sense until they are both seen as ways of revealing the truth (Heidegger, 12). Furthermore, this alternative way of thinking about technology allows us to remove instrumentality from technology; ergo, get closer to the “true” essence of technology.
Heidegger then discusses the relationship between nature and technology, describing modern technology as a “challenging” of nature (Heidegger, 14). This is due to humanity’s orientation to the world in which we want to find out how nature can serve us and work for us. Additionally, this brings Heidegger to the concept of “standing reserve” which is closely related to the standard definition of technology of instrumentality. The concept of standing reserve expresses how humans view everything as a potential tool to be used for advancing instrumental technology. Heidegger describes this concept as the fundamental way in which humans are oriented to see the world. With that being said, Heidegger uses the word “enframing” (Heidegger, 21) to describe this overall orientation to revealing the world.
Heidegger uses the abstract idea of “enframing” to compare how we do reveal nature to how we could allow nature to open itself up to us. Heidegger describes art, or poiesis, as a way of revealing that “takes part” in unveiling nature as oppose to exploiting it. Heidegger does not conclude with a concrete definition. However, by taking this approach to see the essence of technology as “enframing,” we can realize the potential of humans to alter their orientation of revealing the truth in nature to avoid the endless standing reserve of nature until destruction.
Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013.