Technology is “a collection of phenomena [or effects] captured and
put to use”, “a programming of phenomena to our purposes”; a “purposed
system”. It is combinatorial (technologies are combinations of
existing components) and recursive (components are themselves
technologies).These and the following quotes are from Arthur
[A]ll means—monetary systems, contracts, symphonies, and legal codes, as well as physical methods and devices —are technologies.
[N]ontechnology-like technologies […] are based upon behavioral or organizational “effects,” not on physical ones.
The capturing or programming of phenomena happens deliberately and in a principled way:
A technology is built upon some principle, “some method of the thing,” that constitutes the base of idea of its working; this principle in turn exploits some effect (or several) to do this.
This means that “combination must necessarily be a highly disciplined process”.
To deliberately capture phenomena, we need Explicit Models. But due to its combinatorial and recursive nature, the models for any “higher” technology (that combines more basic technologies) cannot be held individually anymore.
[T]echnology becomes a complex of interactive processes—a complex of captured phenomena— supporting each other, using each other, “conversing” with each other, “calling” each other much as subroutines in computer programs call each other. The “calling” here need not be triggered in some sequence as in computing. It is ongoing and continuously interactive.
It is therefore collective actors (Systems) who hold the models: teams, institutions, communities, industries, economies, civilisations – depending on the recursion level and on whether we look at an individual technology or bodies of technology (from specific domains to technology as a whole). These technologies
are developed not by a single practitioner or a small group of these, but by a wide number of interested parties.
In the process,
knowledge—both of the scientific and technical type—[…] has cumulated over time. This knowledge […] is contained within engineering practice itself, but also within technical universities, learned societies, national academies of science and of engineering, published journals. All these form the all-important substrate from which technologies emerge.
As a consequence, individuals can’t (and don’t have to) know how a reasonably complex technology works for it to work; the subject of Knowledge is the temporally extended larger system.
- Arthur (2009): The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves