Ageing and the Technological Imaginary: Living and Dying in the Age of Perpetual Innovation

Studies in Christian Ethics 32 (1):20-35 (2019)
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Abstract

Technology tends toward perpetual innovation. Technology, enabled by both political and economic structures, propels society forward in a kind of technological evolution. The moment a novel piece of technology is in place, immediately innovations are attempted in a process of unending betterment. Bernard Stiegler suggests that, contra Heidegger, it is not being-toward-death that shapes human perception of time, life, death, and meaning. Rather, it is technological innovation that shapes human perception of time, life, death, and meaning. In fact, for Stiegler, human evolution has always been part of technological evolution. While one can quibble with the notion of human-technology co-evolution, there is something to be said for the way in which human perception of time, of ageing, and of death seems to be judged against the horizon of perpetual evolution of technological innovation. In this technological imaginary, of which modern medicine is constituent, ageing and death seemingly may be infinitely deferred, and it is this innovating deferral that shapes the contemporary social imaginary around ageing and death in modern medicine. Yet, the reality of living and dying always manifests itself differently than the scripts given to us by the technological imaginary with its myth of endless innovation. In fact, I shall argue that, where the Church created an ars moriendi, the technological imaginary gives us an ars ad mortem when it becomes clear that ageing and death cannot be infinitely deferred. And further, I shall argue that the Church must revivify its ars vivendi—that is to say, its liturgies, its arts, its technics—as a counter narrative to the myth of perpetual innovation that shapes the technological imaginary.

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Jeffrey Bishop
Saint Louis University

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