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Ellul’s alternative theory of technology: Anticipating the fourth milieu of virtuality

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Jacques Ellul was a self-proclaimed ‘watchman’ over the progression of twentieth-century technology, and he argues that humans have adopted a sociological determinism that he dubbed ‘technique’, an idea explored in his widely read book The Technological Society (1964). Technique, for Ellul, explains both large-scale and small-scale trends in human civilizations by considering rationalized efficiency as the primary instigator of twentieth-century change. This article argues that Ellul’s conception of technique as a determining factor in technological change has been subsumed by a trend not for rationalized efficiency but rather for evolved efficiency. Specifically, I look at the underlying hypothesis that informed Ellul’s thought – his theory of the three milieus – to offer an interpretative framework for understanding how several current civilizations have moved into a fourth milieu of virtuality. Positing a fourth milieu could potentially revitalize Ellulian scholarship in studies of technology, media ecology and sustainability.
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Keywords: Jacques Ellul; critique of democratization; efficiency; evolution of technology; theory of the three milieus; virtuality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Angelo State University

Publication date: March 1, 2012

More about this publication?
  • EME explores the relationships between media, technology, symbolic form, communication, consciousness, and culture. Its scope is interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary. Media ecology provides a rich philosophical, historical and practical context for studying our increasingly technological and mediated society and culture with an emphasis on historical context.
    Media ecology scholarship emphasizes a humanistic approach to understanding media, communication, and technology, with special emphasis on the ways in which we have been and continue to be shaped and influenced by our inventions and innovation. The Media ecology approach is predicated on understanding that media, symbols, and technologies play a leading role in human affairs, and function as largely invisible environments affecting the way we think, feel, act, and organize ourselves collectively.
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