Response to Ellul’s Thoughts on Technique

As defined by Ellul, the concept of technique refers to humans’ methods to achieve absolute efficiency based on certain levels of development in any specific human activity (Ellul, Wilkinson, and Merton 1964). The definition is correct based on the context of the application. In particular, Ellul reveals that the developers of techniques settle once they find a new technique that is more efficient than the one previously used. The concept that the technique applies to a specific development period implies that it is open for future improvement (Ellul, Wilkinson, and Merton 1964, 3). Another concept revealed from Ellul’s definition of technology is that the term does not only apply to machines, technological advancements, and methods used to arrive at desired ends. Different phases of revolution have resulted in new techniques for solving society’s problems, with each new generation of technology becoming more efficient or superior to the former.

Ellul defines different features of modern technology that necessitate the need for efficiency. According to Ellul, such characteristics include monism, autonomy, artificiality, automation, universalism, rationalism, and auto-augmentation. Ellul’s argument indicates that the motivation behind the increase in different techniques relies entirely on the seven features. To a great extent, modern systems are enhanced to increase productivity in various applications. It is practically impossible to find an individual or a group working on improving a specific technique with no intention related to the seven features.

The creation of wealth is one of the sole motivations for enhancing modern technologies. Capitalism, as Ellul puts it, prompts different people to come up with better ways of working to increase their output, in addition to lowering the number of resources for production (Ellul, Wilkinson, and Merton 1964, 5). The reduction in resources results from automation, where machines replace several skilled human workers. Another prominent aspect of modern technology is that one device can perform several tasks, known as multitasking capabilities; hence, there is no need to use several elements for different functions. Computers perform well when used to run multiple activities. Moreover, the current machines are becoming more powerful yet smaller due to the increase in nanotechnology.

Even though I agree with Ellul in most of his assertions about modern technology, he does not address technique and innovation’s central origin. Humans are naturally created to innovate and find solutions to existing problems. According to McClure et al. (2010), humans tend to seek ways to escape situations even at their youngest age. For instance, toddlers use different techniques to develop innovative ideas that help them maneuver some issues they meet at their tender age. Thus, to create is innate and does not rely solely on external factors, such as creating wealth. To a greater extent, humans acquire this inner conviction of creating new things from the creator. In this regard, I believe that humans have this nature that led God to create the universe.

The continuous improvement in techniques mainly comes from the fact that humans try to attain their creator’s infinite wisdom. Religion teaches that infinite wisdom created the entire world and systems in six literal days. To a greater extent, humans have not achieved the technique of collectively creating the world in their whole years (Mumford 2010). Humans cannot create Ex nihilo, which indicates that there is still a long way to go and more vast knowledge to acquire. The gap between human wisdom and God’s infinite creative power puts people in a safer zone to attain their master creator’s level.

Ellul argues that technology has made humans submit to it rather than technology being subservient to people. Ellul compares this phenomenon with the diminished human value to a technological society. According to him, the time humans begin to question classical history and language, they do not seek knowledge to advance their state of economy and technology (Ellul, Wilkinson, and Merton 1964). In this assertion, Ellul reveals one of the issues facing the current education system. I particularly agree with this notion because modern education results in more stress than enhancing the natural techniques with which every individual is endowed. Most school systems in the current world try to teach young people to be inclined towards information technology. The focus is to have learners who can work with computers but do not understand more profound computing concepts beyond reasoning, machine language, connectivity, and data combinations to make them interact with humans. The primary consequence resulting from this approach is that the learners continuously become intellectually and consciously retarded.

The criticism put forth by Ellul is valid, except that it is not sufficient. While the present methods focus on some particular areas, education provides a background for evolution. Modern education provides the basic knowledge needed by a learner to advance their understanding of different techniques. The main problem that affects current learners is that the education system focuses more on attaining credentials for employment and bearing titles. Most graduates do not work in organizations that require the skills they are trained in while at the university. Perhaps there is a need to change education and employ people based on demonstrated skills and talent. On the other hand, there is a need to nurture talent through focused organizations and platforms to help learners get more in-depth into technology. There are few if no inventions in the modern world because of over-reliance on technology.

The advancement of technology creates both fear and hope. Ellul believes that technology has resulted in fear of inventions, as most people find easier ways to solve the existing problems (Ellul, Wilkinson, and Merton 1964). However, he also expresses fear of current technology, indicating that it can lead to the worst possible outcome. The current pace of advancement in technology vividly reveals what Ellul feared and could be worse now. Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) engineers indicate that machines would write and run programs (Mumford 2010). One can think to equate this to be the height of technological development, where a created machine can create another or recreate itself. It shows that humans will reach a point where they do not know what they need to keep, discard, or consider legitimate or dehumanizing. However, for the sake of technological advancement, people will discard ethics as they become more civilized.

In conclusion, there is no specific distinction between the technique and how it is used. Techniques have both psychological and social impacts that do not depend on the needs of human beings. The desire to advance in knowledge and domination discards any moral considerations on the effect of new technologies, prompting the otherwise moral technicians to become robots in their quest for power and the invention of new technological possibilities. In the end, one can think that technology can overwhelm humans. However, applying the same principle of the creator and creatures, humans can still attain a technology that contains the advancements of the created machines to overcome them.


Ellul, Jacques, John Wilkinson, and Robert King Merton. 1964. The technological society. Vol. 303. New York: Vintage books.

McClure, Elisabeth R., Lisa Guernsey, Douglas H. Clements, Susan Nall Bales, Jennifer Nichols, Nat Kendall-Taylor, and Michael H. Levine. 2017. “STEM Starts Early: Grounding Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education in Early Childhood.” In Joan Ganz Cooney center at sesame workshop. Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. 1900 Broadway, New York, NY 10023.

Mumford, Lewis. 2010. Technics and civilization. University of Chicago Press.

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