Using Technology We Don’t Understand

Karissa Friesen
3 min readAug 21, 2023

It’s kind of unavoidable, but maybe we can choose how to relate with it.

So when I say "technology," I mean:

the physical and digital machines and utensils used to control our environment,

or more simply:

tools as applications of knowledge

— it brings us to that age-old question: how do we really know what we know? It always just goes back to being a mystery in the end, so maybe that’s where we can start to find an answer.

Take bread, for example. Getting bread. It doesn’t matter if we make it at home or we order it for delivery through an app. Either way, there’s a seemingly unknowable component in the process - how the dough rises, what fire is. But the thing that’s overwhelming is that our most modern technology puts layers and layers in between us and those primary unknowable components. Every advancement in technology increases the unknowing. How much energy does this all take?

In pretty much every sector of life, I can easily find myself in a state of reliance on technologies I don’t understand, let alone build. Or build, let alone understand. And it gnaws at me... I can take steps to reduce my reliance all the way from completely severing my use of any given technology, to actually acquiring first-hand experience on how it all works, but it still gnaws... My efforts never seem enough, I feel drained, there’s never enough time…

More knowledge doesn't seem to help on its own. There's always another component of our modern world that takes a decade, or decades, to master from start to finish, if at all. The ink in my pen, the pen, the paper. The weave of my clothing, the fibre, the needle. Electricity, the combustible engine, blacksmithing.

Maybe this is why some of us enjoy cooperating with AI and learning from experts, those experienced in our topic of choice. These sort of ineteractions give us second-hand access to a breadth and depth of knowledge (respectively), the second-best thing to first-hand experience.

For a while I’ve been wrestling with how best to move forward in this world, this world of rapidly advancing technologies seemingly outside of our control. And by "rapidly advancing" I mean the increase in efficiency over time. That convenience isn’t always worth the cost of handing over my agency. Sometimes it feels like we’re the ones being used.

At one point I decided to reject everything I couldn’t maintain myself. It wasn’t the best solution to this problem of living in a world with of an overwhelming amount of knowledge, but it also wasn’t fully developed. Life became more inconvenient, fine, but it also ended up looking not much different from rigid dogma. That said, I don’t think it was the worst solution - I like the self-sufficiency of knowing what to forage and how to build a shelter if I need to — knowing first principles of health and survival most of all — it’s just that this “solution” left me too lonely (and I have yet to start fire from scratch).

I imagine at various points in time there are smaller worlds where all the knowledge needed to survive and enjoy life is shared in a way where we never really remember initially learning it, but it’s always something we can teach because it’s something we’re always learning, verifying, mastering, and its mysterious origin isn’t an issue.

It’s at this point that I sometimes can feel like I’m slipping into advocating for adopting a technology cut-off, like how they do things in an isolated Mennonite community, but I don’t think that’s where I think I’m going. I don’t think I’m going the other way either, getting swept away by the tidal wave of quickly adopting and adapting to more efficient ways to live my life — it just feels too reckless. It just feels like it skips past too much too fast. And sometimes it just feels like I’m the organic machine being used at will.

So it’s at this point that I return to that old reliable solution, that active-passive practice of non-attachment, that fluid structured state, that ability to hold on and let go at will, that place where no choice is necessarily better than another because it’s the consciousness of the choice that’s the base of it all.

Surrounded by an infinite store of untapped knowledge, surrounded by tools based on tools based on yet-untapped knowledge, I can be okay with using these tools at will because I can accept a world where I'm okay without them. I can choose when and how to relate with technology I don't understand.

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