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Let’s Get Technical

Almost every time someone says the word technology to me I think of Betty Scott.  Dr. Scott was a trumpet professor at Mizzou when I was an undergraduate and I took a semester of lessons with her partly because Mizzou had the sensible policy of making composers take at least a semester of several different instruments to get some hands-on experience but partly because she was in many ways a legend.

For example my roommate even knew who she was and he wasn’t a music major or even musical. In fact, now that I think of it, he was perhaps the living embodiment of the opposite of music. Although he did pay his rent on time which makes up for a lot.

At any rate, it seemed like everyone on campus knew of Betty Scott because, in addition to being a great trumpeter who frequently left the concert hall to play in street bands, she was also preternaturally wise, absurdly well-learned and, it was said by many, even possessed of special powers.

Dr. Scott could tell you the etymology of any word and when, during one of our lessons I said that technique was less important than musicality, she yelled don’t underestimate the importance of technique. Technique comes from the word techne or τέχνη – (and yes she wrote the Greek word on the board because that’s just how she rolled.)

Techne is the root of technique but also of technology and according to Wikipedia it means “art, skill, craft, or the way, manner, or means by which a thing is gained.”

It’s a philosophical concept and in Dr. Scott’s view you couldn’t gain the thing you sought, mastery of an instrument for example, without the proper technique but technique wasn’t just practicing scales, it was a kind of spiritual road map that allowed you to progress, on your instrument but more importantly as a human being.

In order to progress in techne you have to know what thing it is that is being gained and this used to be true for technology.  Thanks to Dr. Scott when I hear the word technology I think of techne but I’m no longer sure we know what we’re gaining from technology. Somewhere along the line we stopped driving it and it started driving us.

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