We started this discussion by suggesting that phenomenology investigates the conditions of what makes things appear as such, or, that phenomenology suggests that there is a co-constitutive relationship between us and the phenomena we encounter in our engagement with the world. Before we move on it might be helpful to clarify this point with a simple everyday example. Let us take the human experience of listening to music and consider it phenomenologically. From the perspective of physics and physiology, music is constituted by a flux of waves of particular frequencies to which the inner ear may be sensitive. Indeed, once so analyzed, it is possible to create a technological device such as a tape recorder that is sensitive to these same sounds, and can even replay them on command. Human beings, however, when they hear sounds in everyday life never take them simply as a stream of sounds, rather they find themselves already listening to something particular—a cry for help, an automobile breaking, construction noise, or a piece of music. Indeed it would take a very strange sort of attitude to hear sounds and take them as a flux of waves of particular frequencies. Listening is different than registering or recording. To listen is to already take sounds as this or that. In listening, the taking of sound as music implies an already existing sense of what music is, something that makes it possible for us to take these sounds as music rather than noise. Furthermore, in listening to music, this listening is informed by an ongoing sense (or unity) of movement, rhythm, tone, scale, style, and so forth. This ongoing active unity provides an active and ongoing framework (or necessary background) that enables me, in the experience of listening (right now), to simultaneously 'retain' the sounds I no longer hear (the past), and in anticipation to 'fill in' the sounds I am not yet hearing, yet already anticipate (the future). As a phenomenological being I find myself listening to music, not merely recording sounds after the manner of a technological device. For phenomenologists the relevant question is: What are the transcendental conditions that make it possible for humans to listen to music, as music, rather than merely record sounds?
What is it that enables us to encounter music in its fullness even though we are always given, at any particular point in time, only some limited aspect of such a phenomenon (the current note I am hearing)? The answer of phenomenology is that it is the transcendental horizon or conditions that make our encounter with the world possible. One could say that the transcendental is the background, or horizon, that makes the meaningful experience of the foreground possible. Yet insofar as such a formulation suggests a background that is somehow separate and 'behind' that which appears in the foreground, it would be incorrect. The transcendental horizon is always and immediately already present in the very appearing as such—this is exactly what makes a horizon 'disappear' or withdraw from our focal awareness. It is so evident that it simply does not come up as an issue. It is this seemingly 'forgotten' constitutive horizon that is the focus of phenomenology. All phenomenological approaches have as their focus a 'return' to this vital co-constitutive interplay between the 'foreground' and the 'background'. Thus, all phenomenological studies share at least the underlying view that technology and society co-constitute each other by being each other's reciprocal and ongoing condition or possibility for being what they are. As such they continually draw on each other for their ongoing sense or meaning. For the purposes of this entry it might be best to indicate some of the existing phenomenological studies of technology in four different but intimately connected strands (this is not a comprehensive list, it is rather indicative of common themes or approaches):
- Phenomenology as a fundamental critique of the technological attitude as such (Martin Heidegger 1977)
- Original technicity and the human being (Stiegler 1998, 2009);
- The technological attitude as manifested in our contemporary relationship with particular technologies (Hubert Dreyfus 1992 and Albert Borgmann 1984);
- A phenomenology of the human/technology relationship (Don Ihde 1990).