Technique and Efficiency – Ideologies we live by

October 27, 2023



Our society has become so obsessed with measurement that even leisure, reading, wellbeing and healthy living have become a topic for efficiency. Many of us live and die without experiencing a life outside of efficiency and measurement. Take for instance the case of the father of scientific management Frederick Taylor. Even on his deathbed, Taylor was seen winding a stopwatch. What a paradox that we won’t let go of measurement even when there is no time left to live?


But things are not that straightforward. How do we explain the countless time sitting on the couch browsing through social media without purpose or meaning? How do we explain investments in weapons of mass destruction? Clearly these are issues that cannot always be understood through the lenses of efficiency. In this podcast, Rob Long and I discuss the meaning of Technique as an ideology (or a worldview) that has come to dominate our lives. The ideology of Technique comes from the work of the French philosopher Jacques Ellul but was also discussed in the work of Heidegger and other philosophers.


We hope this podcast will make you think, reflect and live a more fulfilling life.

Further information


Nippin Anand  00:00

Welcome to another episode of embracing differences with me Nippin. Anand, a podcast aimed at engaging with different viewpoints and perspectives about how we as human beings learn, unlearn, recognise, risk, tackle risk, and become culturally sensitive. Talking of which, we have a tweet his workshop coming up in London, from the 21st to 23rd of February, on culture and risk intelligence. If you’re wondering, what is the connection between culture and risk intelligence? My answer is this. How can we recognise risk in our everyday life? By stepping into another culture? How much do we tend to normalise? And assume as we go about making sense of the world around us, until we meet someone from another culture, who sees things completely different to us? In those moments, what do we do? Do we judge them? Do we control them? Do we evaluate their culture, their rituals, habits, language, behaviours, ethics and narratives? From our point of view, or do we genuinely make an attempt to understand their culture, from their own point of view, that takes confronting our own assumptions and expanding our worldview. And that is what makes us culturally sensitive and risk intelligent. If you want to hear more, you can go on our website, novellus. solutions/events. And you will find all the details on the event page including a detailed brochure of what we will cover in this workshop. This podcast is about technique and efficiency. And you see it as technique and efficiency as an ideology that we live by.



You know, our society has become so obsessed with this idea of measurement, that even leisure reading, enjoying sports well being healthy living, healthy eating, has become a topic for efficiency. Many of us live and die without experiencing a life outside of this idea of efficiency and measurement. If you take the example of the father of scientific management, Frederick Taylor, you don’t even have on his deathbed, Taylor was seen winding a stopwatch? And it’s a paradox, isn’t it? That we don’t let go of measurement, even when there isn’t any time left in our lives? Wow. But things are not that straightforward. For example, how do we explain the countless times sitting on the couch browsing through social media without purpose or meaning? That’s not efficiency, or a quest for efficiency? How do we explain investment in weapons of mass destruction? That’s not efficiency either. Now, these are issues that cannot always be understood through the lenses of measurement and efficiency. So in this podcast, Dr. Rob long, and I discuss the meaning of technique as an ideology, as a worldview as a paradigm that has come to dominate our lives in today’s world. The ideology, as we call it, of technique comes from the work of French philosopher, Jacques Lau. But also it is discussed in the work of Heidegger, and many other philosophers. We hope that this podcast will make you think, reflect and live a more meaningful life and I hope you enjoy it.


Nippin Anand  03:45

Let’s talk about technique. Yes. How would you like to go about it?


Rob Long  03:58

technique has come in our society to mean a method of doing something. But that that’s not the meaning of the word. When you read the works of Jack allow. Jack allow was a radical French philosopher, who wrote several books in the 1960s that shook the world. He wrote one called propaganda that’s just just called straight propaganda. And it was the first book in history that really named what propaganda is and how it works. And his book propaganda is free, it’s online, you can download it and it all came about through his knowledge of Nazi propaganda in World War Two, because allow served in the French Resistance. So he had personal experience with propaganda. And he also was an academic, a sociologist, an anthropologist. He was an economist. He was a political person. Yeah, that book there. Yeah. So, so along, wrote that book. And at about the same time, I think just maybe a year later, he wrote the book called The technological society. Now, in that book, I think we’re talking 1965, he named technique. And it has nothing to do with a system or a method. And it doesn’t mean oh, you know, I’ll look at that person on the trapeze. Look at their technique. It’s got like nothing to use like that. He’s not like someone, oh, look at that person playing cricket, have now got a wonderful technique, that that that’s a way that we’ve come to use the word, but allow use the word technique in a completely different way. He named technique as the archetype of efficiency, that it has a a power and an energy unto itself. So the moment you surrender to the ideology of total efficiency, not not a little bit of efficiency, but total efficiency, then this is what the Nazis did in World War Two, how economically, can we kill a Jew? How can we do that in the most efficient way. And so when they first started running, the Nazi started running a concentration camps, they used to shoot the Jews or the people they didn’t like, because they killed lots of different ethnic groups, those to shoot them, but it cost too much to do with the bullet. Then they used to use like long gas, and they drove a truck and put the gas in the back of the truck and killed them that way. And they’re kept on experiment till they came to the ultimate in efficiency, which was the gas chambers of Matthaus and, and Belsen. And I think there were 300 concentration camps. But the worst was the one near Warsaw, I forget its name. But this became the question of the Nazi. The documents, Auschwitz, yes, the ultimate inefficiency. And that included their railway network, it include their meticulous keeping of records. I mean, the Nazis were the best public service in history. The records they kept of every single person, every tooth, they took care of the mouth, every height and weight detail of every person. It’s just overwhelming. And if you read the book by Adorno, and Leveson, called the authoritarian personality, which was also written just after World War Two, that book was written on the basis of the efficiency of the Nazis, to, to rule by absolute technique, by absolute efficiency. So when you put these three books together, Adorno, Leveson, etc, the authority and personality, post World War Two, propaganda, and the technological society, all of these three wonderful books were triggered by the aftermath of the Nazis, and everything the Nazis did. And this is what the quest for efficiency means. This is the real meaning of the word technique. It’s not just about a method, it is the absolute quest for absolute efficiency. And anything that is inefficient, must be improved and become efficient. And this is what the word technique means. Now allow, wrote, he wrote another book about 20 years later, to follow up the technological society, which is also free download, and it’s called the technological bluff. And we could talk about that later, but that’s just an introduction to the world. Good technique.


Nippin Anand  10:01

So the couple of questions, Rob, one question is that what’s wrong with the idea of efficiency,


Rob Long  10:10

absolute efficiency or any absolute on its own becomes like a god, it becomes an archetype that rules under its own power. And that is to the exclusion of other competing powers. So absolute efficiency means that love is inefficient. So love gets in the way of efficiency. Love is terribly efficient. Relationships are inefficient. Yep. Because so much time you you imagined the waste of time, and the waste of efficiency of two people in love staring into each other’s eyes, talking about who knows what. And then after four hours, they noticed the time has gone. And all they’ve had is a cup of coffee and enjoyed each other’s company. How inefficient is that? You know? So it’s like, it’s like, if you look at First Nations, people who have no sense of technique, none. And I can’t talk about Canadian First Nations people though, I’m reading a wonderful book that was given to me by Frank. On on indigenous healing psychology, wonderful book. And there’s lots about Alaskan Indians, Canadian Indians, American Indians, and First Nation Indians like in Australia, who have never been efficient, and it’s not part of their culture. So let me talk briefly about Australian Indians, Australian First Nations people. First Nations, people in Australia have never had a written language. And they’ve never had a numerical numeric counting system like, say, the Romans or the Greeks or the Egyptians. 2000 3000 4000 years ago, well, the Babylonians never have had that. And the Australian First Nations indigenous people are had the oldest continuous culture in world history. So 65,000 years of continuous indigenous culture, no written language, no numeric language, but they had a semiotic and a poetic language, which of course, Westerners don’t recognise, because it’s inefficient. And so they transferred their knowledge through oral history, through all narrative and through the dream time, and through dreaming, and through resonance with, with the country resonance with the land, resonance with the rivers and the, and the sea, and the mountains. And so they conveyed their culture through story, not through written text. Now, technique would say that that’s terribly inefficient. And when Captain Cook landed here, and then when the English established in 1788, an English colony, they determined that the indigenous people were not human beings at all, because they couldn’t read or write. Right? Because they couldn’t have language. They did have a language, they had a spoken language. But oral language has been devalued in Western culture for a long, long time. And so this is what technique does, it thinks it can override lesser efficiency things, which which don’t enable the power of itself, the power of technique. And so sitting around the fireplace for two days, talking about how young men can grow up in indigenous culture is a waste of time. And this expression, waste of time is what technique does in Western society. It names what it thinks is a waste of time. Yep. So having an extended cup of coffee with your partner or your friend or your brother or your sister for three hours, on a Saturday morning is a waste of time, right? It just matches it. What do you want to tell them? Tell it to And then walk away. That’s very efficient. This what risk and safety does tell people what to do, and then punish them. If they don’t get it. Now that’s very efficient. You don’t waste three hours getting to know someone, you don’t waste three hours listening to them. You don’t waste two and a half hours talking and listening and conversing. Trying to understand where they’re coming from their culture, their history, their hereditary, their family, their parenthood, they don’t try it. That’s all inefficient. It’s terribly inefficient.


Nippin Anand  15:34

I was gonna say, the, the, the thing that interests me here is that there are so many. There’s a, there’s a whole inventory of things that we do on a daily basis, that are totally inefficient, for instance, sitting on social media, and post, you know, finding like minded people to boost our egos or just amusement for example. Yes, yes. Just don’t see it as inefficiency.


Rob Long  16:03

Oh, no, it’s not seen no, no technique creates its own mythologies. And you, you have to understand both archetypes and mythology in order to really understand technique. And so, technique is an ideology that has a power unto itself that says that absolute efficiency is the greatest good in the world. So it declares a new good. So archetype declares what what is good and bad. And so, technique declares that, that technology is a good that no matter what you do on it, it’s good, even though it’s not efficient, and it’s a contradiction of their very goal. That’s much, much different than actually sitting in conversation with someone at a table, listening, conversing, exchanging, but not actually achieving anything measurable. And so that’s why you have to understand mythology and poetics as well. Because you see, the quest for efficiency is also about the measurement of things that are efficient. And if you can’t measure something, then technique rejects it as anti technique. And so if I can’t measure the value of sitting for three hours, with other friends, and talking and achieving nothing, then if I haven’t achieved anything, then I devalue it under the ideology of technique, as a waste of time. And so that’s how the absolute of technique works. So it names because it’s an archetype, it names what’s of value, and it names its own ethic of what is good, and what is moral. So if you sit on your phone, and you have spent four hours on your phone, that becomes a measurement. So four hours on social media becomes four hours of useful social media time, defined by technique. Those same four hours spent as a cup of coffee, had a lounge room table, declared inefficient by technique. And so it creates its own ethic, its own mythology. And so people don’t see that of course, because they’re blinded by the archetype, which which actually overcomes them, with with with power. So, so for example, we now have children that must have a phone as young as they can get one, and then it become a sign and a symbol of something good. So technique as the archetype as the God declares what is good and bad, in order to its ideology of efficiency. And most people can’t see that because they don’t know Jung. They don’t know Kierkegaard. They don’t know Paul, they don’t know archetype say they don’t know any of this. They don’t know mythology. And so they can’t deconstruct what’s really going on. And it’s why we now end up with, you know, crazy things like people saying, Oh, look, I’ve got my my phone, and I’ve got 3000 Friends, there’s a measurement. I have 3000 friends on my network, there’s a measurement. They don’t understand that it’s an that’s a measurement of meaninglessness. It’s a measurement of loneliness, but technique tells them it’s a measure of achievement. And so this is, this is a very subtle paradox, about the way that technique works. What’s the most important thing is the ideology overrides what is really good. So for example, not just waste of time, but anything that declares a waste. And then so technique rules. So importantly, that humans become devalued, more and more and more, all of the time and technique becomes elevated and elevated until dehumanising other people in the name of technique becomes declared a good thing.


Nippin Anand  20:31

So Suraj The question then is that, what is the, what is the teleological purpose? What, what is what is what is the purpose of this, this whole idea of technique, when, when is it headed,


Rob Long  20:46

and what the funny thing is, is the idea of technique really started with the Industrial Revolution. And preceding that it was not the ideology was not as powerful. So, probably post 1600s, you know, and the invention of steam engines and the development of coal power and so on, really accelerated the quest for technique, the quest and his growth in the ideology. The trouble is, there’s no language at all associated with technique, or its ideology that uses words like community, love, care, helping, none of that language is a part of it. Because those things are all inefficient, that can’t be measured, and they don’t have a goal outcome of measurement. And so it’s just been amplifying over time. That’s all.


Nippin Anand  21:59

My question really was that, you know, there is there is a tendency to, for some people to think of technique as, as, as something that comes from or to capitalism, but I think it’s a lot more than that. Oh, yeah. Goodness, isn’t came much after, from what you’re describing. Capitalism is a very, very new phenomenon still about 200 years or so. But what you are describing is this mass, urbanisation, this, this mass production, this this growing, burgeoning population, and so on, has basically amplified the idea of, of technique to the point that nobody questions it anymore. And so it’s like a religion, like an archetype. Like you said,


Rob Long  22:49

yes. Well, that’s why we use the word ideology with it. Yes, it does have a religious aspect to it. Because it takes over. It acts like a god. And ideologies tend to do that they become all encompassing. And so when technique becomes a force and a life unto itself, people just fall mindlessly into its direction and its power, and they don’t even know why they’re doing it. They don’t they don’t stop and question either.


Nippin Anand  23:26

And from what you’re describing, Rob, it very much is like the idea of a worldview, where somebody from another world, let’s say, from Mars, or from from another planet, or from another in a country would come and start to look at the world around us and see, what the heck are people doing here? They’re spending their time just looking at their computers and their phones? And what are they actually doing in the name of even what they call efficiency and good work? My question is more practical now that now that you know, we’ve discussed this before, and you said one of the things to start to recognise this whole idea of technique is to start to name it. But yes. Maybe talk a little bit more about that rock. And the second thing is, how can you emancipate yourself? How can you liberate yourself? How can you live a more fulfilling life? Once you know this, or what what is the point in even talking about it? It’s become such a powerful force that you can’t escape it. Let’s put it this way.


Rob Long  24:35

There’s an interesting movie. I think it was made in the 1950s called Cheaper by the Dozen. Have you heard of it?


Nippin Anand  24:45

Cheaper by the Dozen? I’ve heard of it, but I have not seen it. No, it was


Rob Long  24:49

it was it’s actually a very comical movie about an efficient father who had 12 children. And he, he, the father turns the family into a regiment into regimentation. And the family becomes so efficient. And the movie is about this efficiency, remarkably efficient everything down to, you know, ironing clothes by numbers and an eating food by sequences and things like that. But the movie actually teaches us that there was no relationship in that family. This family was with the family was commanded by efficiency, simply because of the size of the family, and the way that the father wished them to function. And so it’s a very, it’s, well, it’s a very antiquated movie now to watch it. But it is a fascinating entertainment to show just what people are prayed to trade off of one outcome for another, whilst at the same time not seeing the byproduct of what they’ve created. And so, you know, you can make a family so efficient. That’s why it’s called Cheaper by the Dozen, which is the man has 12 children. And efficiency then becomes an economy of scale. Right? So 12 children, who are all fully efficient, can actually save a lot of money, if they’re efficient about what they do. So people would say, Gee, you’ve got 12 Children, It must cost you a lot of money. You know, and so that’s the logic behind this 1950s movie. And yet, we look at today’s world, most people don’t have many children, because they they look at children and children are seen as expensive or whatever. So they’re caught up in this idea of, of technique, and efficiency, a whole range of undeclared, the never named subtle motivations and goals, which paraded at the front of what is being done, but hiding the byproducts in the background of what’s really happening. And so, again, it’s often about the devaluing of human relationships over the power of a measurable outcome. And if you watch the movie, this father is like, a maniac, measurement master. You know, it’s like, get the stopwatch out. And if you can fold your shorts and shirt in 10 seconds. Let’s try to get that to eight seconds. And so he times his children, you know, how quick can you clean up your bedroom and so on. And the byproduct is a complete loss of relationship. And again, I don’t know if we should put a link to this, it would be a free movie by now. Sargon


Nippin Anand  28:15

Come on, things come to mind. One is that Frederick Taylor, when he was on his deathbed. He had a stopwatch in his hand actually counting time. That was amazing work from what you say. The other thing is, a story come to mind comes to mind, Rob, in terms of the the practical limitations of this worldview, which is this a very simple story. But speaking to a ship manager, who ship nearly scraped the jetty, as she was departing from the port, and somebody from the terminal saw it and reported to the company, that look, your ship just scraped the knuckle as she was manoeuvring out. And the next day, it was a weekend, it was a Friday night, and the company waited until Monday and and latched on to the captain on Monday morning to say, in accordance with rules. So and so this is an incident that should have been reported exactly at the time that it happened and why didn’t you report it? And the captain went back to the rule book and showed that you know, it was only this much of a scratch, it was not a real damage. So according to rules, so and so there is no need to report this and this continued for almost upon this back and forth. The females continued for almost about three to four days and utter waste of time. Is this that if only somebody would have picked up the phone from the short side or I just called up the captain to say Look, somebody from the terminal has said this to us. Is that true? Is there is there anything that we need to know is there any damage? Is there anything we can do to help and the situation that predisposition cannot come so easily? Because if If you see life as a matter of technique and efficiency, so to come out of that, and to have actually have a conversation with somebody, you have to recognise that the non measurables, which is helping and caring and, and the disposition to actually control comes first, then you could have actually saved a lot more time that you eat. So I find it very fascinating that, you know, although one could easily get sucked into this narrative of, of time and efficiency, if you step out of it, you actually say, Well, when you’re a lot more efficient,


Rob Long  30:37

do you do it and the paradox and the contradiction is like, any seduction of any ideology. There’s always a paradoxical flip in any ideology. So, you know, it’s like, it’s like, it’s like the ideology of zero, right. So the ideology of zero is also the same quest for efficiency, we have to reduce injury rates, injury rates, injury rates, to eventually get them to zero. But the byproduct is now you’re concentrating so much on minute injuries and minute that you’re actually inefficient, and wasting an incredible amount of time, on injuries that have no significance. And so this is the paradox of how ideologies work, by the way, just left on the internet, the original movie, Cheaper by the Dozen was 1950. And the two parents are described as efficiency experts. But get this. I just looked on the internet. It was a remake in in 2022.


Nippin Anand  31:42

Wow. So laughing I heard of it, because that’s something came in the air. But when it was like,


Rob Long  31:49

I remember my father, watching that movie, when we were kids, Cheaper by the Dozen, it’s a comedy. And my father loved the movie. And my father was a very, very relationally, centred person, he found it comical. And he, we watched it as a family, this 1950s movie. But the funny thing is that just well, like Hollywood always do, they remake movies, because they have no ideas. So they’ve remade the movie last year, Cheaper by the Dozen. But the same thing, it’s there is actually a movie about the nonsense of technique. And the paradox of technique. The trouble is, you really need to have a discerning mind and a critical way of thinking, to see the paradox, to see, to see the flip side, or to see the byproducts of what this ideology or what this archetype is creating. That’s where the real problem lies. Because there’s such a lack of critical thinking that people just fall in, like lemmings behind the ideology of of technique. They stopped thinking they grabbed their iPhone, but on the thing for eight hours a day, they’ve got five and a half 1000 friends, and they look at me look how wonderful I am, you know? And then we point the finger at people who are inefficient, who or and we actually think exactly also connected to science, you know? It’s the same ideology, so many questions


Nippin Anand  33:25

that No, not even science questions, the idea of


Rob Long  33:29

not the guy. And the funny, the funny, that’s actually laughable, because when you look at it, it actually endorses so many inefficiencies. But it, it creates a hierarchy and its own ethic. So according to its own ethic, it’s not inefficient,


Nippin Anand  33:50

within, as you were rightly said, to be able to understand what you just said, one needs to have a good grasp of what is archetype. What is mythology, what is symbolism? What is considered true, and not true in a particular paradigm or worldview? And I think unless we get to that stage, it’s very, very difficult for most people to understand the real meaning of technique is what


Rob Long  34:15

I think I think sometimes when we go on, on a semiotic walk, just imagine how much I could ruin it if I carried a stopwatch.


Nippin Anand  34:25

So of course, of course, you know, one of the things that I have always been very, very fond of is is your idea of time as Chronos and Kairos. Yeah. Kira,


Rob Long  34:40

Kira. Kairos is eternal time. Kronos is measured time.


Nippin Anand  34:45

Yes. And the more I read the Greek mythology where you know, Chronos is is the one that stands against chaos starts to make sense, that it you know, that it is so important to understand and how we have created this mythology of of grownups, which is our Saviour, which is the saviour of the modern world. But in fact, was the devil in Africa.


Rob Long  35:10

Is that correct? So you’re not allowed to go for a walk, and just enjoy what you see, as we do in a semiotic walk. You’re not allowed to just go for a walk around in a leisurely way? No, no, you’ve got to have a Fitbit. That’s right, is you’ve got to have a Fitbit. And everyone in the office has a Fitbit. And they count their steps and all this stuff. And the minute you start doing all that, you stopped the enjoyment of walking, you stop the enjoyment of semiotic absorbing and resonance with the atmosphere, you stop enjoying the breath of the fresh air coming into your lungs, and you start measuring it all. And that’s technique. And what it does is it wrecks life, it doesn’t actually make life doesn’t make life better.


Nippin Anand  35:59

You have turned the idea of leisure completely upside down. Yeah, that’s


Rob Long  36:04

right. That’s what ideology does.


Nippin Anand  36:07

Great job. So enjoyed. Like always having a discussion with you. I will, I will get this on the recording and send it your way. And I want to say before we leave this,


Rob Long  36:19

if people want to know more about this, and they listening to the podcast, this book, the technological side here, written by jackal in the 1960s, just put it in. And there it is. It’s free. It’s online. It’s downloadable. It’s really worth reading. Well, good


Nippin Anand  36:36

propaganda is another one. That is a very good book to read. It’s also available free on the internet. And the third one I was going to recommend was Neil postman’s book, which is amusing ourselves to death. I think that


Rob Long  36:52

to me that is that that and that’s free. Again, it’s.


Nippin Anand  36:57

So there’s a few good books here to read if anyone’s interested in the idea of want to go further.


Rob Long  37:01

And if they’re not interested, then they can just have more technique and see where it ends and


Nippin Anand  37:07

absolutely is great.


Rob Long  37:11

Probably in a doctor surgery with a heart attack, and with a stopwatch in hand, and with a stopwatch in India, great to chat Nippin We’ll talk soon. Take care. Bye bye.


Nippin Anand  37:27

What did you think? Funnily, someone asked the question yesterday, how can data drive improvement? Safety Improvement basically? And do you really think data or AI or technology, per se can drive anything. Technology as we discovered in this podcast is an ideology and an ideology that aims to destroy creativity, imagination, motivation, and human ingenuity. If that is the kind of change you want to see, that’s what data can do for you. But without an ethic of seeing another human being as a person. Without an ethic of listening and learning from another person suffering. I don’t see how technology can drive any kind of meaningful change. If this podcast has made you think and reflect, we have achieved our purpose. More podcasts like this are available on our website novellus dot solutions, knowledge space. The podcast is also available on YouTube, on our channel, Team novellus. And on your favourite platforms like anchor, Spotify, Google and pod bean until we meet again. Thank you and goodbye and have a good one.