Ivan Illich reportedly made extensive use of a PC in his later life, and was often frustrated and disheartened that it was technically not possible for him to reprogram the computer’s operating system or core software packages to fit his personal needs (Samerski 2018). In this sense, Illich was keenly aware of the computer’s enormous power, alongside its devastating effects on the body, the senses, and social interactions. To this latter point, Illich described the computer as a ‘mindboggling’ device – i.e. a tool that stops people thinking for themselves, that demands people to not rely on their own senses but rely on technology to tell them what they feel and what they are.
That said, Illich was not anti-computer – instead warning that digital technologies much be used in an appropriate, circumspect and critically-aware manner. This demands a continual awareness of the limitations of using digital tools for supporting communication, knowledge-building and developing a collective subjectivity. Illich encouraged people to cultivate what he termed a ‘technological ascesis’ – i.e. a critical distancing that allows for reflection on the extent to which one is engaged in responsible uses of digital technology, and when limits need to be applied.
Samerski, S. (2018). Tools for degrowth? Journal of Cleaner Production, 197:1637-1646.