If one follows the theory of technical objects as developed by the French theorist Gilbert Simondon (Simondon 2012), and subsequently Frédéric Neyrat’s statements in the anthology The Technological Condition (Hörl 2011), it is necessary for today’s hyper-technicalised societies to fundamentally reconceptualise the already disturbed identity of nature and technology (there is neither a total integration of nature into technology, nor is technology to be understood purely as an expression of nature) by first affirming the machines or technical objects in their pure functionality. technical objects, which by no means extend human organs like prostheses or serve humans only as a means of use, are first affirmed in their pure mode of functioning, so that they can finally attain the status of coherent and at the same time individuated systems in their inconclusive supplementarity, whose localisations are embedded in complex machine associations or networks.1 (Ibid.: 37) Almost at the same time as Gilbert Simondon, Günther Anders had spoken of machines as apparatuses, albeit of an apparatus world that had rendered the distinction between technical and social forms obsolete, indeed had generally rendered the distinction between technology and society irrelevant. (Anders 1980: 110) According to Günther Anders, each individual technical device is integrated into an ensemble, is itself only a part of a device, a part in the system of devices – the apparatuses – whereby on the one hand it satisfies the needs of other devices, and on the other hand stimulates the need for new devices through its mere presence in other devices. Anders writes: “What is true of these devices is true mutatis mutandis of all […] To claim of this system of devices, this macro-device, that it is a ‘means’, that it is therefore available to us for the free setting of ends, would be completely pointless. The system of devices is our ‘world’. And ‘world’ is something other than ‘means’. Something categorically different.” (Anders 2002: 2) Or to put it in Simondon’s terms, given our post-industrial situation, we should speak of technical objects whose elements always form recursions and maintain internal resonances with each other, while at the same time the objects are in external resonances with other technical objects, possibly to be able to play out their inherent technicality as open machines in the machine ensembles. In addition, many technical entities develop a plural functionality, executing several functions within a machine system instead of one; think of the internal combustion engine, for example, whose cooling fins take on the function of amplification in addition to cooling when they counteract the deformation of the cylinder head. Simondon did not subscribe to the deeply pessimistic view of post-industrial technologies found in Günther Anders. Rather, Simondon has identified in those technical objects that escape the hylemorphic juxtaposition of form and matter still envisaged in the labour model (matter shaped by tools) precisely a possibility for technology to approach the autonomy of nature, a tendency that leads to the dynamic coherence of technical objects themselves by, among other things, incorporating part of the natural world. This is achieved through the production of associated milieus, the connection of their interior (resonance of different parts and multifunctionality of the parts) with the exterior, with other objects, be they natural or artificial objects. At the same time, the technical object cannot completely separate itself from too much abstraction, which is precisely what characterises the so-called artificial, heteronomous object. Simondon attributes the power of abstraction primarily to humans as their constitutive contribution to technology, which, however, precisely prevents technical objects from concretising themselves in open structures and playing out their tendency towards autonomy.2 (Neyrat 2011: 154) However, Simondon is by no means seduced by the thesis that in a post-industrial future all living things must be rigorously subordinated to open technical ensembles; on the contrary, Simondon advocates a social concept of technical ensembles or open machine associations in which the human coexists with the “society of technical objects”. But where the human intervenes too determinatively in the technical, we are dealing with heteronomous artificial objects, whereas the technical object at least tends towards an autonomy (it cannot completely give up abstraction) that includes the natural moment: i.e. the closedness and consistency of a machine system. Paradoxically, then, for Simondon, it is precisely the artificial that prevents technology from achieving autonomy. (Ibid.) According to Simondon, abstract artificiality always refers to a lack of technicity, whereas the technical object is supposed to concretise itself in coherent processes, whereby it is necessary to integrate each local operation of the technical object into an overarching arrangement of machine ensembles. (Hegel defines the concrete as that which includes the relational, whereas the abstract is considered by him to be rather one-sided or isolated. The terms “concrete” and “abstract” therefore do not designate types of entities, such as the material and immaterial, but are used to designate the way in which thought stands in relation to entities. Thus, as Hegel often explains, the abstract can turn out to be the most concrete and the concrete the most abstract. A materialist concept must be able to explain what constitutes the reality of a conceptually formed abstraction, but without wanting to hypostatise the form. It must be able to show how abstractions are “treated” by social practices, whereby the latter are more than just labour processes shaping matter, if they always set themselves up anew in a very specific way, i.e., concretise themselves in relation to the concretising technical objects, as Simondon suggests). Thus, the technical object always functions in associated milieus, i.e., it is in relation to other technical objects or it suffices itself, and in doing so it must always take nature into account.
Simondon’s technical objects point to their embeddedness in network structures, anticipating the contemporary coupling of technical objects to the digital, information and computational ecology of new media as early as the 1960s, the dispositif of digital, transformational and modular technologies including a non-intentional and distributed neo-subjectivity deformed by machinic speeds. A subjectivity situated at the intersections of technological and monetary currents flowing on the border of the speed of light, where it proves to be flexible, modular and recombinable to the extreme through all self-relations. Almost in unison with cybernetics, Simondon is also aware that the machine is not used as or like a tool, rather it is operated. Technical objects are neither prostheses of man, nor, conversely, can man be completely dissolved as a prosthesis of machines. First of all, technical objects should be conceived purely in terms of their functioning, and this in terms of their explicable genesis, in the course of which, according to Simondon, they increasingly concretise (not abstract) themselves on the basis of an immanent evolution, beyond the adaptation and expediency of their use or their fixation as means. However, the technical object is not a creative agent in its own right, it remains locked into an economic and scientific context, and the process of its concretisation invokes synergetics, the interaction with other functional subsystems by modifying and completing the functionality of the technical object. The movens of the concretisation of the technical object includes the organisation of functional subsystems, in which the technical object matures into the technical ensemble, which in turn is characterised by comprehensive social, economic and technical processes and their structuring. Concretisation also means the tendency towards innovation, in which a series of quite conflicting requirements are satisfied by multifunctional solutions of individuated technical objects by establishing causal cycles in order to integrate the respective requirements. Technical elements (parts of the machine), technical individuals (machine as a whole) and technical ensembles (machine as part of social, technical and economic systems) are each already in a dynamic relationship that potentially unleashes a process of technological change. However, the economy is not dominated by the media/machines, rather capital and its social economy continues to determine the technological situation in the last instance. We are dealing with a feedback loop, with the economy and its social environments on one side, and the machine ensembles on the other. The economy feeds the machines, sets the conditions and at the same time uses their knowledge to organise its fields of power, while conversely the machine ensembles shape the consistencies of the economy, its communications and its relations of power, its way of shaping social and subjectivising processes.
According to the French theorist Frédéric Neyrat, the identity between nature and technology, which is already disturbed, refers to the “hyperject”, which denotes the machinic autonomisation of technology vis-à-vis human actants as well as the material substitution of the material by the artificial, without, however, having to assume a total integration of nature into technology. (Ibid.: 168f.) (Technology as detachment from nature, as substitution of natural materials by synthetic materials and as detachment of technology from humans qua machine autonomisation. It must be assumed that machines and their materials are in a relationship of interference). One can identify the hyperject as a substitution and autonomisation milieu (materials and machines) of the technical that is independent of the subject/mind and object/nature, although with regard to the contextualisation of the two milieus, one should not speak of unifications but of superimpositions when thinking about the inner and outer resonances of technical objects.
Post-industrial technology, for example Gotthard Günther’s concept of the transclassical machine, resides in the in-between of nature and spirit because it is forbidden to reduce the transclassical machine purely to scientific-human creation precisely because of the processes of double replacement, since it follows an independent logic of reflection. It is about the transclassical machine, whose essential function is to deliver, transform and translate information. [Information articulates the difference that makes a difference, as Gregory Bateson sees it, but this is not because the smallest unit of information, a bit, as Bateson assumes, is simple, but as Bernhard Vief writes in his essay Digital Money, is twofold: bits are immaterial, relative dividers, they stand for a movement of differentiality that is neither present nor absent, and thus the binary code, the binary sequence of numbers, can also only be positioned as an effect of the alternance that articulates it. As Lacan has shown with the example of the cybernetic machine, the articulated is of the same order as the symbolic registers, with the switches of the switching algebra representing the third of that order: The articulation, which is itself neither open nor closed, only indicates the possibility of the purely place-valued states.]The transclassical machine can be mapped neither onto the object nor onto the subject; rather, it inheres a three-valued logic: subject, object and the transclassical machine as hyperject. The hyperject thus belongs neither to nature (object) nor to the mind (subject), and thus it is subject to an exteriority, which, however, is by no means to be understood as the outsourcing of the interior of a subject, but rather indicates an independent “region of being” – it contains a trivalence that shows its incompleteness per se, because it does not synthesise the opposites (subject and object) – on the contrary, these non-trivial machines (Heinz von Foerster) remain already withdrawn from complete analysis as well as synthesisation. However, at this point, the concept of technical being has to put up with the question of whether the medial of technical objects can be ontologically grasped as ways of dispersal into open spaces or the dispersal of space itself. In the last century, second-order cybernetics had created its own constellation of concepts (feedback, autopoiesis, temporal irreversibility, self-referentiality, etc.), which has long since migrated into mathematical models or computer simulation. Although this does not in any way dissolve the material substrate or the physicality on which these processes are based, the autonomous-immanent relations and interactions of a multiply graded complexity do govern here, with complexifications taking place in each individual contingent process: Systems transform random events into structures, just as, conversely, very specific events can also destroy structures, so that a single system displays a continuous fluctuation between disorganisation and reorganisation as well as between the virtual and the actual in almost every conceivable case. Gotthard Günther has above all tried to present the ontological implications of these forms of knowledge and introduced the concept of polycontextuality for this purpose. In a polycontextural world context, the transclassical machines that operate in a gap or as the third between subject/mind or object/nature are scattered across a multiplicity of objects, qualities and differences. (Neyrat 2011: 165f.) These transclassical machines are conceivable as ensembles of universes, each of which can make an equivalent claim to objectivity without thereby having to map or even eliminate the claims of other ensembles. In this, the concept of the contextur denotes a continuum of potential reality that changes its shape with each quantification. Günther therefore speaks of the contingency of the objective itself, whose difference does not convey an intelligible hierarchy, with the consequence that in these technological fields we are dealing less with classifications or taxonomies than with decision-making situations and flexible practices. In contrast, the computers we know so far only operate autoreferentially, i.e. they cannot process the difference between their own operations and the environment within themselves.
Frédéric Neyrat introduces the so-called holoject as a fourth level of the technical, which, in contrast to the hyperject, refers to both the subject and the object as a medium of absolute connectivity, to the superimposition of both components, which is always continuous, unstable and endless. (Ibid.: 168f.) As such, the holoject is inexistent, although it can transfer its properties of continuity to the hyperject and thus give it form, which we then finally call an organless body, a machinic ensemble that is machinic in all its parts. In this process, there is by no means a fusion of domains (subject/object, knowledge/thing, etc.); rather, in accordance with quantum physics, we must assume superpositions here, in which, for example, two waves retain their identity when they generate a third wave, which, however, is neither a synthesis of the two previous waves nor their destruction, but, according to François Laruelle, indicates a non-commutative identity. Idempotence, a term from computer science, includes a function that is linked to itself or remains unchanged by the addition of further functions, so that the generative matrix persists as a non-commutative identity through all variations without ever needing transcendence. Idempotency is inherent in what characterises the holoject according to Neyrat, the “as well as, as well as, as well …”, whereby with regard to idempotency, the focus is primarily on the function of “and”, i.e. on the insistence of subjunctive syntheses, and this leads us towards an open technical structure in which the technical object as an “in-between” ever already indicates itself with a certain delay as well as an inexhaustible reserve of the technical medium itself. In this context, McLuhan’s formula “the medium is the message” does not postulate an identity of terms, nor is the message degraded to a mere effect of technical structures; rather, the “is” echoes something that recurs in the medium as difference, virulence or disjointedness, without ever being able to be immobilised. The message of the medium occurs in the fact that difference only submits to a medial “together” in order to return in it as disparation and to repeat itself as difference, thus simultaneously undermining its previous technical modes and modifications. At this point, Jean-Luc Nancy speaks of an eco-technique of crossings, twists and tensions, a technique to which the principle of coordination and control is alien, and he calls this pure juxtaposition, this unstable assemblage without any sense, struction.
With regard to the cybernetic situation, Alexander Galloway has defined the black box as an apparatus in which primarily the inputs and outputs are known or visible, with the various interfaces establishing its relation to the outside. Whereas Marx’s fetishism critique of the commodity was still about deciphering the mystical shell in order to penetrate to the rational core, in today’s post-industrial technologies, which constantly produce the commodity of information, the shell, which functions purely via the interfaces, is open and visible, while at the same time the core remains invisible. The interactive interfaces occupy the surfaces in the black boxes and usually only allow selective passages from the visible outside to the opaque inside. Black boxes function as nodes integrated into networks, whose external connectivity is subject to a strict architecture as well as a management that remains largely in the invisible. According to Vilém Flusser, the camera can be considered exemplary of most apparatuses and their function. Its agent controls the camera to a certain extent because of the control of the interface, i.e. on the basis of input and output selections, but the camera controls the agent precisely because of the opacity of the interior of the black box. For Simondon, on the other hand, it is precisely the digital technologies with their visually attractive and “black-boxed” interfaces that would prove highly problematic today. These technologies usually derive their popularity from a suggestive aesthetic of the surface; they do not attract the user because they offer him or her a possibility of indetermination of the technology, of flexible couplings of the machines with each other and with the human, as perhaps Simondon considers worthy of consideration. Simondon, in fact, maintains that the fundamental movens of technological development is not an increase in automation, but rather the emergence and evolution of those open machines that are susceptible to social regulation. With black boxes, on the other hand, we are dealing with technological objects that are described as ensembles of readable rational functions, and this in terms of their input-output relations that are as smooth as possible, whereby on the one hand their core remains invisible, and on the other hand their material construction still exists in discourse at best as a rather negligible referent. Simondon, on the other hand, urges us to take a look inside the black boxes.
Moreover, the problem of connectivity must be considered with regard to non-missionary, transmitting machines, which have a plurality of procedures and effects inherent in them, and this shows itself to be a matter of utmost economic relevance when, contrary to a one-dimensional chain of effects, these machines produce multiple machinic functions and effects in and with their complexes, indeed these functions even set free blasts of previous machines and thus establish new conjunctions in the first place. “The spheres of production and energy technology, transport, information and human technology give vague field definitions of machines in which the machine-environmental is already inscribed”, writes Hans-Dieter Bahr (Bahr 1983: 277), and in principle the machine ensembles and processes can thus be described as transmitting informations, informations into which natural, economic and social structures and processes also enter, including their deferrals, complexifications and layer changes, whereby it is by no means only about communications, It is also about the absorption and filtering of the informational itself, about the manipulation of data via algorithms – and thus the respective relations and programming/functionalisation could also be decoded inside the technical objects themselves, which, however, the hegemonic discourses on technology know how to obsessively prevent. In contrast to the obscuring of the interior of the black boxes, Simondon pleads for a discourse that focuses on the complete transparency of the machines. The aim here is to recognise potentials and relations that are sometimes already condensed in the machines and which then concretise themselves qua a functional overdetermination of the technical objects. For Simondon, machines represent something like mediators between nature and man, which we have to grasp, among other things, in the dicourses on media. The machine would therefore have to be described, as Hans-Dieter Bahr has argued in his writing On Dealing with Machines, less as the concept of an object “machine” than as a discursive formation. (Ibid.: 277). Every (digital) machine is functionalised through programming, although it very quickly becomes apparent that merely describing and maintaining the constructive functions does not necessarily mean that a machine is “functioning”; rather, one has to take into account the manifold dysfunctionalities of machines that can thwart the functioning system of input and output relations at any time, accidents, crashes, crises, etc. (Ibid.: 277). (It may well happen that a deceleration of the speed of machines is cost-saving for an economy as a whole, think for example of the (external) climate costs that do not arise, although the deceleration has a cost-increasing effect for individual capital; a machine may well become obsolete due to competition between companies, i.e. from an economic point of view, although it is still fully functional in terms of material, a constellation that Marx called moral wear and tear). The in-between of the machines, or rather the machine transmissions, quite violently block a teleological view: The outputs of complex machines today are less than ever objects of use, which are usually already further machine inputs, but rather generate complexes of effects including unintended side effects, whereby the machines themselves mutate into the labyrinthine and therefore constantly need new programming and modes of operation for orientation and control in order to maintain their input selections and outputs, because the machines are supposed to function in particular through the rule-governed supply of programmes, substances, information and precisely through controlling the input-output relations.
Possible outputs of the machines can be use values, but also other dysfunctionalities that disrupt the continuous operation of the machines – most of these outputs, however, are inputs into other machines. Machines therefore send out streams of energy and information that are cut or interrupted by other machines, while the source machines of the streams sent out have themselves already made cuts or taken from other streams, which in turn belong to other source machines. Every emission of a stream is therefore an incision in another emission and so on and so forth, at least this is how Deleuze/Guattari see it in Anti-Oedipus. At the same time, a double division emerges with the machine incisions, whereby the concept of the incision does not rise as a meaning from one inside in order to then be translated or transported into the inside of another, but rather something is indicated in the communication of the incision that already “is” as an outside, for example a network of machine series that flee in all directions. (Every communication or translation takes place above an inexpressible incision into which the network divides. This division remains unexpressed in the communication, but this is only because an open space is opened up that allows, in principle, everything to be communicated and expressed. And these divisions take place today via interfaces. Interfaces are usually described as significant surfaces. An extension of the conceptualisation takes place when they are conceived as transitions or passages, when they are described as thresholds, doors or windows, or when they are also understood as fields of choices in the sense of a flexibilisation of input selections, in which case we can speak of an intraface that identifies itself as an indeterminate zone of translations of inside and outside. The intraface opens up the machine structures in an indeterminate way to associated milieus, which means that we are dealing with open machines or processes in which several intrafaces are always integrated as effects of the translations that function or do not function, whereby even this distinction is still questionable if one considers that machine transmissions simply cannot do without manifold side effects and disturbances.
Now, the cybernetic hypothesis is characterised precisely by the fact that it defines the technological object or the technical system by the sum of inputs and outputs, whereby black boxes (computers, data objects, interface, codes) have to permanently eliminate dysfunctional inputs. Dysfunctional inputs include climatic conditions, incomplete classifications, effects of other machines, faulty programmes, economics, wear and tear, etc., and it is up to the cybernetic machines to absorb these structures and correct them according to their own criteria, and these transformations in turn affect the outputs. If machine systems select and transform different types of inputs, this means precisely that a variety of economic, social, natural, cultural, legal functions are among their inputs as well as among their outputs. (Bahr 1983: 281) Here the disciplining function of the feedback mode of cybernetic control loops becomes quite clear, the attempt to feed back outputs to inputs in such a way that in the future dysfunctional inputs can be faded out or eliminated, or at least more functional selections of inputs take place than before. Cybernetics is thus not only characterised by automation, but above all by the mechanism of input selections. If the human element is now removed, one speaks of an automaton. This of course contradicts a posthuman situation as Gilbert Simondon had still imagined it: when Simondon’s technical objects individualise themselves, they are always also in external resonance, whereby the resonances insist in the in-between of technical individual and associated techno-logical milieu, they create a recursive causality in the in-between. Cybernetics, however, wants to subject the in-between entirely to its automatism or input selections, whereby the identity of living being and machine is thought of purely from the point of view of the automaton, whereas Simondon conceives the analogy between the human and the machine, which for him is asymptotic, from the perspective of the machines, each already oriented towards open spaces and associated milieus, which in turn corresponds to a certain affirmation of non-selective inputs and a multiplicity of stratagems that perpetuate themselves as incisions, divisions and traversals of the machinic milieus. Technical objects are now typically embedded in digital networks, with the associated architecture of protocols governing their exchange of information with each other, proliferating across a complex topology of condensations and dispersals, and even from this, Simondon would probably still see a cultural force emerging. This does not use the machines, but affirms that cultural dignity lies precisely in the recognition of the pure functioning of the technical objects, whereby the human can only enter into a dialogue with the technical ensembles and this dialogue can lead to a true transindividuality. We are speaking here generally of technicity. If the input and output selections are considered starting from their intersecting contingencies, then we are not dealing with more automata, but in fact with open machines – and concretisation then means appreciating the contingency of the functions as well as the interdependence of the elements in order to do justice to their inner resonance, which makes them probable machines, which cannot be measured by the ideal of precision, but display different degrees of precision by expanding their sphere of use, extending into new fields, until they occupy or at least tangentially affect all fields of the social, cultural, economic and technological, as has happened in the case of computer technology, however, in a usurping way. It is the process of disparation between two realities, in Deleuze’s sense the disparation between the virtual and the actual, which finally activates information differently from the digital and sets in motion a process of individuation that comes from the future. Information is located not so much on the homogeneous level of a single reality, but at least on two or more disparate levels, for example, a 3-D topology that knots our posthuman reality; it is about a fabrication of reality that folds the past and the future into the present, as an individuation of reality through disparation that is in itself information. If individuation involves the disparation of the virtual and the actual, then information is always already there, already the now of a future present. What is called past or present is thus mainly the disparation of an immanent source of information that is always in the process of its dissolution. For Simondon, the notion of the capacity or potential of a technical object is closely linked to his theory of individuation. The individuated object is never given in advance, it must be produced, it must coagulate, or it must gain existence in an ongoing process. In this process, the pre-individual is not a stage that lacks identity, it is not an undifferentiated chaos, but rather a condition that is more than a unity or an identity, namely a system of the highest potentiality or full of potentials, an excess or an oversaturation, a system that exists independently of thought.
Digital networks today not only span that globe which they themselves generate, but they penetrate into the social microstructures of the capitalist economy, whose human agents in turn subject them to permanent addressability, online presence and informational control. (Lenger 2013) Today, being “online” is becoming a hegemonic mode of existence, the permanently mobilisable availability is part of a flexible normalisation that users affirm in toto by practising everyday wellness, cosmetic and fitness programmes, until they finally incorporate the processes of normalisation entirely in the course of their permanent recursion with the machines. In the postscript on societies of control, Deleuze had described human agents as “dividers”, as largely a-physical, as endlessly divisible entities that can be condensed to data representation, and which, precisely because of the effects of a-human technologies of control, will eventually act similarly to computer-based systems. At this point in time, we can at least assume that a homology can be established between post-Fordist management methods, which propagate non-hierarchical networks, self-organisation, flexibility and innovation in heroic litanies, and neuroscience, which describes the brain as a decentralised network of neuronal aggregates and emphasises a neurological plasticity (Christine Malabou) as the basis for cognitive flexibility and adaptation. According to Catharine Malabou, neuronal and social functions influence each other until it is no longer possible to distinguish between the two. At the very least, we must assume the possibility that the human species, with the rapid translation of its own material history into data streams, networked connectivity, artificial intelligence and satellite surveillance, tends to become a decal of the technological. When events – mobile apps, technological devices, economic crises, digital money, drone wars, etc. – process at the speed of light, there is a definite destabilisation of the frames of reference of traditional techno-discourses, whose definitions and hypotheses increasingly fail as useful indicators of what the future of hyper-accelerated capitalism might hold. The obscuring of clearly defined boundaries between bodies and machines, the interpenetration of human perception and algorithmic code, the active remixing of the components of humans, animals, plants and inanimate objects – all this results in the injection of a fundamental technological drift into the social, cultural and economic, while the economy and its machineries continue to determine the technological. Implemented into social reality, the currently important signifiers of technological acceleration include concepts such as “big data”, “distant reading” and “augmented reality”, with them capital as power shoots the words and discourses still bound to gravity into the weightless space of the regimes of computation. In the future, there will be further migrations into this weightless space, e.g. that of thoughts into mobile technologies, and at the same time we will have to deal with an increasing volatility in the field of digital financial economy, triggered by trading algorithms based on neuronal networks and genetic programming, we will dive further into the relational networks of social media and last but not least we will be confronted with a completely distributed brain, modulated by experiments in neurotechnology. Nothing remains stable anymore, everything is in motion.
1Much of the history and science of technology, as Simondon notes, had until then been animated by an instrumentalism whose restrictive perspective conceived of machines either as an extension or replacement of organs or as a projection of human thought, and this conception is based on an image of thought in which the individual and society are entirely under the law of scarcity.
2 Ernst Bloch also held to the utopian moment of the technical in the principle of hope: “Indes now precisely the triumph of non-Euclidean praxis represented by the technique of annihilation calls up salutary anticipations from the image of a society that is no longer apparatusified. These concretely utopian lines arise in technology particularly clearly from the abandonment of a concrete subject-object relation.” (Bloch 1979: 777)
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Neyrat, Frederic (2011) : In: Hörl, Erich: The Technological Condition. Contributions to the description of the technical world. Frankfurt.
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