Ellul treats the idea of Technique as a sort of abstract concept, as a mechanism which operates nearly independent of human desires, which can be elaborated precisely, and whose characteristics can be defined absolutely. I think it comes much closer to reality, however, if we think of Technique as a sociological phenomenon which obeys only the complex and arbitrary rules of human society. (Indeed, it may be a mistake to use "rules" in reference to human society at all.) In other words, Ellul oversimplifies the nature of human existence in community. For all his critique of the straightforward, unchanging, unblinking automatic progress of Technique, his own thinking seems to follows those same channels. He doesn't take into account that nearly every human system is self-limiting in some fashion. You can push it only so far before some internal logic takes over, or the trend in question strengthens some opposing phenomenon, and the phenomenon is forced into equilibrium or even retreat.
As one example: I suspect that the anti-technology mindset which marked the counter-culture of the 1960's was at least partly a result of Ellul's work. Part of the reason why Technique is not omnipotent (as Ellul seems to claim) is because people like Ellul have warned us about it. Yes, Technique tends to expand its sphere, but other contradictory phenomena also struggle to expand theirs. The really interesting thing is to note what happens when they meet. The result is invariably more subtle, creative and unpredictable than Ellul would have us believe.
Moreover, contrary to Ellul's repeated assertions, I'm simply not convinced that Technique is all of one piece. To the extent that it is as universal as he claims, it is not as bad; and to the extent that it is as bad as he claims, it's not as universal. It is true that Technique can be very bad – but not all Technique is that bad. And it's true that we encounter Technique nearly everywhere these days – but we find it in very different guises, used for different purposes, employed in different ways, and with widely divergent results. I don't deny that these differing manifestations may share a certain inner logic, but it's excessively simplistic to treat them as if they all behaved the same way and had a common impact on all who use them.
Another way of putting it is to say that Technique is not absolute, i.e., it does not only obey the laws of Technique. Ellul insists on this in a number of places:
"Everything which is technique is necessarily used as soon as it is available, without distinction of good or evil" (p. 99).
"If there is a competition between this intrinsic finality and an extrinsic end proposed by man, it is always the intrinsic finality which carries the day" (p. 141).
"The technical problem can be simply stated: given a certain machine, how can it be used most efficiently?" (p. 276).
"Everyone's function, once it has become technical, finds in technique its meaning and validity; its proper results and destiny are of little importance" (p. 300).
In other words, Ellul says that efficiency – the "one best way" – is the only judge of a given technique. However, contrary to Ellul's assertions, in my own experience, Technique is always used in the service of some sort of end, and that end is quite generally independent of the specific technique in question. At times, Ellul's position approaches the absurd:
"In reality, it is not the 'wishes' of the 'producers' which control, but the technical necessity of production which forces itself on the consumers. Anything and everything which technique is able to produce is produced and accepted by the consumer." (p. 93)
I've spent most of the last decade participating directly in the process Ellul describes in that sentence, and I can assure you that it doesn't work that way. We used what Ellul would call Technique to produce a very large number of things, and refrained from producing a much, much greater number that were technically possible. The reason we produced the things we did was for a reason independent of Technique, i.e., we wanted to make money; and the reason we decided not to produce the things we could have produced was for the converse reason, i.e., we were convinced it wouldn't make us money. And although consumers did want some of the things we produced, much of it was not in fact wanted: this is normal in the business world, and like other businesses, there was little to nothing we could do to force consumers to change their minds. In short, anybody who ever sat through a brainstorming session with Product Management would have difficulty taking this part of Ellul's analysis seriously.