What Technology Wants

What does technology want? That’s the question Kevin Kelly asks in his latest book in which he postulates that technology is its own living thing, full of the same wants, wishes, and desires that plague organic creatures.

The book follows the progression of technology from fire and sticks to modern day’s iPods and cars.

For me, two chapters stood out as head and shoulders above the rest. Those two chapters 10 and 11, the chapters the deal with the Unabomber and the Amish.

In the Unabomber chapter, Kelly takes a few quotes from Theodore Kaczynski’s seminal and widely-read manifesto, “Industrial Society & Its Future” and how, even though Kaczynski was a doom and gloom, technology will kill us all type of person that lived in a self-made cabin off the grid, he still relied on the grid in order to replenish his stocks and supplies.

Kaczynski went mad after finding that his favorite place of respite, even further off the grid than his cabin, was destroyed in order to build a road.

In that regard, I can understand Mr. Kaczynski’s plight. Back when I was a little kid, my family and a bunch of other people leased a thousand acres right across the Georgia border. There was a huge lake, trails, and hundreds of acres of woods. Ostensibly it was used for hunting and fishing, but this place was as off the grid as you could get.

The cabin had indoor plumbing (just barely), and a handful of lights and even a small television set (that would not work today, due to there being no more over-the-air transmissions for it to intercept), but no one went there because of the cabin. They went there to be on the lake, to sit in a tree stand and shoot deer, to just be away from the hustle and bustle of every day life.

In the end, the club lost the lease on that land. It was eventually sold to a land developer who filled the lake in, built a pile of apartment buildings, and then, in the ultimate insult, dug a lake. A lake already existed, why destroy it just to dig another? Not many people today even recall what that lake’s name was: It was Lake Debra.

The other chapter I enjoyed had to do with the Amish. The stereotype Amish drive horse-drawn buggies and don’t have any technology that was seemingly made after 1865.

However, the Amish are more technologically advanced than stereotypes give them credit for. There are Amish car mechanics who won’t own a car, but can fix anything you bring them. Some Amish skirt around the electricity rules by rigging their house up with a generator powering pneumatic pumps and have blenders and other appliances outfitted with pneumatic motors instead of electric ones.

But they too rely on technology. While Amish won’t own a car, they think nothing of renting a car or hitching a ride in one. They shop at Wal-Mart. But they do get around. While they won’t use an airplane, they think nothing of using trains and boats to travel the world.

In all, this was a great book, and just might make you think twice about buying that Kindle, that voice in the back of your head telling you to buy it just might be the iPhone in your pocket wanting a friend.

Kevin Kelly’s website page about this book.

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