I am reading good book called What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly. The book is available in hard copy, as an ebook, and as an audio book. It has me thinking about technology in a different way. Kelly, himself, has an interesting relationship with technology, as he describes in chapter one. As a young man he spent eight years traveling around Asia with a sleeping bag, a change of clothes, a pen knife, and a few cameras. He became familiar with different cultures and what they deemed essential for survival. In many cases these needs did not involve anything powered by electricity or batteries. Upon returning to the U.S. he travelled the country by bicycle before settling down in upstate New York and building a house out of oak trees he and a friend cut and milled themselves. He then worked for the Whole Earth Catalogue and was one of the founders of Wired Magazine. After all that lack of technology, go figure that one out!
In this book he traces the evolution of technology beginning several hundred thousand years ago, when bipedal primates in the Hominidae family began using tools and language. Kelly discusses how the evolution of technology progresses hand-in-hand with the evolution of man. For example, as man learned to cook meat, his teeth became smaller; as man started wearing clothes, his body became less hairy. ”As fast as we remake our tools, we remake ourselves. We are co-evolving with our technology. And so, we have become deeply dependent on it.”1 This makes me think of how, in my generation, we have evolved from maintaining a mental data base of phone numbers, addresses, and maps to handhelds that hold all of that information. If I no longer make the effort to remember my friends’ phone numbers, will I lose the ability to store them in my memory? I have heard the debate currently going on in educational circles about whether or not to require students to memorize, as my generation did, names, dates, events, etc. when they are readily retrievable from digital devices with just a few click. What do you think?
He also notes how technology has become an “extension of man’s body,” something we have come to rely upon for our daily functioning. Much like the bee builds, and then relies upon its hive, we have built a system of technologies that seem to us essential for our survival. (Many of my friends were at a loss in the recent power outage caused by Hurricane Irene.) Do we need to remain prepared for life without technology?
1 Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: The Penguin Group, 2010