March 24, 2011

Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants

How can technology want anything? Kelly’s provocation is not as kooky as it seems. He does not claim that human-made artifacts—spoons, fax machines, iPads—have wants in the same way that human beings have wants. He argues, less crudely, that once we add all of these artifacts together, they acquire collective properties that may not be present in the artifacts themselves. Just like most of us tacitly accept the fact that markets may “want” things that are not wanted by any of the market participants, we should also entertain the possibility that Technology with a capital “T” may have wants that are not present in individual technologies. Kelly believes that “Technology” gives rise to a “network of self-reinforcing processes,” and is shot through with feedback loops, and exhibits a considerable degree of autonomy that is not present on the micro-level of individual technologies. To describe the macro level, the mechanized and electronic sphere of being composed of the entirety of technology, Kelly coins a new word: “the technium.” The technium is “the accumulation of stuff, of lore, of practices, of traditions, and of choices that allow an individual human to generate and participate in a greater number of ideas.”

From a much longer, and unfortunately gated, article on the transformational qualities of technology, and our role within it.