What Technology Wants

[quote align=”left”]The proper response to a lousy idea is not to stop thinking. – Kevin Kelly[/quote]


Every so often a book appears that unexpectedly changes everything. For me, these books are usually accidental. I frequent Politics and Prose, a local, independent bookstore in Washington, DC. It is one those rare places where authors still present their works, and take questions from the literate and thoughtful audience. Come to think of it, it was here that I first met Dan Pink.

A couple of weeks ago, Politics and Prose held their membership appreciation day, where all books are discounted by 20%. This is always an expensive time of year for me, and also deeply rewarding. As I wandered amongst the plethora of arcane literature, I happened upon an incredible book that turns out to be my most important read of several years.

The book is What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly. Kelly is a former editor at Wired magazine. He also spent 8 years wandering around Asia with nothing but a bedroll, has lived in Amish communities, and, it seems, has truly questioned every premise of modern life.

Kelly makes several observations about the nature of technology that were completely new, yet absolutely resonant with me.  His view of technology, or the technium, as he calls it, is that it is a near-living system, subject to the laws and inevitability of all living things. The view of a vast system of technology creating the conditions for its own further development is a fascinating, and sometimes unnerving concept.

Yet, here it is. Kelly is an amazing and interesting writer with a compelling message. He tells us that by embracing the technium as our ally, we can maximize our utilization to solve a wealth of challenges of this and future generations. The greatest challenge for us is to steer this technology towards benevolence and equity, and not allow it to be controlled by a few institutions, whether private or governmental.

It is no accident that Kelly makes his case that Information Wants to Be Free. He worked with Stewart Brand at Whole Earth Catalogue, and is an eloquent advocate of technology as a liberator. If you are looking for a stimulating, entertaining, and brilliantly written book, I would suggest picking up What Technology Wants. You won’t be able to put it down until you are finished!

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