on ‘What Technology Wants’

Working in the web development industry, where growth and innovation happen at an incredible rate, it’s easy to become enamored with the internet, software, screens, and devices, and put off the big questions about our use of technology.

Kevin Kelly’s book, “What Technology Wants” is a vivid analysis of the human compulsion to create and use tools, adding depth to the commonly superficial perspective we take on daily interactions with things like the web and mobile phones.

Kelly writes with authority on many subtopics (from the sentience of rock ants to the ‘evolution of evolution’) but the book’s most eye opening theme, for me, was the analogous relationship between biological life and technology. “We can think of technology as our extended body,” he writes.

He relates the evolution of technology to the evolution of life, finding parallels over time in increasing complexity, structure, and mutuality. The story of new ideas unfolding in the ‘technium’ is told with the understanding that progression is natural, or instinctive. Technology doesn’t mature casually, its advancement isn’t accidental – the transformation of our tools is subject to patterns that can even be described as laws.

Taking a walk yesterday, I found myself glancing at the sidewalk and thinking about the properties of concrete, looking at my shoes and wondering about rubber’s integration with apparel, hearing automobile traffic and considering all the ‘millions of tiny fires’ burning on highways everywhere. Reading the book gave pause to the usual naiveté I take in normal activities.

It’s easy to get lost in cat videos, song downloads, and ‘liking’ photos, but when you scratch the surface, technology ‘wants’ us to do much, much more.

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