Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

it's a comin' and it's gonna be big

Kevin Kelly seems to be confused. About the (supposedly) emerging Brave New World he calls the Technium, he says, “I acknowledge the fact that multitasking and BlackBerrys and iPods and Twitter can be distracting. But we don’t really have the option of ignoring it.” But then, immediately afterwards, he says, “I think it’s necessary and good that there will always be an opt-out option.” Isn't that what in the pre-Technium days we used to call a contradiction?

Really, all Kelly means — as the whole interview shows — is that most people won’t opt out of new technological possibilities. But of course that tells us nothing about how many will, how many should, and how many will actually never have the Technium available to them because they’re too poor.

But in these matters Kelly is an evangelist — literally:

KELLY: But I don’t think the Technium is only about humans. It’s a type of learning. It’s a type of expression. It’s a type of possibility.

The Technium works as an ecology. Just as evolution has a longterm direction as we look 4 billion years into the past, so technology increases complexity and diversity, with increasing power.

LAWLER: So technology is part of evolution or God—that which drives the universe?

KELLY: Exactly. Some people call this the Great Story. Roving preacher Michael Dowd talks at churches about this alternative creation story. It is about evolution through God, that which started from nothing, grew into particles that gained mass and complexity, and then clumped into molecules and then became dust and planets and so forth. And technology is the latest variety.

LAWLER: So the Technium is one of the ways in which the universe is getting to know itself? And by increasing complexity, the universe becomes more self-aware?

KELLY: Exactly. I think of God as the intelligence of mind that is increasing the complexity of the universe.

He goes on to say, “In a sense there is no God as yet achieved, but there is that force at work making God, struggling through us to become an actual organized existence, enjoying what to many of us is the greatest conceivable ecstasy, the ecstasy of a brain, an intelligence, actually conscious of the whole, and with executive force capable of guiding it to a perfectly benevolent and harmonious end. That is what we are working to. When you are asked, ‘Where is God? Who is God?’ stand up and say, ‘I am God and here is God, not as yet completed, but still advancing towards completion, just in so much as I am working for the purpose of the universe, working for the good of the whole of society and the whole world, instead of merely looking after my personal ends.’”

Oh wait — that isn’t Kevin Kelly, that's George Bernard Shaw, writing one hundred and three years ago. Kelly appears not to be aware how elderly his theology is — and how little its persuasive power is augmented by calling it the Technium instead of the Life Force.

(My title, by the way, comes from an old Roz Chast cartoon: those are the words spoken by one of the "Four Press Agents of the Apocalypse." )


  • Sorry to beat the same drum, but many people will also not have access because of various kinnds of physical and mental disabilities.

    On the other hand, these technologies give some people with disabilities abilities they would not otherwise have.

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