(Week 5) What Does Tech Want?

1. What Does Tech Want?

Oh, irony of ironies! Here am I, railng against our cultural and individual over-dependence on that insidious monster Technology, and yet I find myself to be a perfect example of that which I decry!

Let me explain. (Or, as Ricky Ricardo used to say, “Let me ‘splain it to you.”)

Back in the old times, in the 20th century BT (Before Television), Americans would get their news and information from the radio. President FDR delivered his weekly Fireside Chats, informing the nation of the state of the war, the economy, our cultural challenges (“We have nothing to fear but FEAR itself!”). And the people listened, and learned. Children sprawled on the floor on Sunday mornings while some far-away adult read the Sunday comics to them over the radio.

(Here is a great NPR story about NYC mayor LaGuardia reading the comics to the children of New York during a newspaper-delivery strike:
http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=97621982 .)

People listened to the radio, and It Was Good.

And yet, I find that I’m having a difficult time comprehending the gist of what Steven Johnson and Kevin Kelly were saying by listening to their podcast. In fact, before I finish writing this blog entry, I need to go back and listen to the Radiolab Blog “What Does Technology Want” again. And maybe again and again… (It’s >>> here <<<)

My point (and I do have one!) is this: I have become dependent on SEEING and READING in order to do my best COMPREHENDING.

Now, there is a theory that there are three basic modalities of human information-processing and learning:

  • the Visual modality (seeing),
  • the Auditory modality (hearing),
  • and the Kinesthetic (or Motor) modality (physically feeling).

In other words, “Learning modalities refer to the style learners use to concentrate on, process, and retain information…” (quoted from the PBS website Learning Modalities ).

Obviously, except for those humans who have a physiological problem (visually impaired, hearing impaired, physically impaired, etc.), we all have the native ability to process information using all these modalities.

Yet we do not live in a world where the three modalities are used — and stimulated — equally. Our schools are heavily prejudiced toward the Visual modality, leaving the Auditory-processing and Kinesthetic-processing kids in the dust.

Is this a chicken-and-egg problem? Is the Visual modality predominant because that is how most people are wired, or are most people wired for Visual processing because our increasing over-dependence on certain forms of Technology have, over generations, influenced how our wiring develops through childhood?

That is, has our Technology actually molded us into lopsided, predominantly Visual beings, with our innate Auditory- and Kinesthetic-processing skills diminished by that Technology?

One can argue that Reading is a form of Technology, and it has already been argued that humans began thinking differently (i.e. their brains began self-organizing differently) when Reading became a common skill.

As Reading becomes a part of a culture, Orality disappears. Before Reading was a common skill, there were Story Tellers and Troubadours who passed on the (oral) literature of their cultures. People learned by memorizing and taught by reciting. Not much of that going on in our culture now, is there?

(Have you read Fahrenheit 451? If not, you really MUST! Or, go back and read it again. And I DON’T mean go rent the video!)

OK, I’m going to take a break and re-listen to the podcast “What Technology Wants” before I continue with this post.


Alright. Now I have re-listened to the “What Technology Wants” podcast. Still not the best way for me to get information. Part of my problem is that, with no visual input, I can’t tell who is speaking: Is it Steven (the Good Ideas guy) or Kevin (the Technium guy) or the moderator(s)? After a while I was completely lost trying to figure out who was saying what.

The ideas they promote are interesting. Both authors have reached the same conclusion, which is something like this:

For a Good Idea or a New Technology to be developed, the environment has to be just right.

Neither Ideas nor Technology spring forth in a vacuum.

Every Good Idea and every New Technology benefits from and builds upon its predecessors (the ideas and technology that came into existence before the new one) and from its cohorts (the ideas and technology populating the environment, the “mindspace,” of the new one).

At any given moment, because of the current state of existing ideas and technology, only a FINITE set of possible possible new ideas or tech exists — that is, only certain moves can occur.

This state is what one of the authors calls the Adjacent Possible.

As one author noted, things can be IMAGINED before their time, but they cannot be INVENTED until the time is right.

After listening to the podcast, I decided to see if Steven Johnson and Kevin Kelly have websites where they expound on their respective ideas. They do … yay! Here are their websites:

And, even better, both authors have been featured on TED Talks. After watching (and listening to) the authors on these TED Talks web pages, I feel like I understand their ideas much better that I did after listening to the “What Technology Wants” podcast.

I found Kevin Kelly’s TED Talk particularly interesting because he gave this talk in 2005, when he was just starting to explain his ideas about the Technium and its possible inclusion as a seventh Kingdom of Life.

After listening to the podcast of “What Technology Wants,” I had a strong objection to what I was hearing because (as I see it) from caveman times all the way up to now and to our foreseeable future, technology exists as a PRODUCT of humans. Without humans, I say, there is no Technology. Well, Kevin Kelly covered that nicely in “The Seventh Kingdom” (the link above) when he wrote “The technium branches off from the mind of the human animal, just as the deepest roots of the human branch off of the bacteria.”


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