The Technium

Reasons to Diminish Technology


[Translations: Japanese]

I believe we have a moral obligation to increase the power and presence of technology in the world, but not everyone believes that – to put it mildly. Many believe the opposite: that we have a moral obligation to reduce the power and presence of technology. I want to fully understand those arguments so I am collecting them in order to confront them as well as I can. I am interested in valid reasons to diminish technology, but also in mythical reasons as well. Things people believe about the technium which may not be true, but motivate them. Here is my first cut. Please comment on alternative reasons I missed.

House Of Frankenstein Revive

I think there are four basic arguments against technology, with many sub reasons. In summary: Technology should be reduced as much as possible because it is contrary to nature, and/or to humanity, and/or to technology itself and finally, because it is a type of evil and thus is contrary to God.

Contrary to Nature:

Technology is in opposition to nature. It is produced at the expense of nature because it destroys ecological habitats. Its steel is mined from the earth; its lumber is taken by cutting down forests; its rare metals dug from the ground; its plastics sucked from oil and then burned into the air. Its factories pave over wetlands or meadows. Worse this destruction of natural habitat can extinguish species, an act which cannot be undone (at least not yet). Even if technology halted the destruction of natural habitat, the fact that we consume large amounts of energy causes a disruption in the atmosphere, which alters the climate. The scale of technology is simply so large that almost no matter how environmentally benign it may seem, its sheer size overwhelms natural cycles.

Contrary to Humans:

Technology erodes human character. It separates us from nature, which diminishes our natural self. Out of touch with nature, we behave selfishly, stupidly. We become consumers instead of receivers. We become artificial. At the extreme we behave like machines. Technology makes us greedy, unhappy, impatient, insensitive and full of hubris.

Contrary to Technology Itself:

Technology proceeds so fast it is going to self-destruct. It is no longer regulated by nature, or humans, and cannot control itself. Self-replicating technologies such as robotics, nanotech, genetic engineering are self-accelerating at such a rate that they can veer off in unexpected, unmanageable directions at any moment. The Fermi Paradox suggests that none, or very few civilizations, escape the self-destroying capacity of technology.

Contrary to God:

Technology has all the hallmarks of an evil force. The worst injuries to ourselves and our species come at the hand of technology: atomic bombs, guns everywhere, toxins in water, mind drugs, dams that fail, marketplace bombs, persistent radiation, automobile crashes – not to mention the technologies of war – tanks, predator drones, land mines, etc., which have been designed with only ONE purpose: to kill as many humans as possible. Technologies amplify violence, and this violence is systemic, part of the agenda, built into the nature of these systems. Like an evil force.

Have I missed any?




Comments
  • John (Jshot)

    There is great irony in those who use technology and the Internet in particular as a vehicle to distribute their grievances against technology. I acknowledge that I’m often at odds with some of my own opposition to certain forms of technology and my wife is more than happy to point out that I spend way too much time reading technology centric articles on the Internet.

    I guess this is why I find this website so intriguing because I’m obviously not alone in wrestling with what limits and restrictions technology should have(or not have)in my life.

  • Kate

    Kevin, you said, “Are you growing your own wheat or rice? Do you use a knife or a blender? It is the fact that wheat and rice and other staple foodstuffs are grown commercially for cheap that enables you to dabble in knife gardening. I am with you on keeping it simple (I do knife gardening too) but I also acknowledge that my choices are made possible by heavy technological forces at work elsewhere.”

    I don’t follow your line of reasoning here. Are you saying that because I am not totally food independent, I have no grounds for criticizing technology? Or are you saying that only technology allows me the luxury of “dabbling” in the garden?

    Food sovereignty is an aim of mine. We’re getting closer to it each year. And humans did somehow find the means to feed themselves, through agriculture, even with stone age technology. I never said that I reject all technology. I know that my life, however simple I may wish to make it, is and will always be dependent upon technology. Fire, as man uses it, is after all a technology, as are the crops we raise to feed ourselves – as you rightly point out.

    I’m comfortable with some technology. I just think that the Amish are on to something when they remain extremely circumspect and cautious about adopting something new. The default in mainstream culture is to embrace whatever new gadget is put out there, just because it’s new. New doesn’t always mean better. Older and simpler forms of technology have proven records for good or ill, or both, which makes me more comfortable making a decision about whether I want to use it or not. Technological advance is accelerating, and we are not very good at judging the true value or the true costs of these technologies. Thus my reservations and mildly negative view of technology.

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @Kate: I agree with most of what you just posted — except for your last line where you say you have a “mildly negative view of technology.” I would say you have a mildly positive view of technology based on the thousands and thousands of incredibly high technology processes in your life, ranging from hi-tech insulation, steel, modern medicine, roads, bridges, internet — the list is so long it is exhausting. Even if you manage to grow ALL of your food yourself, you might remove 1% of the technology you use and depend on in your life. Even the Amish are very positive about technology (see my post on Amish Hackers to explain why). I am suggesting the gadgets you are giving up are only superficial in the entire technosphere of things you are actually depending on. I think it is good and proper that we give up certain technologies ( we have no TV at home, for instance), just as long as we are clear about the degree to which we are imbedded in the technium.

  • jake

    I agree and disagree.
    My main beef with tech. is the evil at the hands of its developers.
    Tech. in and of itself is not evil or exploitative. It can be used that way.
    Look at Nobel…invented Dynamite. he saw its perversion…

    ultimately the aim of tech. should not be tech. for the sake of tech. but to benefit mankind.
    this does not mean make my life easier…only.
    we also need to look at what cost? ecologically, yes.
    are we using slave labor?
    what is doing to the earth?
    is it a convenience or a need?
    does it make us smarter?
    does it help us help others?

  • Victoria Stodden

    Kevin, Have you seen this article? http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/29/magazine/29Dyson-t.html?_r=3&ref=magazine&pagewanted=all In it Freeman Dyson muses the reasons people may not always be accepting of technology. Referencing the global warming debate,

    “Beyond the specific points of factual dispute, Dyson has said that it all boils down to “a deeper disagreement about values” between those who think “nature knows best” and that “any gross human disruption of the natural environment is evil,” and “humanists,” like himself, who contend that protecting the existing biosphere is not as important as fighting more repugnant evils like war, poverty and unemployment.”

    and:

    “Dyson has always been strongly opposed to the idea that there is any such thing as an optimal ecosystem — “life is always changing” — and he abhors the notion that men and women are something apart from nature, that “we must apologize for being human.” Humans, he says, have a duty to restructure nature for their survival.”

    I don’t think this articulation quite fits any of your four points. Technology is against nature, but not because it destroys nature but because nature knows best.

    Dyson also describes “what you might call ‘technical arrogance’ that overcomes people when they see what they can do with their minds.” I can imagine people reacting against this arrogance regardless of whether they understand the technology.

    fantastic post – thank you,
    Victoria

  • Tim

    This could fall under contrary to humans or technology, not sure which:

    Technology Creates More Problems Than It Solves

    A kind of pragmatic argument, one that doesn’t deny that it has benefits to humanity, and one that doesn’t necessarily suggest technology will run away out of control.

    Only that it seeks to solve problems, and as matter of empirical fact (or conjecture) it ends up creating new, and greater, problems.

    Example, the airline industry solved a problem of fast travel, but created problems of pollution, safety, resource consumption, climate change etc.

    (Another example – CAPTCHA!! Taken three goes to get this comment though. Don’t know what that says about me. Maybe I’m a cyborg…)

  • Kevin Kelly

    @Victoria: Yes, I agree with what Dyson says in the Times profile. And yes, another argument against Technology is that it challenges the idea that nature knows best.

  • Jonathan EW

    Possible addition to the list:

    “Technology” is a trojan horse. Technology (defined as the useful and thoughtful manipulation of the world) is fine, but is bound up with things called technology which are destructive: social systems that allow slaves to assemble CD-ROMS; the siren call of high-input/high-risk/high-yield lifestyles; the intrusion of advertising or other manipulative relationships into all public spaces. These notions are clearly bad but poorly defined. Because they cannot practically be delinked from technology, technology is opposed.

  • John (Jshot)

    Tim:”CAPTCHA!! Taken three goes to get this comment though. Don’t know what that says about me. Maybe I’m a cyborg”

    There’s more to CAPTCHA than you might know ;)

    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/08/17/click_to_translate/?page=1

    ” It happens all the time: you’re registering a free e-mail account or making a purchase online, when up pops a wavy, multicolored word. The system asks you to retype the word – and you roll your eyes, squint a little, and transcribe. This little test is one of the most successful techniques for making sure the person trying to log on is really a human, and not a digital “bot” prying into the site.

    But now, when you type that word, something else may be happening as well: You may be deciphering a word from a decaying old book, helping to transform a historic text into a new digital file.

    In May of last year, computer scientists started using those cryptic-looking words to solve a frustrating problem. Digital cameras at libraries worldwide are scanning millions of pages of old books, automatically “reading” the texts and turning them into computer files. But as books age, their typography smudges and flakes away. While human readers have little trouble comprehending even the most mangled words, sophisticated computer software still hangs up on them. Somewhere on the page, the dot of an i has disappeared, the smile of an e has gone gappy, the belly of a capital D has detached itself from its backbone. The computer thinks it’s seeing an ‘l,’ a ‘c,’ and a capital I followed by a parenthesis.”

  • RobertJ

    Sometimes one come across uplifting statistics in the strangest places. For instance, the average roman spent four times as much water as today’s average german:

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,612718,00.html

    It’s a nice counterexample to the idea that technological advances always implies increased consumption of natural resources.

  • Sean Taylor

    My guess is that at some point, probably very soon now, technological civilization will put so much nonlinear destructive power in the hands of so few bad actors that it will tip over into instability and collapse. This will give us the solution to Fermi’s Paradox in our time: technological civlization is inherently unstable and self-extincting. I’m afraid Kaczynski’s analysis is probably right on, and the best option for those who value their survival is to find a plan B for when (not if) this network begins its cascading collapse. 9/11 was one seismic shock; the financial crisis is another; the next one (bio/nuclear terrorism, massive solar storm-induced power outage, climate catastrophe, global resource wars, etc.) may cause an earthquake that levels the whole tottering structure. If you don’t want to end up crushed under the rubble, consider moving out from under the buildings and starting over somewhere far, far away from the madness of the technology idolaters. As the Taliban’s imminent takeover of Pakistan and Afghanistan proves, the power of techno-Empire is overrated and its emperors are increasingly without clothes. 7th century Islam may not be your ideal outcome for a post-collapse world, but the point is there are viable alternatives for those who find the “technium” a hellish nightmare, for all four of the reasons stated in the original post, and are willing to fight to realize them.

  • jim thomas

    @kevin:
    i’m not sure that your summary quite gets it . Also all 3 of the reasons i listed for using the internet (despite my antipathy towards it) are true to a greater or lesser extent – its not a matter of picking amongst them but recognising that different motivations combine to produce behaviour. Probably the missing point is simply that we all pick our battles and i don’t choose to do battle against the internet as a technology so using the web is not such a moral quandary day to day for me. I accept a level of hypocrisy because to engage with every injustice all the time is not only to open ourselves up to way too much suffering but can lead to a form of self-disarmament (consider for example the committed climate activist who won’t use fossil fuel transportation on principle and therefore can’t get to the action to shut down the coal plant – who comes out losing?)

    To say i’m trapped/seduced (your #2) by the online world is an honest admission and I don’t dismiss it at all. On the one hand I enjoy the entertainments and knowledge and interactions the web gives me just as someone might enjoy a seedy strip club or eating a big mac while knowing that its also an exploitative and unhealthy choice. More importantly it would be pretty hard, especially in my line of work which is tracking technology, to avoid the net. That would be true for a number of other people too since the structure of the economy is now such that to disengage from the web is also to disengage with power, discussion and decision-making. The internet traps us in the same way the road system traps us – its a physical reality that dominates modern life and whose presence we cannot avoid without deliberately becoming hermits.

    You present my first reason (your #3), as “the negative won’t affect me personally” and then read into that that I claim some sort of special skill. I don’t but i do recognise my own privilige and the protections it affords me. I think the effects of the internet (or any unjust technology) do not impact all people equally. I’m actually exactly the sort of person who the internet was designed to benefit – economically comfortable, english speaking, culturally occidental, so-called “well-educated”. Although I could identify ways in which the internet diminishes me it would mostly be griping – on the whole someone like me benefits from the worldwide web, more so as it reinforces the structures that already privilige me in social and economic relations…. By contrast the more destructive forces that the internet facilitates (accelerated globalization, destruction of languages and cultures) more directly hurt those who don’t have the luxury of that privilige – whose first language isn’t english and who is at the receiving end of externally driven economic restructuring. Given this fact should I stop using the internet since in doing so i implicitly endorse and contribute a small amount to that inequitable power dynamic? Its a classic dilemma that anyone seeking change faces about how far you compromise in means in order to reach certain ends. As i said initially i tend to be fairly pragmatic. I don’t feel i’d do anyone any good by becoming an ideologically pure hermit unplugged from the rest of society. I’m not pretending i’m comfortable with the hypocrisy though.

    My last reason you characterise as a hope to reform the internet. You are right that this is a largely hypothetical reason because as I said above, its not the battle I choose to engage in – my own energies are elsewhere. Nonetheless it engages my curiousity and i do think there are intriguing countercurrents in digital/online culture that might open spaces for a different better world (mass collaboration of strangers via wikis for example, rapid analysis by crowds might be another). I also don’t doubt the ju-jitsu skill of some technicians to hack technologies to turn them against their own injustices. One of my heros is french statistician and technocrat Rene Carmille who in the 1940′s took charge of the Nazi’s computer infrastructure for census collection (IBM punchcard machines) and subverted it in order to deliver useful data to the french resistance while denying the Nazi’s the very information on ethnicity that they originally established the census for. When I think of Carmille i think that the internet may also have redemptive qualities if subverted properly in the right hands. Carmille himself died in the Dachau concentration camp – thats the sobering less hopeful part of the story.

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @Jim Thomas: Thanks, for taking the time to answer, and at length! At the risk of summarizing your response again, I read that you have tallied up all the negatives and positives and have calculated that for you personally, the positives of the web slightly outweigh the negatives of the web, so you use it. I think that is what we all do, for all technologies.

  • soahc

    I agree that technology is value neutral.

    And for all the people claiming that we are not ready morally to handle new technology. you are addressing not individuals, but power structures like governments that fund weaponry. It’s not a problem with the individual, it’s a problem with authority. I’m sure that for the most part people in Iran just want to be left alone, and would be happy to communicate and work together with people in the U.S. The problem is we have governmental bodies that are forcing us into a state of fear and uncooperative behavior.

    We can handle more and better technology. The problem is, as we have more access to it, power structures are going to evaporate and they may go out fighting. This is the dawn of self empowerment, thanks to new and cutting edge technologies. It’s time for the people in office to serve us. We are connecting, networking, and communicating like never before. Now, we are entering an age of unprecedented democracy and transparency. To slow down technological progress by somehow limiting our access to it would impede this process.

    We are going to reach a place where we realize that no one really wants nuclear bombs and militarism. It’s just the politicians, in their current guise, who do.

    I think many of the people who think we should limit technology are from an older generation. Personally, I was raised on the internet, so to me technology is nothing but beneficial, solving the problems it creates…it just IS. As long as we continue to consume more energy, more efficiently, while impacting the environment less (nuclear), I am behind progress all the way.

  • Scott

    When you extend the basic concept of evolution to the Universe (as a system), technological “progress” happens, regardless of proponents or opponents or moral issues. Period.

    Any debates over the morals of technology are severely limited by our lack of knowing where we have tangible influence over our (human) survival or long term well being. Complicating matters, we often confuse the desire for survival with the desire for comfort, and all too often invoke the former in arguments when it’s really the latter we are defending or seeking. As a result, grand, all-or-nothing moral arguments about technology fail.

    We do, though, have an obligation to influence and co-exist with technology in a way that abides by our sense of morality. But this must be debated and addressed at each evolutionary point, just as we address non-technological changes to our world.

    And so, all of the concerns listed here are valid. But they are only tactical, contextual issues.

  • CanadianAlien

    Whatever you can do to keep technology out of the ‘black box’ would be useful.

    ‘Technology’ is such a general and oft-misused word. It can refer to a cellphone, a bridge, a chemical reaction, software, an industrial process, etc.

    Be very specific when debating whether ‘technology’ should be dismissed or not.

  • Adrian

    I’d argue that can restricts people’s degrees of freedom in a number of ways.

    Zygmunt Bauman in “Modernity and the Holocaust” argues that modernity produces bureaucracy, which then forms conduits outside of which it is impossible to act, and goes on to argue that the form of the Holocaust (a very specific form of genocide) was produced by modernist bureaucracy. He also goes on to say that technology enables this perverted kind of modernity to tighten its grip. His argument about modernity forming the character of the Holocaust is persuasive, but his comments about technology are only partially persuasive because he takes a pessimist’s viewpoint and disregards the freedoms that technology can give too.

    However, the bureaucratic restrictions that technology can enforce are real enough – for example, a company that doesn’t give out a telephone number or address, and only allows you to contact them through an online form if you already have a customer number. I’m sure we’ve all gone round in loops trying to get through a telephone system, only to get through to someone who says they can’t access that information and gives you another number.

    This kind of restriction of freedom of movement is also shown in programmes like Photoshop – you can only do what the programmers have programmed Photoshop to do. For example, the spray paint tool doesn’t behave like real paint because its generated by algorithms at 72dpi, whereas real paint has an infinite resolution and more chaotic behaviour. However – programming also allows the kinds of graphic design that could never be done with physical methods, which creates a kind of freedom, even if it’s constrained by mathematics.

    It seems to me that this doesn’t fit into any of the categories above – it might seem to fit into almost any of the above, but as I conceive it, it’s not really a value judgement, it’s just different. As long as the limitations are recognised (which doesn’t happen in badly-organised call centres for example) then it doesn’t really matter.

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @Adrian said, “As long as the limitations are recognised (which doesn’t happen in badly-organised call centres for example) then it doesn’t really matter.”

      I agree and that is why I would not put the tradeoff as a reason to diminish technology.

  • Stan James

    Re: Contrary to God

    More fundamental than the violence, technology is “Contrary to God” in that it interferes with one’s prime duty to God. For example, the Westminster Catechism states “Man’s chief end is to glorify God.” The Amish limit their technology so as not to interfere with their Godly life, not because of a fear of violence. It seems fundamentalists of any religion would object to technology for something along these lines.

    The violent uses of technology are perhaps better labeled as “Contrary to Ethics”?

    Re: Contrary to Humans

    The “technology makes us unhappy” argument could be expanded to a full-blown argument, especially given the recent advances (hype?) around happiness science. If our prime goal is to live happier lives, and technology actually makes us less happy, then we don’t want to increase the power and presence of technology. This is perhaps the more basic argument behind objections such as “technology reduces human interaction” or “technology overwhelms us with choices” or “technology over-complicates life.”

    (After encountering many of arguments with anti-technology friends over the years, it’s nice to see a full list being compiled here. I believe that technology *will* increase in power and presence, but am not so convinced that this is a *moral* obligation. Looking forward to hearing more about this.)

  • John (Jshot)

    soahc:”I agree that technology is value neutral.”

    How can technology be morally neutral if it’s created by the hands and minds of people who are not morally neutral?

    If anything our inherent moral bias clouds how we view our own creations which gives technology the false impression it’s morally neutral.

    We have to be responsible and accountable for ‘many’ of our technological creations because they’re not inherently benign.

  • biotele

    Technology cannot be diminished it is part of civilization, it is however contrary as you state. it is self consuming and contrary to nature. A very good case in point is the fossil fuel revolution and the predicted end of fossil fuel. Although fossil fuel has allowed the world population to increase 6 folds, increased health, longevity and standard of living, it also enabled two world wars, many conflict across the world and climate instability. The end of fossil fuel will engender apocalyptic events due to unsustainable world populations without fossil fuels.
    technologists however believe that catastrophes from technology itself can be cured by newer technologies.
    Religious people, on the other hand, believe that technology is an enabler of evil necessary for apparition of the beast and the creation of the apocalypse.

    My belief is that technology is accelerating human evolution, however mental evolution has not caught up. The lack of mental evolution (such as intelligence, wisdom and foresight) will prevent the creation of newer technologies that will permit a continuation of civilization.

    We are reaching a critical threshold in which the technologists view will fail and the religious view will become reality.

  • Common Sawfish

    If I’m not mistaken, positive psychology has shown that happiness and material wealth are not well-correlated beyond a certain baseline level of prosperity– that, once past that threshold, other factors predominate. If this is the case, then any technology that exists for a purpose other than that of extending this minimal prosperity to as many people as possible could be considered unnecessary. (I’m aware that this is a new field, and that studies comparing happiness between nations do see a correlation between wealth and happiness. I suppose that I’d use positive psychology– and possibly an investigation of the psychological effects of knowledge itself and its uses– as a basis for deciding whether to limit or channel technological progress, in the abstract.) (I don’t think this last is a trivial point, either; we already know that, for example, human behavior can be altered by a belief or disbelief in the notion of free will: http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2008/04/changing_belief_in_free_will_c.php )

    An essay which I think you might find highly relevant is here: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/daedalus-and-icarus-revisited

    I strongly recommend Haldane’s ‘Daedalus’, but I’ve yet to read Bertrand Russell’s response.

  • John (Jshot)

    Sawfish,

    You just reminded me of my favorite Bertand Russell quote:

    “Machines are worshipped because they are beautiful, and valued because they confer power; they are hated because they are hideous, and loathed because they impose slavery”- Bertrand Russell

  • Duff

    I think you’ve missed the most important social critiques of technology. The essence of this critique is that technology is half of the view that we can control (with technology) and understand (via science) the world and nature itself.

    The critique basically states that the more we control and attempt to understand the world, the more problems we create and the less we really know (but fool ourselves into thinking we are getting closer to the Truth). The convergence of crises we are facing is not going to be solved via this kind of predict and control logic.

    I think there could be an integration of technology without predicting and controlling via the kind of thinking you have written about regarding swarms and the like.

    I recommend Charles Eisenstein’s magnum opus The Ascent of Humanity for a comprehensive critical view of technology, available online on a donation-basis: http://www.ascentofhumanity.com/text.php

  • Edward Korczynski

    John (Jshot) on March 31, 2009 at 12:19 AM posted:
    This reminds me of the 1997 Wired Magazine interview with George Lucas:
    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive//5.02/fflucas.html?pg=10&topic=
    George Lucas’ answer in part (thanks to Kevin for asking the question back when):
    “But the emotional intelligence of humankind is equally if not more important than our intellectual intelligence. We’re just as emotionally illiterate as we were 5,000 years ago; so emotionally our line is completely horizontal.”

    Let’s take this out of the abstract and into a common life experience: your neighbor and the waste from his transportation technology getting dumped into the ground just over your fence line.

    Low tech: horse and buggy, waste is shit and a little grease.

    Medium tech: internal combustion engine car, waste is lots of toxic molecules (oil and brakefluid and hydraulicfluid) and lead (battery) and a little grease.

    High tech: personal nuclear fission mobile, various interesting and reactive isotopes, and toxic molecules, and a little grease.

    Sadly, our society seems to currently produce a (guessed) small minority of irresponsible individuals who really do ruin it for everyone else. I do not trust that all of my neighbors are responsible enough to own and operate a personal nuclear reactor.

    Central control of energy generation with distribution has worked fairly well in general, but Chernobyl and Three Mile Island show that we cannot trust “central authorities” with even the technologies already developed.

    How do we begin to develop Emotional Intelligence? Start by reading “Born to be Good” by Dacher Keltner. Transcend tribalism. Enjoy life responsibly. Repeat as necessary.

  • Jon

    Technology is contrary to truth. Or at least it makes it possible to divide the world into two different realities. It shield the priviliged from experiencing the underlying reality of things. Things like the finance crisis should be a wake up call. Technology makes it possible to manipulate whole populations at a time by creating false facades and fronts. 90% of the normal-sized biomass of the worlds oceans are gone. 75% of the remaining species are nearing collapse, but people still eat fish and are told its the right thing to do.

  • Steve Heise

    You seem to approach critiques from the perspecitive of moral philosophy. Early luddites were concerned with job loss, and they were right to do so. The machines which replaced them were more efficient, but they received none of the benefit of those efficiencies.
    Dawkins ‘extended phenotype’ indicates that tool use is a valuable evolutionary trait. Efficiency is not the criteria that evolution uses, but rather capability. Predators are far less efficient that prey, but they have capabilites (like binocular vision and bigger forebrains) that are selected for under most conditions. But they benefit from the increased entropy far more than there subject prey.
    The ‘tragedy of the commons’ of English grazing fields also had winners and losers. The bigger flocks would win out, since they could sustain 90% losses and still win out. A hundred years ago it was the capitalist owners who directly benefitted, with mine owners getting rich while the workers suffered and died young. Unions changed the conditions. Now it is the decision makers, the CEO’s, who consolidate resources to their own benefit using capital provided by investors.
    Point being, technology is an evolutionary extension which gets selected for under given conditions. The criteria of evaluation for objections is more ‘qui bono, qui malo.’ Who gets the goods, and who is stuck with the bill.

  • bram draper

    I like that you’re taking seriously the opposition viewpoint. As far as you seem to be in this project, you’re probably already aware, but in case you’re not:

    http://www.greenanarchy.org/

    Perhaps a good way to get inside the anti-civ/anti-tech discourse.

  • Michael Nielsen

    I suspect that often the arguments you list are really rationalizations for an underlying emotion: “Technology makes me uncomfortable”. The most common reasons I know of for discomfort are (a) fear of what technology may bring (e.g., thalidomide, the bomb); and (b) lack of understanding. These reasons aren’t the same thing, but each can easily reinforce the other. I’m often struck by the ignorance of some (not all!) people in the environmental movement.

    Critics like Bill Joy are interesting, in part because they escape (b), and they are at least plausible in their discussion of (a).

  • Mark Essel

    “I believe we have a moral obligation to increase the power and presence of technology in the world”
    from wikipedia, technology is defined as the “usage and knowledge of tools and crafts, and how it affects an animal species’ ability to control and adapt to its environment”

    There’s no moral obligation related to technology that I can define.

    There may be a selfish interest in respect to our species to increase the power of tech, but at the same time it should also diminish it’s presence. The best technologies are after all invisible or completely intuitive.

  • Jshot

    Please correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the the english word ‘technology’ rooted in the Greek term “technikos” which means “artificial”?

    If true, a tech-centric culture inherently is a fragile artificial (fake) one.

  • Dean Latchana

    You may wish to read a short report written by Survival (a charity set-up to help protect tribal people) called Progress Can Kill: http://bit.ly/YTZ3f

    It explains how contact and progress for tribal people paradoxically threatening their survival.

  • John (Jshot)

    Here’s some interesting quotes on some of the concerns related to technology:

    “When a machine begins to run without human aid, it is time to scrap it – whether it be a factory or a government.” ~Alexander Chase

    “The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.” ~B.F. Skinner

    “The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.” ~Sydney J. Harris

    “There is an evil tendency underlying all our technology – the tendency to do what is reasonable even when it isn’t any good.”-Robert Pirsig

    “The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them. “-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” -Bill Gates

    “Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.”
    Max Frisch

    “A free America… means just this: individual freedom for all, rich or poor, or else this system of government we call democracy is only an expedient to enslave man to the machine and make him like it.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

  • Ivan

    How about this one: Technology makes human race less stable.

    Without technology 99% will die, but the rest 1% will survive with higher chances.

    With technology of certain level (already achieved) entire human population may go extinct in a blink of an eye.

    Trading lives of future generations for short term safety and comfort is selfish.

    Disclaimer: I am selfish and chose short term comfort and don’t really care about generations 1K years from now.

  • John (Jshot)

    If it wasn’t for the financial tools/technology that allowed individuals (over the last two decades) to be able borrow large sums of money to offset lower real wages (when adjusted for inflation) we would have even higher levels of unemployment and underemployment as a result. The unraveling of the global credit markets is only exposing the reality that technology is commitizing human labor and human intellect by cultivating it, storing it, and finally replicating it.

    I think that Vernor Vinge was correct about technological unemployment:

    http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/vinge/misc/singularity.html

    “We will see automation replacing higher and higher level jobs. We have tools right now(symbolic math programs, cad/cam) that release us from most low-level drudgery. Or put another way: The work that is truly productive is the domain of a steadily smaller and more elite fraction of humanity. In the coming of the Singularity, we are seeing the predictions of true technological unemployment finally come true.”

  • Chris Tweed

    I guess Heidegger probably nailed most of them in The Question Concerning Technology but some others to consider:

    Technology separates people from each other (as well as connecting them). Think about how many times you have received an email from someone down the corridor rather than them coming to talk to you directly.

    New technologies erode existing practices and ways of doing things—Don Ihde is particularly good on this one.

    Technology begets further technology and thereby becomes self-serving and a drain on resources.

    Chris

  • vanderleun

    (Quietly praying to God and Technology that we don’t have a “What about the singularity?” thread here. Worse than Mac vs PC.)

  • Devonavar

    I don’t get it. Why would we have any moral attitude towards technology, pro or contra? I can see having a moral attitude towards *specific* technologies (pro wind generators, contra nukes), but that has more to do with the intentions behind the technologies, not the actual inventions or tools. Taking a moral stance on technology itself just seems silly, like being for or against math.

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @ Devonavar: I am definitely for math.

  • Allan

    Sorry for the late response.

    No I have not a theory (or maybe yes? I’m writing a book too).
    But the problem is that with the technology we now use, our natural resources would be exhausted (I’m not talking about marketing sh** like the global warming, and all of it’s consequences).
    And it’s not only that.

    Just look around you (increased demand for everything).
    The technology progress is, however, inevitable.

  • Mike Bergman

    I would add two reasons:

    1) technology may be appropriated for evil

    2) technology threatens the status quo, per Luddites.

    While neither of those, nor your own listings, diminish my belief in technology (as the tangible expression of human knowledge), I suspect they are operative for many around us.

  • Joseph

    This might be just another facet of “Contrary to Humans”, but I won’t argue that technology is inherently evil, but rather it is overused to the point that there is harm rather than benefit.

    Technology makes doing more with fewer people possible. But, I’d argue that we are now at the point where we now have too many people and too few jobs.

    An easy example would be a developing nation on the brink of starvation. Bringing in technology to automate food production as much as possible would be bad. While it might solve food supply issue, it does nothing to solve the social issues and the lack of jobs. It would be better to keep that technology away and do the farming by hand, perhaps with the assistance of such technology to ensure good crops.

    We saw the same with the Industrial Revolution, which we claim improved standards of living overall … at a cost of displaced workers … but at a time when population and workforce growth allowed for such improvement.

    Now, our technology causes us to sit on our butts getting fat and disease ridden. We would all probably be in better health with more satisfying jobs by ditching the technology and doing more things the hard manual way. As we’ve learned of consequences to waste which gave rise to the Green Movement, there are consequences to overusing technology.

    Long live the neo-neo-luddite movement!

  • Andy Havens

    Technology is a distraction: The idea that we become obsessed by the various buttons-and-whistles to the point where we are involved in tech for the sake of tech.

    Technology is contrary to art: Art requires human experience, emotion and senses. Technology comes between people and these things, creating a barrier to both artistic appreciation and expression. Technology that creates or mimics art or relies to heavily on tech-craft is not really art, but only pretty, shiny lights.

    Technology is contrary to self: We fetishize and anthropomorphize technology to the point where we see ourselves more in relationship to our tech than as unique, human animals. Technology is an imperfect and distorted mirror that tells us things about ourselves that either don’t matter or that are unhelpful to the development of self.

    Technology is contrary to friendship/love: True love and friendship require direct physical contact. Mediative technology distances us, lessening the strength and veracity of our relationships.

    Technology is contrary to creativity and/or education: Reliance on our devices makes us less creative and more ignorant. I don’t need to make a widget, as they are mass produced… so I don’t ever learn how. I can use a calculator, so I forget how to multiply.

    Technology is contrary to culture: the “way we were” is differentiated from “the way we are” by technological differences. If we could only go back to the tech we had when I was young, I’d be OK. These kids with the iPods… when I was young, we listened to the juke box together, it was a group activity.

    Technology is contrary to relaxation: caring for our increasingly complex tools makes it impossible for us to relax and unwind. We are constantly charging batteries, winding clocks, checking email, making calls, taking pictures. How can we relax with all these tools to take care of?

    Technology is contrary to sportsmanship: New techno fibers, doping and steroids, all these sports-medicine monitors and machines… athletic competition should be about the purity of the human body and drive.

  • Ivo Quartiroli

    One reason to diminish technology is that technology tends to bring our attention mainly, if not only, to external inputs, giving less time and space for listening to our inner happenings. Technology, especially Internet, is feeding the infinite crave of the mind toward novelties, which reduces our clarity and awareness, as every meditator knows. Nothing wrong in feeding the mind that way, but is nurturing just a minuscole part of our human qualities and potentials. So, “diminish” is the right word. However, there’s a built-in tendency in technology to expand more and more and to absorb other areas of life and of our mind/soul.

  • Kent Schnake

    This is probably a subset of “contrary to humans”, but I think it is important to be explicit about it: “Contrary to Relationship” examples are that work and family life are often separated by distance. Community is disrupted by commuting, frequent moves, etc. Humans in cars are isolated compared to walking humans or bike riding humans. Humans in large buildings with many walls are isolated from each other. More energy is put into “distance relationships” such as phone, e-mail, gaming, blogging, etc. The plethora of entertainment choices tends to isolate individuals (each in front of their own screen or on their own cell phone). So technology is often seen as creating barriers to the development of genuine relationship. I understand the arguments, but I feel that the opportunities created far outweight the barriers created.

  • Mark Whiting

    I think an interesting notion which is not necessarily mentioned in your list however is vaguely mentioned in some of the comments e.g. John’s with all the quotes, is that technology is a big thing to mess with and perhaps humans are not quite smart enough to mess with it well, or in a way that will lead to the optimal outcome for us. That is not to say that we will not help it evolve but that at some point the evolution and development of technology either will or has become independent of some aspects of human intention and control.

    Not sure if you will agree but I think this is a little different from the implications of your Contrary to Technology Itself section.

  • jim thomas

    Speaking as someone who is generally categorised as “against technology”, the assumptions underlying this post just don’t work for me.

    I concur that being ‘against technology’ is a bit like being against, maybe not math as Devonar suggests, but rather ‘society’ or ‘politics’ – an essential and ubiquitous component of the human condition. I would regard the technium as sphere in which we live (like the biosphere – the technosphere) and that we depend upon this technosphere to mediate between ourselves and other aspects of the world. For me where controversy arises is when the types of technology that populate the technosphere/technium mediate in a manner that diminishes ourselves and our communities including our biological community.

    I find Lewis Mumford’s distinction between authoritarian and democratic technologies or Ivan Illich’s notion of convivial technologies to be way more helpful in understanding why I act to try to prevent certain technologies. They point to the notion that certain technologies incorporate and extend power relations and can in turn impose those power relations . As Churchill said we make our buildings and then our buildings make us – only increasingly we don’t make our own buildings or technologies but are forced to live within systems of technologies that have been made for us and not always with our best interest at heart. These in turn can give us something akin to sick building syndrome..

    For what its worth I give the thumbs down to technologies that enable authoritarian power relations (eg corporatism or militarism) or that diminish the agency and sovereignty of people and communities by making them more reliant on the elite, rarefied and controlled knowledge. Nanotechnologies, complex and proprietary biotechnologies, nuclear power..

    I give the thumbs up to technologies that can be easily understood, tinkered with, appropriated and taken apart by an “ordinary person” or small community and that build the genuine resilience and meaning of such communities. knives, bicycles, windmills..

    I think the Luddites had it about right when they said they wanted to put down technologies that were “harmful to the common good” – they understand this wasn’t about technology as a lumpen whole to be fearful off but rather that having free and meaningful lives meant actively choosing amongst technologies for the sake of their communities.

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @jim thomas: Jim, do you give thumbs up or down on the internet and web?

  • Tom Crowl

    In broad categories you’ve got it all: God, Nature, Mankind and Itself.

    And if we agree that technology is natural, then it really is more akin to arguing for or against math as Devonavar suggests.

    SO as the world’s Collapsatarians, Kaczynskis and most of the comments here suggest, the needed response by we technophiles is to the underlying common concern they all share:

    How can we ensure that we can either create or control our own human destiny? And if we see in art possible visions of the future… will it be a vision of an enlightened, curious and creative Star Trek Federation or a monomaniacal, sterile Borg Collective?(It may be a trite example but it illustrates well the poles envisioned.)

    Will it be the loss of individual self-determination and meaningful community (related to limits of the altruism drive and Dunbar Number)… or the key to the betterment of both?

    There are pressures pushing in both directions.

  • Kevin Arthur

    Kevin, your captcha technology seems buggy. It took me a few attempts to post my previous comment.

    (See: technology contrary to productivity.)

  • Edward Korczynski

    Folks:

    IMHO “technology” (defined broadly as in this discussion) is inherently value-neutral. I’m sorry, but I cannot agree with any of Andy Havens’ conclusions (though I agree with the general tone of his criticisms, I do not think that the root cause is technology itself but how this society is unconsciously using technology).

    The major logical reason to not develop new technologies is that human consciousness (on average) has not evolved sufficiently to handle the technologies already developed. Nuclear power is not inherently bad, but humans today are not responsible enough to keep up with reactor repairs or to handle the waste, so bad things happen. Any newly discovered core technology is immediately grabbed by DARPA to try to find ways to kill more people (don’t flame me about “defensive weapons” either, it’s all part of the same agenda).

    It is irresponsible to give a loaded gun to a small child; it is nearly certain that a bad accident will occur. The gun is not inherently bad. The child is not inherently bad. But a gun and a child together is inherently bad.

    I love technology. I want more technology now. Sadly, IMHO most people in the world just have too many bad habits to be trusted with very much technology. (Why are there speed limits on roads if not for the fact that humans cannot be trusted with the technology of cars?)

    When I was young I read Bucky Fuller and fully absorbed the idea that technology is the only possible solution to any of our major problems (certainly we cannot expect any help from politics) and so generally speaking all technology development is positive. I think that Fuller’s mistake was in assuming a constant degree of consciousness in humans. (I also suspect that he had to play the “relentless technology cheerleader” as that was the role he created for himself.) Anyway, I consider that at minimum we must distinguish between “science” as pure knowledge/potentiality, and “engineering” as specific application of science for some goal.

    Using these basic definitions, science is inherently value neutral, while engineering can often be judged as good or bad. Science is the understanding of nuclear physics. Engineering is the creation of CAT scannners and nuclear bombs. IMHO bombs are not even inherently bad, if we lived in a post-war world I would guess that peaceful uses could be found…but we live in a world of war and so bombs will be used to kill people and are thus bad. Since it is highly unlikely that a CAT scanner would be used for anything but healing, it is good. Same science (which some people might broadly consider as a “technology”) in both cases; different results due to different motivations and directions.

    In no way am I here suggesting that “technology is contrary to humans.” Technology is a human expression, so it’s part of who we are and thus inherently cannot be contrary to us. I do suggest that technology has evolved more than our aggregate ability to handle it, such that at present we really don’t need new technology so much as new perspective on what we already have.

    What about energy? Don’t we inherently need new energy technology today? Only if the whole world tries to copy the “American Standard Of Living”…otherwise we could all get by quite nicely with what we already have (I’m considering that we already have ~$1/W solar panels, we already have wind and wave, etc.). The iPhone is close to functioning as a Babble-fish (voice Google just started), and that’s the last thing we need in technology.

    Now my wife wants me to turn off all the lights (in essence, a bit of a “just say no to technology” dependency) for one hour 8:30pm California time; I see this as vaguely positive in that it means people are at least thinking about technology choices. Two more minutes to lights out time. I’ll just go back to the older technology and light a candle…choices, choices…

    Pragmatically, neither a technophobe nor a technophile,
    ed

  • John (Jshot)

    One element of the Technium that Im not sure if Kevin has covered yet is it’s influence (good or bad) on music in general and religious music in particular.

    Even back in 1878 Charles Spurgeon was pointing out the human nature to permit religion to become mechanical and the Christian church could become dependent on particular instruments for worship/praise music.

    “There is in human nature a tendency to permit
    religion itself to become mechanical :
    priests, temples, sacraments, the performing
    of services, organs, choirs, all go
    towards the making up of a machine which
    may do our worship for us, and leave us all
    our time to think about bread and cheese
    and the latest fashions. As cranks, pistons,
    valves, and cylinders take the place of bone
    and muscle on board ship, so millinery,
    bellows and ritual take the place of
    hearts and spirits in the place of worship.

    Certain outward appliances may be well
    enough in their place, but they too easily
    become substitutes for real heart-work
    and spiritual devotion, and then they are
    mischievous to the last degree. The
    preacher may use notes if he needs them,
    but his manuscript may steal from him
    that which is the very essence and soul of
    preaching, and yet his elaborate paper and
    his elegant reading may conceal from him
    the nakedness of the land. Praise may be
    rendered with musical instruments, if you
    will ; but the danger is lest the grateful
    adoration should evaporate, and nothing
    should remain but the sweet sounds. The
    organ can do no more than help us in
    noise – making, and it is a mere idol,
    if we imagine that it increases the
    acceptance of our praises before the Lord.”

    Charles Spurgeon (1878)

  • evobrain

    Think “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.

    Every significant new technology I can think of has horrifying consequences if used in the wrong way. The reason to diminish technology is simply because humans don’t have the moral capacity to use it for good and not evil. It is the age old story of Pandora’s box or Aladdin’s lamp. It’s better to keep the Genie in the bottle if we don’t know how to handle it.

    Humans must first improve ourselves morally before we are allowed to play with new technologies. The problem is that any new technology will be used in all ways possible without any moral restraint. There is always the excuse that “if I don’t do it, somebody else will”.

    Technology is an amplified reflection of ourselves. It gives us more power. But “with great power comes great responsibility”. Unfortunately the responsibility is missing. Instead power corrupts.

    I wonder how many scientists may have discovered great paradigm shifting technologies and chosen to keep the knowledge to themselves for fear of the consequences of its use?

    Science is the new religion. Science denounces all other religions. Technology becomes an aim in itself. In this case technology is not serving humanity, rather humanity is serving technology. “All progress is progress towards the singularity”. Who is in control? The master or his creation? Dr. Frankenstein or Frankenstein the monster?

  • Valkyrie Ice

    you did forget one rather important one that I do not think is covered under the existing god category.

    Technology is PLAYING God.

    This is the argument not that technology is evil, but that technology is trespassing on the territory only god should be allowed to meddle in, such as genetics, and as such should not be allowed.

    This is easily one of the most ridiculous of all the ridiculous anti-technology arguments I’ve dealt with over the years.

    I usually quote Roger Waters, “What God Wants, God Gets.” If you choose to believe in an omnipotent being, how can you refuse to believe he lacks the power to ensure that what he does not wish to be possible will not be possible?

  • eddie

    Hi folks,

    Many fascinating posts/comments.

    Writing from one of the largest cities (Shanghai) in one of the world oldest civilisation — China. This thread got me thinking…how does (historically) old civilisations/empires cope with the fear/resistances of technologies? As I sit here writing this, overlooking a river with a barge with a huge LCD screen advertising the World Expo 2010, I cannot help thinking that (whether/perhaps) it is also about passing the “baton” when a particular set of people becomes tired/maxed-out of (a certain level of) “Technology”?

    From “gunpowder” (or “fire-medicine” as lit. translation from its Chinese root words) to printing-press being passed along to other set of “Western” humans, to “closing” of borders – e.g. The Great Wall to Hadrian’s Wall to the “American Wall” between USA and Mexico being one of the solutions (repeated patterns)?

    Just proposing some questions as food for thoughts.

    cheers
    Ed
    PS: KK, any new updates on “Street Use”? Been quiet there lately.

  • François Molino

    An possible argument about considering to put limits on technology.
    (By an academic in physics involved also in school social work)

    A rather down to earth argument.

    In a society developping strongly the use of technology at all levels,
    more and more simple jobs can be handled by machines.
    Consequently, the most simple jobs have a correlated tendency to necessitate stronger qualifications
    (I mean VERY simple things for most of you : elementary use of computer, etc…).

    From my work as a benevole teacher in difficult psychological and social contexts (prison, low income areas), I can say that a significant
    portion of the population, in the present state of the (french) educational system, is still at very low qualification levels. And is just now finding less and less jobs.

    A solution : improve the educational system!
    In a (relatively) advanced society, I just see every day that the situation is not improving in these difficult contexts. Rather a bit deteriorating, due to more and more problems
    in the public educational system.

    Thus my hypothesis that the technology is improving FAR MORE RAPIDELY THAT THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM.
    As a consequence the statistics of people being below the minimal employment standards in this complex society could be on the rise (more thorough statistical study needed…).

    The development of a ‘minimal salary’ which try to guarantee a minimal survival to theses people, on a social solidarity basis, is on the rise partly for these reasons.
    I strongly agree with this solidarity. But the human consequences are extraordinarily hard for people cut from any social recognitiion assiated with work. Only direct experience with these social problems can show you HOW hard.

    I think it could be ‘socially rational’ in a democratic society to discuss to keep many activities at a low technological level.

    (I say ‘in a democratic society’. In other societies, these problems just do not exist, of course : no problem with 20% of people out of the game, because after all only a small fraction of people are really in the game!
    Educational system performance is VITAL only for democratic societies…)

    At the same time, economic rationality of the costs clearly pushes towards automation of simple tasks, at least if the ‘costs’ are not considered ‘globally’ (and it is hard to do…).

    I have no easy solution, but I consider this as amajor challenge for democratic societies, where technology, educational system and employment are all involved.

  • Tom Crowl

    @evobrain: Good points…

    If we make the assumption that human morality has a range of possibilities shaped by multiple factors…

    Maybe a question to ask is: Can we take a scientific/experimental approach (reason, analysis, test, feedback, modification, re-test, etc) to the social structures and systems within which our morality is shaped?

    These designs have consequences whether envisioned by James Madison & Thomas Jefferson… or Joseph Stalin & Pol Pot.

    SO it’s wise to not let ourselves become passive in the face of that question about “Who is in Control?”

  • Bill Hunt

    Almost all of the people I know who push back on technology (especially in their personal lives) do it for the same reason, and it’s not one of the four in the article. They push back because of fear and discomfort with the unknown and prefer to stay with the safety and warm comfort they feel in the tried-and-true.

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @Bill Hunt, wrote; “They push back because of fear and discomfort with the unknown and prefer to stay with the safety and warm comfort they feel in the tried-and-true.”

      Could I reframe this in parallel to my other four as “Contrary to Personal Comfort”?

  • Richard B

    Contrary to Personal Rights?

    Do personal liberty and privacy remain sustainable when small groups and even individuals are empowered to deploy world-threatening genetic, robotic, AI or nanotech technologies?

    As just one example, how much havoc might a highly contagious, new, untreatable disease with a long prodrome cause? Might the next decade produce a microbiologically-enabled AZF, Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson, Tim McVeigh, Pol Pot, al Qaeda or Eric Rudolph?

    What would voting majorities choose to surrender if faced with such disaster and resulting uncertainties?

    Recommended readings include Nick Bostrom’s Global Catastrophic Risks, John Gray’s Straw Dogs, Bill Joy’s Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us, Sir Martin Rees’Our Final Hour, John Robb’s Brave New War and Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. For biotech capabilities, the authoritative (2004) National Academies of Science Report Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism.

    My own exploration continues at http://www.sustainablerights.blogspot.com. Opposing ideas and other guidance are sincerely appreciated.

  • Kevin Arthur

    By asking only about people who are morally opposed to technology, you ignore many important and more pragmatic critics of technology. (And one might say real critics as opposed to straw men.)

    That said, I’ll suggest a couple more, but I’ll call these reasons to question technology rather than oppose it:

    Contrary to productivity: adding technology is often a disruption or counter-productive to work.

    Contrary to awareness: technology distracts us from living.

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @Kevin Arthur: Those are good ones.

  • Bill Hunt

    @Kevin, absolutely. BTW, in my own experience, there’s a generational aspect to this.

  • Tyler

    It’s interesting to note the increasing emphasis on the transparency of technology in modern tech design. It’s almost as if we understand and accept that as much as we need technology, we in a sense don’t want to need it as we do and endeavor to make our dependence as transparent to our perception as possible.

  • john (Jshot)

    Valkyrie:”If you choose to believe in an omnipotent being, how can you refuse to believe he lacks the power to ensure that what he does not wish to be possible will not be possible?”

    I think that would be part of God’s ‘providence’ (foresight and prudence). Humanity has be given great freedom, but with freedom there will always be a consequence for every choice a person freely makes. We are allowed to do many things (both good and bad) , but there will always be unintended consequences that we didn’t fully take into consideration.

    I thought Orwell has a good point on the inaccuracies of people foreseeing the future:

    “People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome. “- George Orwell”

  • Cécile Demailly

    Kevin,
    Why would we need to fall into that black & white argument? Both yours (“moral obligation to increase the power and presence of technology in the world”) and the technology opponents arguments you quote are very stereotypical and extremist.
    Speaking specifically for your Nature and Humans sections – i.e. Green and Social: people are putting two and two together and learning lessons from the past, they understand and integrate that “all-or-none” positions are harmful. Some of the green addicts are also techno addicts: permanently reflecting on where technology is *really* needed, and where it is, constantly looking for the least noxious one, changing their behaviors as new research unveils new dangers or progresses.
    Corporations themselves, thanks to the crisis in many occurrences, are now thinking “sustainable” and putting values before year end ROI (at least they’re in that move).
    While cities and megalopolis transformed humans in crowds (the more people around, the less easy to create relationship, the more volatile connections), and that was far ago before the technology era, the Internet is opening new opportunities to refocus on the human being – trough the collaborative move, collective thinking, communities, people start to think by themselves, examine all sorts of ideas, listen to others voices, dialog. Of course there are still mistaking demeanors – remainder of the blind-consumption society where marketing focuses on immediate revenue and sell of whatever product no matter to whom. That’s why we have that crisis, and somehow it might act as a catharsis and accelerate thinking progress of the humanity. Let’s hope it will!

  • Margaret Weigel

    As a corollary to “Contrary to Human”, I might add, can be detrimental to the development of certain cognitive functions. Who adds in their head or remembers someone’s phone number anymore? And what might be lost as a result? (discipline, the development of certain habits). Technology works the best when the operator has the brains to work it well.

    I also have reservations about technology for the same reason I’m not enamored of computer games: I’m very suspicious of wholly subscribing to a specific functional framework determined by someone else. Behind every good videogame is the puppetmaster(s) who guide you in one direction or another. Less like God, though, than the assumption of directionality. Might it be harder for folks to think ‘outside the box’ when the box becomes omnipresent?

  • Josh Kopin

    Another interesting argument might be that technology and cultural expression replaces the unknowable, the potentially infinite, and the unintentional with the known, engineered, and purposeful. Rather than making the world a more complicated place, technology might be thought of as simplifying it by bringing more parts of it within the realm of understanding.

  • Andy

    Is there some accounting for who makes the arguments in the parent post? I ask because I find in discussions about this subject that people’s specific objections to certain technologies tend to get generalized by others to principled stands against “technology”, often creating strawmen. The original Luddites seem to be a prime example of this tendency: what might today be called labor action through industrial sabotage is now used to describe a generalized hatred of technology. Maybe Kevin has better examples from Wendell Berry’s views, but the typewriter essay listed some specific objections to the use of electricity. As I recall the letters in response (who chose them?) didn’t really address his concerns, regardless of any actual weakness of his arguments or what some might consider his hypocrisy on the matter.

    The comment about Dyson shows where this can lead: he attributes concern about global warming to fear of technology and a belief in the virtue of nature, as opposed to, say, data and science. He has a history on the subject of getting the facts wrong (like the notion that it’s all based on models, and strictly physics-based ones at that), so to account for scientists’ views he makes up strawmen. This seems like a common tactic used against environmental measures.

  • Nick Carr

    Contrary to Survival: Technology creates conditions that allow human population to grow beyond limits of sustainability. At some point the artificially supported population gets so large that a massive collapse occurs – disease, destruction of life-supporting resources (food, fuel, etc.), climate change, war, whatever.

    If I remember correctly, John Gray takes more or less this view in his book Straw Dogs.

    The irony in this scenario is that, up until the moment of collapse, technology is viewed as necessary to sustain human existence.

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @Nick: “Contrary to Survival” I would argue is either about the survival of Humanity or the survival of the Technium (civilization and technology) so I would include it under the current four. But your point about the collapse being auto-generated and invisible until the last moment is right on.

  • John (Jshot)

    This reminds me of the 1997 Wired Magazine interview with George Lucas:

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive//5.02/fflucas.html?pg=10&topic=

    Wired’s question:

    At one time you said, “Technology won’t save us.” Do you think technology is making the world better or worse?

    George Lucas’ answer:

    “If you watch the curve of science and everything we know, it shoots up like a rocket. We’re on this rocket and we’re going perfectly vertical into the stars. But the emotional intelligence of humankind is equally if not more important than our intellectual intelligence. We’re just as emotionally illiterate as we were 5,000 years ago; so emotionally our line is completely horizontal. The problem is the horizontal and the vertical are getting farther and farther apart. And as these things grow apart, there’s going to be some kind of consequence of that.”

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @John: I had forgotten about that quote from Lucas! (I was the one who asked him that question.) It’s a good answer. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Allan

    Kevin, are you a religious person?
    Because the more I read, the more I’m realizing that you are somehow influenced (a lot?) by religious views.

    I’ve a question for you: What will happen around the 2030-40s, if we stop technology progress by now?
    Think carefully about it.

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @Allan, I don’t know what will happen? Do you have a theory?

  • John (Jshot)

    I forgot to add to my previous post that the advances in technology that came after George Lucas finished the original Star Wars trilogy did not make the prequels better movies. In fact one could argue that Lucas became over dependent on digital technology in the prequels which actually made them worse.

    Maybe there’s a prophetic message about the dangers of digital technology that has manifested itself as Jar-Jar Binks ;-)

    Usas bena warned…

  • John (Jshot)

    Kevin,

    You have a long history of asking great questions.

  • jim thomas

    @kevin: in principle (not practice) i’d give the web/internet a thumbs down _at this time_. It is a complex technology whose architecture is untouchable and illegible by most of us yet it re-orders social, cultural and economic relations on a huge scale with little or no room for democratic governance or opt out.

    Specifically the web has probably done more to ease and speed up global commerce and the destructive effects of neoliberal globalisation (i know you and i disagree on the threats from a globalised industrial/financial order but you know the litany of charges: social inequity, ecosystem breakdown, abuse of rights and workers), it has accelerated the erosion of languages and cultures (via the overbearing dominance of english and a few other imperious languages) and has largely amplified the reach and power of already well capitalized, highly concentrated corporate players as well as created a few more along the way.

    Not only is the greatest pay off given to the already powerful players who largely define it, Network effects mean that the choice to adopt or opt out of the technology becomes progressively a non-choice as non-adoption economically marginalises individuals and communities. Once an individual engages with the web not only are they at the mercy of larger entities that want to mine their clickstream and mediate their identity but quite literally they are handing over sovereignty of their own data and online activties – which are stored or carried out in proprietary server farms somewhere anonymous on the planet.
    I don’t quite buy the illusion that web 2.0 has given rise to a new era of decentralized power. Thats sounds too much like the early promises of television before it became inevitably centralised and commercial. Behind the masking promise of ‘access for all” All I see are new masters in the form of aggregators – google/youtube, ebay, itunes, facebook, twitter – which have found a model of cheaply harvesting economic value from the free labour of willing participants.

    I realise this opens me up to the obvious question of why use/participate in the technology. My pragmatic answer would be that one can’t effectively engage with the politics of technology by that sort of powerless posturing, My pessimistic answer would be that i’m as trapped/seduced as anyone else and my optimistic answer is that there always useful strategies of resistance and resilience from within a system.

    sorry that was rather a long answer..

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @Jim Thomas: Long, but useful. I am most intrigued by your last three sentences on why you use technologies you think are so negative. If I may summarise them, they are:

      1) To reform them
      2) Because I am under a spell, or forced to against my will
      3) Because the negative won’t affect me personally

      I think we can dismiss #2 instantly. Your long answer shows that you are under no spell, and since millions of other Americans live full lives offline, you are not forced to go online against your will.

      Reason #1 is interesting if true. But somehow I doubt it is true. How much of your time online is spent trying to reform, or indeed redeem, this awful technology? And how are you going about it? I suspect this is a hypothetical reason.

      Reason #3: You seem to be saying that with skill a negative technology can be made useful and positive, and you have that skill, but very few other people on the net do — unless I am misunderstanding you.

      Please understand that I am not picking on you; I think your attitudes are all our attitudes. Only you have been the bravest to willing to engage honestly with the question. So I am taking advantage of your courage.

  • Kate

    I guess my attitude towards technology is mildly negative. It’s really more of a resistance to our culture’s uncritical embrace of technology. I’m not a high tech geeky sort. But where technology brushes up against my life as an option, yes or no, I find I often prefer to say no.

    I cook a lot and garden a lot. I much prefer to use a knife and my hands rather than a food processor or a bread machine. Why? Well, I like the tactile experience, and I usually save time by taking the low-tech route. And not least, the results of using more complicated technology are often inferior to what I can produce with lower technology. I’d rather kill bugs by hand than douse my garden with a toxic pesticide that damages my soil.

    So far as gardening and agriculture are concerned, there is no chemical or mechanical technology developed within the last two hundred years that has not had severely detrimental unintended consequences. Technology in this field has allowed greater yield per man hour, but has lowered yields per acre while squandering a non-renewable natural resource and doing untold damage to our top soils. The fact that this has been going on while our population when asymptotic is a huge problem that is coming home to roost sooner or later.

    I believe that this is a constant with technological advance: there are always unintended consequences, and the majority of those are not beneficial. The more powerful and pervasive the technology, the greater the risk those negative unintended consequences pose. Homo sapiens is not wise enough to foresee all the consequences of our inventions. We’re not even wise enough to abandon some technology when the unforeseen consequences are both dire and clearly understood.

    I think our culture is blind to many real costs of technology. Taking the example of the food processor vs. the knife…it’s easier to clean a knife, so I spend less time to use it. I don’t need electricity to use a knife, which means I don’t have to pay anything to use it after I purchase it. I can also use it anywhere, not just in a first world home or building equipped with a functioning electrical system. If the power grid goes down, the food processor is a lump of useless parts, while the knife works just as well as ever. The knife is of a simple design and will outlast the plastic parts and the motor in the food processor. When the knife dulls and works less effectively, I can sharpen it myself using a simple tool (whetstone).

    Technology often comes with the price of dependence upon people who don’t care one whit about my well being: an employer to pay for the purchase, an electrician to wire my home, the utility company to sell me the electricity, a distant multinational company to manufacture batteries. Plus, I have to give up more and more hours of my life to pay for this stuff and keep it running. Why would I want to make myself more dependent on these entities? All these prices are now paid by technology users with astonishingly little critical reflection.

    Technology also isolates us from those who are physically close to us. Emails, text messaging and even phone calls deliver more messages to us, but fewer conversations. How many people spend evenings in the same room with their family members but never interact because the tv is on, or everyone’s surfing on their own laptop, or playing a twitch game? When it really matters (illness, economic hardship), it’s the people who are physically closest to me who I will need to rely on. Those relationships aren’t best served by technology. They’re best served by spending time together and building reciprocal trust and cooperation.

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @Kate, you say: “So far as gardening and agriculture are concerned, there is no chemical or mechanical technology developed within the last two hundred years that has not had severely detrimental unintended consequences.” There are unintended consequences for all techology. But I am interested in your choices of “technology” : the knife vs the blender. Yet you skip over the larger food product, say the staples of wheat or rice. Are you growing your own wheat or rice? Do you use a knife or a blender? It is the fact that wheat and rice and other staple foodstuffs are grown commercially for cheap that enables you to dabble in knife gardening. I am with you on keeping it simple (I do knife gardening too) but I also acknowledge that my choices are made possible by heavy technological forces at work elsewhere.

      That being said, I think I would characterize your point as technology is Contrary to Simplicity and its attractions.

  • Clancy Bevington

    Just wanted to suggest a really good book that I Re: this topic.

    Better off by Eric Brende
    http://www.amazon.com/Better-Off-Flipping-Switch-Technology/dp/B000BOB31U/ref=ed_oe_h_bargain

    Clipped from amazon reviews:

    About a decade ago, Brende was pursuing a graduate degree at MIT by studying technology’s influence on society, and he reached conclusions that disturbed both him and his faculty mentors. A chance encounter with a “black-hatted man” prompted Brende and his new wife to move to a religious, “Mennonite-type” community that in many respects makes the Amish seem worldly, where he hoped to pare his environment down to “a baseline of minimal machinery” that could sustain human comfort while allowing him to stay off the power grid. (Details about the community, which Brende dubs the “Minimites” in recognition of their austerity, are left intentionally vague so as to preserve their privacy.) The pervasive back-to-basics sentiment will surprise few familiar with others who work this vein, like Bill McKibben and Kirkpatrick Sale, but Brende’s nostalgia for a simpler way of life is far from rabid. His rough prose honestly addresses how neighbors in his new community could graciously offer help yet warily view Brende as an intruder; Brende himself was particularly sensitive to perceived slights, and the radical lifestyle shift created a unique set of strains on his new marriage. Though the ending feels a bit rushed, his gentle case for simple living will easily resonate with the converted and may inspire skeptics to grapple more intimately with the issue.

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @ Clancy: Yes, I read Eric’s book and spoke to him (on the phone!) a few years later when he was running a pedicab service for tourists in St Louis, I believe.

  • Doug King

    Technology is amoral and neutral.

    You wrote “Technologies amplify violence” under the Contrary To God arguments. I would say technology amplifies all human attributes and therefore shines a light on any human flaws when applied to any human endeavor. It also points out positive human qualities in the same way.

    However, technology does not amplify wisdom. That comes with experience. Therefor a conundrum: we cannot wield the power without experience. The exponentially larger jumps in amplification of human power have us at a point where the power outstrips our wisdom to use it, with no easy way to gain the wisdom without doing serious damage in the process.

  • Michael

    It seems silly to say someone is “for” technology or “against” technology. More accurate to say that some people are skeptical about particular technologies, whether they are really better than what they replace or whether they are really worth the cost (or whether we really appreciate the true cost).

    You should read Wendell Barry’s essay “Why I am not going to buy a computer.”

    http://home.btconnect.com/tipiglen/berrynot.html

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @Michael: That’s a classic piece of Berry; as good as it was 20 years ago when I first read it. I still like the letters in reply better. I used to edit and publish Wendell in a former life. You realize of course, his “guidelines” for technology are unfollowable, especially by him. Ask him about his refrigerator, phones, etc. I would almost be willing to bet his wife has a computer by now.

  • Ryan

    You’re asking the wrong question. The question is what criteria can we follow for adopting technology, not whether technology is good or bad. The question you pose is like asking if food is good or bad, or money good or bad.

  • Bob Welch

    “Nature” …is amoral….profligate, and wasteful.Successful adapters/predators survive in the “biosphere”….unsuccessful ones…don’t. The “technosphere” …(your word is “technium”)…is, I think just too new (in OUR human historical experience) to really say/know anything about it.For that matter, human beings are,themselves, too new, on a geological/time lapsed since the big bang scale, to say anything about THEM.We have to jump up a dimension to know anything about what all “this” is in the first place.We don’t know what the universe/god “wants”. Endless variety , infinite fractal complexification…..”love” (????)Waste, destruction and endless transformation ?

    One could say that the loss of even one human life because of technology is unacceptable. One could also say that the Earth is over populated and that there needs to be a radical attrition…maybe soon. Nature kills off species who overpopulate by massive die-offs . Maybe the “singularity” and the (needed) die-off will coincide. Would that be “good” ..or “bad” ?

  • Mike Swayze

    Moral issues aside- technology seems to encourage dependence on technology.
     Like the old lo-tech/hi-tech argument:
    hi-tech: complicated,expensive, breaks often…
    lo-tech: simple,cheap, seems to work a long time and fixes easily…

    It would be nice to not need money- that’s the real kicker- tech or not…K.I.S.S. (this doesn’t stand for knights in satans service-rather keep it simple stupid).

  • Garrison Berry

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