The Technium

Techno Life Skills


[Translations: Hebrew, Japanese, Spanish]

If you are in school today the technologies you will use as an adult tomorrow have not been invented yet. Therefore, the life skill you need most is not the mastery of specific technologies, but mastery of the technium as a whole — how technology in general works. I like to think of this ability to deal with any type of new technology as techno-literacy. To be at ease with the flux of technology in modern-day life you’ll need to speak the language of the technium, and to master the the following principles:

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• Anything you buy, you must maintain. Each tool you use requires time to learn how to use, to install, to upgrade, or to fix. A purchase is just the beginning. You can expect to devote as much energy/money/time in maintaining a technology as you did in acquiring it.

• Technologies improve so fast you should postpone getting anything until 5 minutes before you need it. Get comfortable with the fact that anything you buy is already obsolete. Therefore acquire at the last possible moment.

• You will be newbie forever. Get good at the beginner mode, learning new programs, asking dumb questions, making stupid mistakes, soliticting help, and helping others with what you learn (the best way to learn yourself).

• Often learning a new tool requires unlearning the old one. The habits of using a land line phone don’t work in email or cell phone. The habits of email don’t work in twitter. The habits of twitter won’t work in what is next.

• Take sabbaticals. Once a week let go of your tools. Once a year leave it behind. Once in your life step back completely. You’ll return with renewed enthusiasm and perspective.

• How easy to switch? You will leave the tool you are using today at some time in the near future. How easy will it be to leave? If leaving forces you to leave all your data behind, or to learn a new way of typing, or to surrender four other technologies you were still using, then maybe this is not the best one to start.

• Quality is not always related to price. Sometimes expensive gear is better, sometimes the least expensive is best for you. Evaluating specs and reviews should be the norm.

• For every expert opinion you find online seek an equal but opposite expert opinion somewhere else. Your decisions must be made with the full set of opinions.

• Understanding how a technology works is not necessary to use it well. We don’t understand how biology works, but we still use wood well.

• Tools are metaphors that shape how you think. What embedded assumptions does the new tool make? Does it assume right-handedness, or literacy, or a password, or a place to throw it away? Where the defaults are set can reflect a tool’s bias.

• What do you give up? This one has taken me a long time to learn. The only way to take up a new technology is to reduce an old one in my life already. Twitter must come at the expense of something else I was doing — even if it just daydreaming.

• Every new technology will bite back. The more powerful its gifts, the more powerfully it can be abused. Look for its costs.

• The risks of a new technology must be compared to the risks of the old technology, or no technology. The risks of a new dental MRI must be compared to the risks of an x-ray, and the risks of dental x-rays must be compared to the risks of no x-ray and cavities.

• Be suspicious of any technology that requires walls to prevent access. If you can fix it, modify it or hack it yourself, that is a good sign.

• The proper response to a stupid technology is to make a better one yourself, just as the proper response to a stupid idea is not to outlaw it but to replace it with a better idea.

• Nobody has any idea of what a new invention will really be good for. To evaluate don’t think, try.

• The second order effects of technology usually only arrive when everyone has one, or it is present everywhere.

• The older the technology, the more likely it will continue to be useful.

• Find the minimum amount of technology that will maximize your options.




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