The Technium

My Search for the Meaning of Tech

[Translations: Chinese, Portuguese]

For most of my life I owned very little. Until I was 30 I was a vagabond. I wandered remote parts of Asia in cheap sneakers and worn jeans. The cities I knew best brimmed in medieval richness; the lands were green in agricultural outlook. When I reached for something in those days it was almost surely made of wood, fiber or stone. I ate with my hands, trekked on foot through mountain valleys, and slept wherever. I carried very little money and even less stuff. My personal possessions totaled up to a sleeping bag and some cameras.

One year away from Asia, I bought an inexpensive bicycle, borrowed some panniers, and rode across the American continent, west to east. I abandoned all material things to arrive on the east coast owning nothing but the bicycle. The highlight of that trip was gliding through the tidy farmland of the Amish in eastern Pennsylvannia. I respect the Amish for their selective possessions. I felt my own life, unencumbered with fancy technology, was in parallel to theirs. I intended to keep technology in my life to a minimum.

A few years later I arrived in California, and at the age of 32, I finally got a car. I borrowed a friend’s computer (an early Apple II with modem) to automate my fledgling home business, and soon found myself immersed in a frontier of online life. I edited the first consumer publication to review PC software. Then I got involved in starting the first public online portal to the emerging internet. In 1992, I helped start up and edit Wired magazine – the official bullhorn of digital culture. Since then I’ve hung out on the cusp of technological adoption. My friends now are the folks inventing super computers, genetic pharmaceuticals, search engines, nanotechnology, fiber optic communications, and everything that is new. I fully embrace the transforming power of technology.

Yet our family of five still doesn’t have TV. I don’t have a pager, or PDA, or cam-phone. I don’t travel with a laptop, and I am often the last in my ‘hood to get the latest must-have gadget. I find a spiritual strength in keeping technology at arm’s length.

At the same time I run a daily website called Cool Tools where I review a broad range of highly selected consumer technology. A river of ingenious artifacts flows through my studio; a fair number never leave. Despite my detachment, I continue to deliberately position myself to keep technological options within reach.

These obvious contradictions have prompted me to investigate my own paradoxical relationship with technology. For the past year and a half I have been studying the history of technology, the arguments of technology’s critics, projections of its future, and the tiny bit of technic philosophy that has been written, all with the aim to answer a simple question: How should I think about new technology when it comes along?

It’s a question at the heart of many other questions that baffle us these days. I am not the only one perplexed about the true nature of the increasing presence of technology in our culture. The best way I know to think about things is to write about them, and so in order to force me to go beyond the obvious I am writing a book about what technology means.

As I write I will post here. The purpose of this site is to turn my posts into a conversation. I will be uploading my half-thoughts, notes, self-arguments, early drafts and responses to others’ postings as a way for me to figure out what I actually think.

So far in this 18-month journey I’ve changed my mind several times, and I expect to change my mind again as I gain new insights. But to be honest, I need to make my biases clear.

I am now in my 50s. I still travel a lot and I’ve seen yet more of the world’s mounting population and some of its remaining wildlands. I have visited many countries both rich and developing. I’ve read a lot of history – ancient, esoteric, economic, and recent. Based on what I have seen and read, I believe there is progress in the large scale of things. Secondly, I sense that overall, technology is a good thing. Thirdly and most importantly, I have a strong faith in God which underlies my personal perspective, and which undoubtedly will be evident in the framing of my questions.

Those are not the prejudices of most educated people these days, and so my challenge will be to back up my conclusions (when I have them!) with evidence and persuasive arguments.

I’m calling this site The Technium. It’s a word I’ve reluctantly coined to designate the greater sphere of technology – one that goes beyond hardware to include culture, law, social institutions, and intellectual creations of all types. In short, the Technium is anything that springs from the human mind. It includes hard technology, but much else of human creation as well. I see this extended face of technology as a whole system with its own dynamics.

On this site I aim to investigate the Technium. What does it want? Why do we embrace it? Is it possible to reject it? How does it relate to God, if at all? What kind of control do we really have on the pace and future path of the Technium itself?

I solicit responses from you in the comments or via email. I am particularly eager for unusual views and overlooked facts. I don’t care much for political correctness; I do care for accuracy and honesty (what people actually do rather than what they believe or say).

You can reach me at kk at kk dot org.


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