I haven't found the time to update this page much.

Besides writing about what I'm reading, I also like to collect quotes in my QuoteStore.

Kevin Kelly's "What Technology Wants"

Every time you believe that technology has dreams of its own, you are transferring a slice of agency to those involved in shaping it. I do not think that technology should be seen as "the seventh kingdom" of life. My apologies to Kevin Kelly, but this abstraction seems slightly off. Instead, I assume that technology can best be seen as a complex adaptive system, examples of which are indeed found all across the scale of life. Think of cells, organs, organisms, communities, "superorganisms", ecosystems, biomes, including just about everything that is considered sacred across the globe. In my work with computers (especially the networked ones), I've experienced that technology fits the bill quite nicely. I'm willing to accept that this observation extends to all kinds of technology when seen at a larger time-scale. This however, does not mean that technology should be held equal to another kingdom of organisms. My common sense says that it's a phenomenon which is created by several organisms, but humans seem to be highly adept at shaping parts of their environment according to their perceived needs.

Now why should we be making people aware of the fact that, upon examination, technology seems to have its own flavor of agency? It doesn't seem to be a very novel thing to do. For millennia, people have been telling marvelous stories about the sense of agency that is radiating from the universe around us. Perhaps Kevin Kelly's new work, which I enjoyed reading very much, is actually the latest addition in the long line of sacred stories; and I'm just one of those people who is "just not getting it" yet.

Leading people to the experience of interdependence with the larger world surrounding us seems like a wise thing to do. In a recent report, I've called it a good strategy "to shift perceptions of competition to cooperation and to avoid the pitfalls of disciplinary thinking". There I also noted however, that the actual interdependence might not be as desirable as us perceiving it. To advise on the proposal to expand shrimp farming in a district along the shore of the Bay of Bengal, we suggest that the interdependence between the aquaculture industry and the local ecosystems should be reduced. Instead, the industry should seek a mutual relationship with technical systems and let go of the relationships that have been so burdensome to all life in the region during the expansion of aquaculture.

Now why are we so involved in steering economic activity towards dependence on technical systems? Simply put: because we want living beings to have a choice in participating. You probably don't like to get dragged into most things that you didn't sign up for, and I think it's safe to say that this observation extends to our fellow inhabitants of the planet. One of the great joys in dealing with technology is that we do not owe it this same courtesy. Technological systems can go through rapid transformation when people start turning in the same direction. When Kelly points to the specific qualities of our symbiotic interaction with technology, I like his argument about many machines interacting more with other machines than with us. Let's call this machine-machine interaction the 'technological core'. Even though this core seems very real, I have still only seen technology transform at the edges, where we interact with it. Without exception, machines that we don't interact with often are still largely shaped by human intention (and perseverance). Or is there something I should know about?

Seeing technology as something that we need to adapt to seems the biggest pitfall in subscribing to Kelly's new story. Of course, we are continuously learning to work with what we have at the moment. But the great joy for me in interacting with technology is to find people at the edges where the change that you care about can come about, and in collaboration with these other passionates explore how technology responds to your tugging and prodding. When you are perhaps a bit over-obsessive about change, try to notice how your biggest challenges are in dealing with people, not in engineering. I suggest that you join me in the appreciation that technology is not made of the stuff of life, as well as reflect on how the intensity of recent weather events indicates that technology has become one of the important non-living complex adaptive systems on the planet.

I felt the need to raise this issue because I think that we need quite a few wonderfully novel ideas to get rid of some of the mess that we have made recently. Just sacred stories, expressing grand experiences, aren't going to cut it. We need some really practical ones too! So, let's talk about resilience, stable regimes, thresholds and the likes during the week, and let us keep stories about kingdoms for our pastime.

Instead of pointing you straight to Kelly's greatest public opponent in this argument, I would like you to follow the trail a bit further to two voices at the edge of the arena. I'm talking about Jeremy Rifkin and Douglas Rushkoff. Now, because you have been tasting the fruits of my pondering for long enough, I encourage you to check out their thoughts without further ado. However, I will briefly summarize what I could get from them, to serve as focal points for further discussion. I invite you to return to this page after you have formed some own thoughts on the topic, and to share some of them in the comments section below. If we get a real discussion going, I'll move it to a separate page where I can hand out some editorial rights, so we can interact "The Wiki Way".

Rifkin discerns different modes of consciousness, for example mythological consciousness, theological consciousness, ideological consciousness, psychological consciousness, and the most recent addition: biosphere consciousness. If you have been reading up on the philosophy of science, you might find this idea similar to the various "styles of scientific thought" (Crombie, 1994). Both modes of consciousness and styles of thought first appear chronologically in history, but when new modes or styles become available, the existing ones remain accessible to us. The current moment is special, because the experience of biosphere consciousness is becoming increasingly accessible to many people. Rifkin (2010) attributes transitions to new modes of consciousness to the convergence of an energy regime shift with a communications revolution. In this scenario, it is our duty to work on both sides of this coin (technical and organisational) in order to be able to fully enjoy a new mode of experiencing the world. (Read a bit more on his vision here.)

Rushkoff offers a similar line of thought, but as a media theorist approaches it from a very different angle. In his new work "Program or be Programmed" (book / talk) he discusses stages of civilization, and shares the observation that new media signal the coming of new stages of civilizations. He warns for taking a passive role in the development of a new stage and thus letting it be shaped by a de facto elite. The takeaway message: learn to be aware of the specific biases of the programs in which we are participating.

David Siegel's blogs

David Siegel is one of those people whom you've probably never heard of, but whose impact on the world you have already (indirectly) felt. Mainly because he has an early feel for things. He is the world's fifth blogger, wrote a book on global environmental change in 1990, wrote a very insightful article about the housing market bubble in 2005, has a crystal clear view on the Semantic Web, and thinks that he would do the best job as Apple's next CEO. Watch the video to get a sneak peek of his latest ideas and the passion with which he delivers them.

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