Verbalizing visceral feelings about technology, whether attraction or repulsion, Kelly explores the “technium,” his term for the globalized, interconnected stage of technological development. Arguing that the processes creating the technium are akin to those of biological evolution, Kelly devotes the opening sections of his exposition to that analogy, maintaining that the technium exhibits a similar tendency toward self-organizing complexity. Having defined the technium, Kelly addresses its discontents, as expressed by the Unabomber (although Kelly admits to trepidation in taking seriously the antitechnology screeds of a murderer) and then as lived by the allegedly technophobic Amish. From his observations and discussions with some Amish people, Kelly extracts some precepts of their attitudes toward gadgets, suggesting folk in the secular world can benefit from the Amish approach of treating tools as servants of self and society rather than as out-of-control masters. Exploring ramifications of technology on human welfare and achievement, Kelly arrives at an optimistic outlook that will interest many, coming, as it does, from the former editor of Wired magazine. --Gilbert Taylor
Wiredfounding editor Kelly (Asia Grace, 2002, etc.) attempts to balance a clear-eyed overview of the rise of technology and its place with a grand statement about what it all means.
The author's arguments are careful and convincing—to a point. What does he mean by technologywanting something? Is he serious? Yes, he is, and patient readers will find that Kelly has read and thought deeply about this question for decades, beginning with his days as a contributor to theWhole Earth Catalog in the '70s. He cites conversations with several dozen of the best-known thinkers and writers on the subjects of science, technology and cosmology, including Richard Dawkins, Robert Wright, Ray Kurzweil, Freeman Dyson, Stewart Brand and Chris Anderson, to name just a few. What Kelly and colleagues have observed is the steady, sometimes exponential growth of what the author calls the "technium" (the sum total of all human technology), the development of which mostly escaped human notice until Enlightenment inventors and engineers put it into overdrive. Kelly argues that the seeds for this critical mass were sown in the very beginning of time, that the techniumwanted to be and just needed the conditions, including sufficiently brainy primates, in place for its existence to be met. This argument, plausible as it seems, ultimately must be taken on faith. The strongest part of the book is the author's utilitarian defense of technology against technophobic critics—represented at the extreme by the Unabomber—and he holds up the Amish as an admirable example of a society that approaches technology with the proper mixture of suspicion and respect. No matter how someone feels about technology, however, Kelly claims that it will be what it wants to be, and humans need to understand the role we play in its uses and abuses.
Techno-mysticism aside, a timely and urgent book about the possibly dangerous fruits of human inventiveness.