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Questioning 'What Technology Wants'
December 7, 2010 - 8:30pm

I think you should read What Technology Wants and decide for yourself if Kelly is saying anything new or interesting.

For me, Kelly's idea of "the technium", the overarching theme of the book, never quite came together. In describing all of technological change (in the broadest sense of the word) within a unified framework, Kelly, to my ears (I listened to the book from Audible), ends up explaining very little. The saying, "all models are wrong, but some are useful" is only half right in describing Kelly's "technium."

If I didn't like the theme of 'What Technology Wants' (or maybe didn't get it) - I really enjoyed many of its parts. The description of Amish technology was fascinating and thought provoking. Kelly's observations on the digital divide (he is not worried), the benefits to society of early adopters (they use expensive and bad tools so everyone else can use cheap and excellent tools), and the benefits of appropriate technology (Kelly does not Tweet, own a TV, or use a laptop or smart phone), are consistently challenging and smart.

I wish that Kelly spent more time talking to more people (say people who work for technology companies, or even toil in post-secondary education) and less time in his own head. Too much is made of the Unabomber manifesto, too little is made of the history of technological change and the shifts in material, economic and social life.

Despite these complaints, I see What Technology Wants as a good companion piece to my other recent books. The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires; The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves; Sonic Boom: Globalization at Mach Speed; I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted; and Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation are all better books, but each is made more interesting by thinking about What Technology Wants.

What are you reading?


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