Kevin Kelley: What Technology Wants

Now this talk was challenging. I use technology to accomplish work, but I do not really think much about it. Kevin Kelley started Wired magazine, a journal I often read and find intriguing. Kevin talked about technology in ways that I have never thought of before. He started by asking the question: “In technology, where is God?” We often think of God in the handiwork of nature, in the stars, but what about in technology?

I have to admit that I had never thought of God being a part of technology. Technology seems to be a creation of humans that often leads to destruction. As a historian, I have often been referred to as a Luddite in some circles because I am a skeptic when it comes to technology. I am much more likely to see the destructive elements of technological change rather than its benefits.

Kevin first tried to help us understand that defining the term “technology” is difficult. He simply described technology as the development of creative tools to solve cultural problems or questions. He compared a stone hammer with a computer mouse. Both are technological tools – one simple, the other far more complex. I am not sure I can give justice to his presentation. Essentially, he suggested that technological creations are like developments in the living world. Technological creations come from systems of development and they move from the more simple to the complex. Moore’s law suggests that there is progression in technological development much like the progression of life itself.

His most profound thought to me was his suggestion that technological innovations are inevitable, much like the development of new species. “It is inevitable that we have the light bulb.” Although Edison is given the credit for the development of the light bulb, it was actually invented by several people in different parts of the world at the same time! His argument was that we do not have a choice about whether an invention will occur. In his mind, it is useless to reject current technology in favor of past technologies; it will only distance you further from the future.

What human society can choose is the character of the technology or how it will be used. Every new technology solves some things but also creates new problems. Technology is not neutral in that context. He emphasized that technology gives us new options and choices. It is the human task to frame the use of technology to create positive change in culture.

At one point I thought his comment, “there are no bad technologies, but bad jobs for them,” was quite interesting and funny. According to Kevin, every technology is “looking” for just the right job. As I listened to this lecture, I thought Gary Spivey in our engineering department would be pleased. He has often made a similar argument to me. Perhaps what was most important here was to remember the ongoing advance of technology and the importance of engaging the culture in a dialogue about its use. Kevin suggested that the proper response to bad technology is not rejection but better technology – an interesting thought.

In our day it has become essential that Christians think deeply about the use of technology in our culture, and it will become vital to the educational process. Our challenge will be to see technology as having the potential for empowering human creative possibilities.

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