Howard Rheingold brought this piece to our attention after Jesse and Sean published “Is it Okay to Be a Luddite” on Instructure’s Keep Learning blog. Originally published in 1998 as the start to a five-part series, Howard considers here many of the same questions we ask in our own article. Most significantly, his questions and ours intersect where we say “To fear a technological future is to deny a technological past and present” and he states “It is possible to think critically about technology without running off to the woods”.
So we offer this article, and our own, as a consideration of what it means to approach technology with mindfulness, skepticism, and also exuberance. Our intention is to let these two articles brush against one another to see what conversations they raise across decades.
“…A crucial turning point comes when one is able to acknowledge that modern technics, much more than politics as conventionally understood, now legislates the conditions of human existence. New technologies are institutionalized structures within an existing constitution that gives shape to a new polity, the technopolis in which we do increasingly live. For the most part, this constitution still evolves with little public scrutiny or debate. Shielded by the conviction that technology is neutral and tool-like, a whole new order is built — piecemeal, step by step, with the parts and pieces linked together in novel ways, without the slightest public awareness or opportunity to dispute the character of the changes underway. It is somnambulism (rather than determinism) that characterizes technological politics — on the left, right, and center equally.”
~ Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology
Are we awake to the world we’re building, or are we, as an old Sufi saying goes, merely asleep in life’s waiting room?
The petroleum economy, nuclear power, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, lasers, organ transplants, telephone and television and personal computer networks — today’s technologies have put staggering amounts of power into the hands of billions of people. More power is on its way in the next several decades, as present scientific knowledge drives future technological capability. Do we know what to do with the powers over matter, mind, and life that tomorrow’s technologies will grant us?