Marc Weidenbaum's Reviews > What Technology Wants

What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly
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Jan 18, 2011

Read in January, 2011

This is a characteristic exercise in factoid-packed mega-optimism by the founding editor of Wired Magazine. The man whose final year of tenure as head of the magazine brought us the famous "Dow 36,000" article here tackles the role of technology in our lives, and how technology has what is, in essence, a life of its own. The future is just as bright, according to What Technology Wants, as it was in "Dow 36,000" -- but, of course, we know what came of that prediction.

I found the opening chapter to be one of the most infuriating things I've read in a long time, so dense is it with anthropomorphic mental hijinks. I highly recommend that if you elect to read this book, you do so by starting with the chapter on how Amish tinkerers are themselves a kind of hacker culture. That chapter provides a sense of grounding to the book, a lens of informed skepticism that is largely lacking elsewhere. It's absolutely fascinating stuff, and of all the books in this book's extensive bibliography, the ones on Amish life are the ones I'm most likely to read next. Not out of some incipient back-to-the-landness on my part, but because if the ideas on Amish-ness seem the most engaging here, then perhaps the source material for them is also engaging.

The book has a lot of interesting ideas, but they're ideas (digital sentience, for example) that I prefer to have filtered through consciously employed science fiction (and I don't mean that as a put-down; if this were all rewritten by Greg Egan, I'd probably love it).

My second biggest issue with the book after its anthropomorphic exuberance is how Kelly shifts his depth-of-field in ways that support his moment-by-moment sense of what he is describing. Toward the end, for example, he criticizes Wendell Berry for being "stuck on the cold, hard, yucky stuff," by which he seems to mean focusing too much on specific technological objects, rather than the broad sweep of technology. But Kelly himself has focuses on specifics himself throughout the book when it serves his rhetorical purpose.
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message 1: by Mark (new)

Mark Nice review. I've read several reviews of, and excerpts from, this book, and the core ideas are provocative, but my conclusion is that this author isn't able to sustain them at book length. Perhaps better as a solid article. My other conclusion is that, as it usually is, the issue is not so much technology as it is US. "What We Want from Technology" is really the (vexed) question. I am questioning that more and more, even though I'm not moving to the farm: what do I want from technology, and how do I ensure that I get it--which really means, how do I manage MYSELF, not so much the technology. Along these lines, I'm going to look into HAMLET'S BLACKBERRY, which has gotten some good buzz--have you read it?


message 2: by Marc (new) - added it

Marc Weidenbaum Thanks, man. Yeah, the book is a strange thing. The title acknowledges its anthropomorphism from the start, which is supposed to be provocative, I suppose. I haven't heard of Hamlet's Blackberry. I'll look it up.


message 3: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Nice review, Marc. I am intrigued, particularly about the Amish sections. Who knows if or when I'll get to it.


message 4: by Dan (new) - rated it 1 star

Dan Dead on! I was so frustrated and flat our infuriated at times with the way that Kelly flits about in this book, throwing seemingly random, unconnected facts at the reader. The chapter on the Amish was the only saving grace in the book. All of the other original ideas that I gleaned from this book were mostly in the form of quotes from other authors.


message 5: by Marc (new) - added it

Marc Weidenbaum Danny wrote: "Dead on! I was so frustrated and flat our infuriated at times with the way that Kelly flits about in this book, throwing seemingly random, unconnected facts at the reader. The chapter on the Amis..."

Thanks, man. Much appreciated.


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