summing up 91

summing up is a recurring series on topics & insights that compose a large part of my thinking and work. drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Issue a Press Release, by Audrey Watters

Some of us might adopt technology products quickly, to be sure. Some of us might eagerly buy every new Apple gadget that’s released. But we can’t claim that the pace of technological change is speeding up just because we personally go out and buy a new iPhone every time Apple tells us the old model is obsolete. Removing the headphone jack from the latest iPhone does not mean “technology changing faster than ever,” nor does showing how headphones have changed since the 1970s. None of this is really a reflection of the pace of change; it’s a reflection of our disposable income and a ideology of obsolescence.

Some economic historians like Robert J. Gordon actually contend that we’re not in a period of great technological innovation at all; instead, we find ourselves in a period of technological stagnation. The changes brought about by the development of information technologies in the last 40 years or so pale in comparison, Gordon argues, to those “great inventions” that powered massive economic growth and tremendous social change in the period from 1870 to 1970 – namely electricity, sanitation, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the internal combustion engine, and mass communication. But that doesn’t jibe with “software is eating the world,” does it?

we are making computers in all forms available, but we're far away from generating new thoughts or breaking up thought patterns. instead of augmenting humans with the use of computers like imagined by the fathers of early personal computing, our computers have turned out to be mind-numbing consumption devices rather than a bicycle for the mind that steve jobs envisioned.

Eliminating the Human, by David Byrne

I have a theory that much recent tech development and innovation over the last decade or so has an unspoken overarching agenda. It has been about creating the possibility of a world with less human interaction. This tendency is, I suspect, not a bug—it’s a feature.

Human interaction is often perceived, from an engineer’s mind-set, as complicated, inefficient, noisy, and slow. Part of making something “frictionless” is getting the human part out of the way.

But our random accidents and odd behaviors are fun—they make life enjoyable. I’m wondering what we’re left with when there are fewer and fewer human interactions. “We” do not exist as isolated individuals. We, as individuals, are inhabitants of networks; we are relationships. That is how we prosper and thrive.

the computer claims sovereignty over the whole range of human experience, and supports its claim by showing that it “thinks” better than we can. the fundamental metaphorical message of the computer is that we become machines. our nature, our biology, our emotions and our spirituality become subjects of second order. but in order for this to work perfectly, society has to dumb itself down in order to level the playing field between humans and computers. what is most significant about this line of thinking is the dangerous reductionism it represents.

User Interface: A Personal View, by Alan Kay

The printing press was the dominant force that transformed the hermeneutic Middle Ages into our scientific society should not be taken too lightly–especially because the main point is that the press didn’t do it just by making books more available, it did it by changing the thought patterns of those who learned to read.

I had always thought of the computer as a tool, perhaps a vehicle–a much weaker conception. But if the personal computer is a truly new medium then the very use of it would actually change the thought patterns of an entire civilization. What kind of a thinker would you become if you grew up with an active simulator connected, not just to one point of view, but to all the points of view of the ages represented so they could be dynamically tried out and compared?

the tragic notion is that alan kay assumed people would be smart enough to try out and see different point of views. but in reality, people stick rigidly to the point of view they learned and consider all others to be only noise or worse.