Kevin Kelly on Tech: the Unabomber was Right; the Amish, too.

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Kevin Kelly (44 minutes, 21 mb mp3)

Kevin Kelly, most engaging of technophiles, has never been a techie. He was a low-consumption hippie growing up, then dropped out of college to photograph the simple life in Asia and Africa. In the 1970s, his twenties, he edited The Whole Earth Catalog, “…sort of like Google in paperback form,” Steve Jobs has said, “35 years before Google came along. It was idealistic and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.” In the 90s, Kevin Kelly became, of course, the genius ghost inside the WIRED magazine machine, where his title now is “senior maverick.” All along, and especially in his new book, What Technology Wants, the tilt of his thinking is away from gadgetry, very much in the direction of philosophy and theology.

The networking of computers 30 years ago marked a turning point, when Kelly came to see technology not just as a continuum from caveman times — a set of man-made systems we could not live without; but also as a process that was getting to have an organic and evolutionary life of its own. “We began to see through technology’s disguise as material and began to see it primarily as action,” he writes. “No longer a noun, technology was becoming a force — a vital spirit that throws us forward… Not a thing but a verb.”

Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, was right, Kelly argues, in seeing that technology is a wholistic, dynamic, self-aggrandizing process with “its own agenda.” He was wrong in failing to see that the freedom of his little shack was an illusion. “Millions of people,” Kevin Kelly is telling me, “flee their shacks every year to go to cities and live in slums. They’re coming to cities for increased choices and options, which is what technology brings us.” But the Amish, says Kelly from behind an Amish-ish beard, are righter than Kaczynski ever was. “They’re not Luddites,” Kelly says, “they’re hackers. They love to play with the rules.” Amish communities are driven by religious belief, but they’re also making choices. “When the cellphone comes along, the questions are: is this good for the family? And is it good for the community.” And then they make their choice collectively.

I am pushing Kevin Kelly to confront our worst fears of technology — those remote-control drones, for example, poisoning minds and morals of millions of people beyond the thousands who get blown up by them. What about the computer systems presumed to avert market collapses or BP drilling disasters, which have quickly come to seem a big arrogant part of the problem? Where is the progress to console us for the extinction of the tiger? But of course Kevin Kelly knows the dark side well. “Most problems today are technogenic,” he says, meaning they’re born in our machinery. “I regard these as illnesses,” he goes on, not knowing whether they’re terminal or not. But better technology is the only chance of a remedy. Or is it? Has this symbiotic relationship turned against its creator?

First of all, I think we are in large part an invention of our own minds, that we have made ourselves, that we invented language and language transformed our selves, and that our bodies, instead of slowing down are actually speeding up. Our biological evolution continues to speed up because of technology. But at the same time, of course, that we are the parents of what we make, we are also the children of it: we are both the master and the slave of technology. … We serve technology and technology serves us: that tension will never go away.

The question you’re asking is ‘What’s preventing technology from just taking over?’ and I think part of the answer is that we are always going to be part of it. When I talk about the autonomy of the Technium, we have to remember that we will always be part of it — the Technium includes us.

I think what’s happening is that we are going to transform ourselves, we are not the people who walked out of Africa and we will not be the same people that we are today in another twenty, thirty, hundred years. We are going to become something different.

Kevin Kelly with Chris Lydon, October 13, 2010

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  • In considering how to address the issue of theology, specifically the “third grade god,” it occurred to me to share an excerpt from William of Rubruck’s account of a religious debate he participated in between Christians, Muslims (referred to in this translation as “Saracens”), and Buddhists (referred to as “Tuins”) held in the court of Mongke Khan (referred to as “Mangu Chan”), brother and predecessor of Kublai Khan:

    So I said to the Tuin: “We believe firmly in our hearts and we confess with our mouths that God is, and that there is only one God, one in perfect unity. What do you believe?” He said : “Fools say that there is only one God, but the wise say that there are many. Are there not great lords in your country, and is not this Mangu Chan a greater lord? So it is of them, for they are different in different regions.”

    I said to him: “You choose a poor example, in which there is no comparison between man and God; according to that, every mighty man can call himself god in his own country.” And as I was about to destroy the comparison, he interrupted me, asking: “Of what nature is your God, of whom you say that there is none other?” I replied: “Our God, besides whom there is none other, is omnipotent, and therefore requires the aid of none other, while all of us require His aid. It is not thus with man. No man can do everything, and so there must be several lords in the world, for no one can do all things. So likewise He knows all things, and therefore requires no councilor, for all wisdom comes of Him. Likewise, He is the supreme good, and wants not of our goods. But we live, move, and are in Him. Such is our God, and one must not consider Him otherwise.”

    “It is not so,” he replied. “Though there is one (God) in the sky who is above all others, and of whose origin we are still ignorant, there are ten others under him, and under these latter is another lower one. On the earth they are in infinite number.” And as he wanted to spin (texere) some other yarns, I asked him of this highest god, whether he believed he was omnipotent, or whether (he believed this) of some other god. Fearing to answer, he asked: “If your God is as you say, why does he make the half of things evil?” “That is not true,” I said. ” He who makes evil is not God. All things that are, are good.”

    At this all the Tuins were astonished, and they wrote it down as false or impossible. Then he asked: “Whence then comes evil?” “You put your question badly,” I said. “You should in the first place inquire what is evil, before you ask whence it comes. But let us go back to the first question, whether you believe that any god is omnipotent; after that I will answer all you may wish to ask me.”

    He sat for a long time without replying, so that it became necessary for the secretaries who were listening on the part of the Chan to tell him to reply. Finally he answered that no god was omnipotent. With that the Saracens burst out into a loud laugh. When silence was restored, I said: “Then no one of your gods can save you from every peril, for occasions may arise in which he has no power. Furthermore, no one can serve two masters: how can you serve so many gods in heaven and earth?” The audience told him to answer, but he remained speechless. And as I wanted to explain the unity of the divine essence and the Trinity to the whole audience, the Nestorians of the country said to me that it sufficed, for they wanted to talk. I gave in to them, but when they wanted to argue with the Saracens, they [the Saracens] answered them: “We concede your religion is true, and that everything is true that is in the Gospel: so we do not want to argue any point with you.” And they confessed that in all their prayers they besought God to grant them to die as Christians die.

    There was present there an old priest of the Iugurs, who say there is one god, though they make idols; they (i.e., the Nestorians) spoke at great length with him, telling him of all things down to the coming of the Antichrist into the world [J: the coming of Christ in judgement], and by comparisons demonstrating the Trinity to him and the Saracens. They all listened without making any contradiction, but no one said: “I believe; I want to become a Christian.” When this was over, the Nestorians as well as the Saracens sang with a loud voice; while the Tuins kept silence, and after that they all [J: everyone] drank deeply.

    I hope my saying this isn’t too mean or too presumptive, I have not read the man’s book, but as presented in the show, many of Mr. Kelly’s ideas should have the limits of their use stated clearly, or else the conclusions reached begin sounding silly.

    I hope I don’t in turn sound too silly explaining myself, although I know my opening sentence will sound very new age: The universe can be understood to be a seamless whole, from beginning to end, in every dimension including time. I am not saying reality is in some abstract way uniform, all I intend to say is one can see that seeing something as a distinct, whether it be what would be understood of as an object or a concept, could be seen as ‘dividing’ it from the rest of reality. (I use the word “can” and “could” with intention, not doubt.)

    A different way of illustrating the same idea is to use the concept of grouping basic units. Category is just division from a different perspective, and I use the words interchangeably. The reason I tend use the explanation I use, even though this bottom-up approach seems more intuitive to the people I talk to is because there is a limit on how inclusive a category can be, but one can always further divide. Greek atomists contended that atoms were indivisible, their critics answered you could divide into left and right. Atomists responded by claiming atoms were dimensionless, their critics questioned how something with dimensions could be made of something without.

    The divisions we make are usually based on their usefulness. We do not have a word for the left half of a potato plus whatever is an inch above it* because, honestly, when would we would ever have the opportunity to use it? But it’s, and here is where I connect this back to the original topic, is important to recognize that that is all that is happening, it’s important not to attribute more qualities to concepts than they actually have. And my feeling is this is what is being done.

    We can refer to a more abstract continuum of organic life, information, and artificial material technology as technology or the technium, we can refer to the contents of our genetic code as information, it can at times be useful to do so. But if what is being said is “this is what technology is,” “this is what information is,” as if there is a correct scope to one’s category, then there is a misunderstanding of the relationship between signifier and signified; no category is necessary, only useful. The technium isn’t a whole so much as it has been made a whole (this is true of every concept, it isn’t a slight against Mr. Kelly).

    I do think there is use in the idea that technologies have bias, both specific technologies and a larger conception of technology no matter the scope of the definition of that conception, but is it right to call it inherent in the technology itself, instead of our relationship with it? I will say it’s useful as a kind of shorthand to say technology has an agenda, but I can’t agree if what is being said is literally true. (I also will say I disagree with those who say “the only goal of life, in evolutionary terms, is reproduction.” The word “goal” in this case seems to be a metaphor that is forgotten to be a metaphor.)

    I will look into this more, I know I have been dismissive without even hearing the argument out. I am always looking to learn to utilize new perspectives, and this one could prove to be useful if I actually look into it and try to understand in detail.

    *Were we to, it would be called a portato.

  • Nice interview. The point about making conscious choices about which technologies to embrace and which ones to shun was particularly useful. Good on them Amish! Come to think of it, Kevin is looking rather Amish in this picture!

  • orangescissor

    “Progress is a cosmic arc through time in the universe, and we’re headed to something toward us and beyond us…we humanity are just a process on a way to something much bigger than us,” Thank you for the very imaginative and incredibly creative elements of the idea, but I find this to be a very disturbing way of thinking about technology and its relations to problems in this world today…To take such a grand view of “the techniuum” where all of the history of the cosmos can be narrated along some kind of lines of technological progression, not only get’s the question of “progress” wrong, but more worrisome it is so macroscopic that terrible political violences against real humans in this world and irreversible technological destruction seem to small and not important enough to protest (because after all this is just one pathology in progression of the techniuum which is larger than us). One of the problems with technological thinking is that it smooths over the political decisions that are made (decisions to kill certain people and decisions to assist others today) while at the same time having huge political implications. Why are drones flying over Pakistan and Mexico, why are there so many people displaced or living in camps in places like Pakistan, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, India, Iraq and much of the world? Any discussion of technology which doesn’t consider the political and historical imbalances of technology in political terms I think dangerously ignores the disastrous consequences of technology (especially technology in service of imperial power) in our own historical period, or a historical period which we should be owners of…a past we are legatees of like colonial modernity were technology was used against the humanity of many, many people and has had consequences that have not been reconciled, and which continue today. To narrate along lines where history and politics are impossible to consider (where modernity is just one small blip in the time horizon of technological evolution) has enormous consequence about how one responds to the troubles we all face today, and where one sides with forms of imperial power that operate in our collective lives. To put it in a crude black and white, would you really want an “organic internet” vs. nature, cyberspatial avatars vs. human civilization, a world commitments to technological growth empower some at the expense of other?… and doesn’t one realistically have to choose a side between one over the other (even if it is not a completely black and white thing), and isn’t that because those kinds of decision are enormously consequential exercises in political power within the imperial contexts that shape our lives in this world today?

  • Pete Crangle (Wind bag)

    I’m going to rephrase What technology wants into it’s pendant question, What does technology want? And, given the Gordian entanglement between the market and technology, this necessitates, for me anyway, exploring what market(s) want. Maybe another Alexander will come along and unfix this knot.

    Within the context of our epoch, technology has become a pillar of the market, or perhaps the bolts that stick out of Frankenstein’s neck that hold his head to his body. There is much resistance to this of course, by neo-Luddites, anti-globalizationists, technophobes, and open-source first responders. Yet, tech is a handmaiden to the market (and vice versa), treated with reverence and exaltation for its grace that shapes our lives with improvements, and also treated with disdain for its dehumanizing and environmental effects. Not to mention the brutish eye which casts it look to burden it with the stench of the mere cost center by our more exacting, less poetic angels, bean counting brained as they are. The market’s obsession with costs and risk management, bite’s the hand that enriches it, and is its best ideological conduit.

    What do markets seem to want? Within the context of our contemporary boom-bust situation, there is some clarity. Essentially, markets want unfettered access to an arena that is largely unregulated by governmental/state/non-financial institutional intrusions. And within the context of our current era, markets want access to, and the means to peddle, innovation that comes in the shape of a package we refer to as technology (ideas are an intangible form, but often marketed nonetheless as a type of technology or instrument). Furthermore, technology and markets become quasi-walled entities that are resistant to regulatory practices, as is observed by the scenario that regulation must always lag and respond to the market and to technologies, in much greater proportion than the inverse. Return on investment, the non-poetic expression of capital dreams, is betrayed by public scrutiny, lest it become commodified to a generic, bottom feeder status of a small margin life cycle.

    What is most distressing for me in this scenario, is that there are no entities that are pro-active, a priori in its practices to protect the environment or the individual (the consumer or investor by any other name) from either technology or the market. Note, EPA or Consumer Protection agencies are of a defensive posture by their very lexicon; thus, reactive to market and technology dictates. Moreover, in the spirit of self-interest, there are no effective external mandates which keep the market or technology on their respective rails, other than themselves, so that markets and technologies may function effectively. Reliance on self-regulatory principles fall short of optimal outcomes both for the stakeholders and those external entities. I note that a crashed or notoriously nefarious market which thrives on mischief, like a crashed technology or one with gaping holes/risks, is not an effective market or technology. Therefore becoming of questionable utility; the clarion call and ultimate justification of markets and technology by the hard nosed realists. How many meltdowns, tech disasters does one need before a wake-up call is answered? It’s a number’s game coupled to the distributed pain among the general population.

    Markets, technology have become mutually reinforcing hegemons (there are certainly other hegemons floating around out there). And as is the nature of the hegemon, they are resistant to sharing the territory’s they’ve conquered or created. They flourish most effectively by maximizing their presence as a pervasive, invisible, miasma. And, removing alternative modes of reconfiguring reality in one’s mind, or the collective mind. Furthermore, they suffer from ideological blind spots of varying sizes and shapes, not the least of which in this case is environmental degradation and bald, glaring catastrophe (I find the use of illness as metaphor to describe problems inherent in both markets and technology of immense lack, and a means to perpetuate problems without rethinking the impacts of deploying markets and technology. From another POV, markets and technology resemble an illness. Neither are my personal view. But, if your answer to the monumental problems which visit markets and technology, such as the BP catastrophe is to view them as an occasional disease that has glitched an other wise well functioning system, I believe one should re-examine one’s assumptions. Just my personal, though vastly imperfect, view.).

    Another blind spot is the social dislocation, or disconnect, brought about by the necessities of capital (from a market’s POV, technology is a capital asset, liability, or cost). Capital behaves unrestrained from the POV of the individual and the environment. That is, the individual’s labor is restrained by their required attendance to their working, productive hours and years. The environment is restrained by nature’s limits to its means of maintaining equilibrium within its vast finiteness. The market and technology are restrained largely by capital flow through various venues for investment, compensation, sales, information, analysis, and other quanta that describe capital flow (no flow, no market, no bucks, no Buck Rodgers). Outsourcing is a cursory example of how such flows move around. Individuals and the environment don’t enjoy such fluidity. Thus, the market and technology’s restraints suffer a conceptual mismatch with respect to the individual and the environment. Restraints are one measure of where the rubber-meets-the-road. The question on such matters: who is in the cat-bird seat? Such matters, especially resolved through political means, are resolved by strength, clout, and power, and less so by democratic republic means.

    Lastly, technology, and probably the market as well, are not concerned with managing transition or managing legacy very well. The nature of technology and the market is hooked to the psyche’s desire to pathologically lean towards the ever shining objects of the future. This leaves a huge junk yard of ideas, materials, and rejected, no longer loved crud that fill various places on both land and sea. Not too mention moribund knowledge that people are trained for, and now find themselves extinct, unemployed/underemployed zombies. Not only the Tea Party is the death of compassion, our markets and technology continue to try to nail us to a constant mode of outdatedness. (BTW, I’m not a Luddite. Just saying, these problems won’t go away by ignoring them).

  • Rob Crawford

    I must admit that I believe KK is a bit of a wacky thinker. He makes outlandish statements that people – including you, Chris – do not question enough. But then, like all talking heads who make their living from sleights of hand, he moves so quickly to another subject that what he said before is forgotten. That is how he makes his career, in my humble opinion: he says something outrageous, dresses them up while appearing learned, then finds something else to say. Not even Chris pinned him down, but instead let him play his game.

    I was disappointed and hoped for more.

  • Hey Rob:

    Thanks as always, but…

    List please what seemed to you the three wackiest thoughts from Kevin Kelly.

    Not to say I might not have been spellbound.

    Chris Lydon

  • orangescissor nails it here.

    “Progress is a cosmic arc through time in the universe, and we’re headed to something toward us and beyond us…we humanity are just a process on a way to something much bigger than us,” Thank you for the very imaginative and incredibly creative elements of the idea, but I find this to be a very disturbing way of thinking about technology and its relations to problems in this world today…To take such a grand view of “the techniuum” where all of the history of the cosmos can be narrated along some kind of lines of technological progression…..”

    I’ll narrow my observation to Kelly’s grand vision of population migrates of the future specifically, on people pushed out of their villages to Mumbai or Harlem as facilitating “progress”, Kelly from his glass offices of Wired or his home in the peaceful coastal town of Pacifica – or for that matter Stewart Brand from his house boat in Sausalito – calmly making the calculations to uproot millions of poor village folk so they migrate to Urban Center, because thats progress – Brand even cites a work of fiction the novel Shantaram to help demonstrate why life in the slums of Mumbai like cities is so good!! Moreover, if progress is what Kelly says it is than perhaps he also sees as progress the confiscating of those abandoned village lands by global Bauxite conglomerates.

    Now contrast Kelly’s voice with the Maoist in Orissa, Bihar, etc we encountered in your interview with Arundati Roy and we know why neo-liberal globalization with its will to technology that both Kelly and Brand herald as progress ends in chaos for so many.

    But of course following Schumpeter Kelly champions chaos as creative, but creativity is a luxury we have if only we first have come to be comfortable with our survival. Maybe Kelly should have spent more time with Maslow at Esalen in the 1960s at a time all those cats were copping cosmic vision as two bucks a hit. While psychedelics may give one cosmic visions, when progress is envisioned as some cosmic destiny it creates some real problems in the world as a trip to any post-colonial studies departments will demonstrate, Sometimes Kevin Kelly destruction is only destructive.

    Finally, while increasing complexity may have some empirical significance – although you will have to still convince the spirit of Stephen Jay Gould – to equate an empirical observation of increasing complexity with a value judgement of progress should serve to stop you from passing Logic 101.


    Kevin Kelly

  • Jazzman

    When the Unabomber’s Manifesto was published in the NY Times in 1995 – I bought the paper and read it to see if I could understand what would allow an individual to commit such “the end justifies the means” violence in the pursuit of his ideals (less-than-ideals by my lights). I found myself agreeing with many of his theses but not the means to “correct” the problems that his cabal (of one) evinced.

    After hearing the Kevin Kelly interview, I re-read the manifesto – easily obtained by googling and this time I wasn’t so sure about some of the theses (some are still valid but born of FEAR) but definitely not the means to their ends. Now that I recreate Ted’s musings with my current worldview, I see he is obviously a textbook paranoid type and reminiscent of Al Qaeda’s (and GWB’s and to a large extent President Obama’s) we can achieve our ends by killing those who do not share our beliefs. If there is collateral damage, the putative price of achieving our desiratum is justified by whatever means necessary.

    The Amish OTOH are a textbook case of forbearance and restraint. After the West Nickel Mines School shooting, they didn’t seek revenge; they forgave the shooter and even reached out to help his family. Had we done the same after 9/11 the world would have had a shining example of how American Ideals could triumph over the dark side and FEAR. FEAR ruled that day and continues to rule up to NOW. Nothing has been accomplished that is sustainable by all the killing, and the FEAR is not assuaged, if anything most people are more fearful and all the wasted lives and monetary energy for a benighted idea have done little to raise the consciousness of anyone and has damaged the better selves of many.

    Technology is neutral, its use and how it is worshipped or feared is its crux. People will always strive to improve their lot (by their lights) and Kevin Kelly’s progress is an illusion (as is everything else) and he would do well to remember that the technium’s continuum is nothing more than a series of NOW’s and worry less about our future.

    Peace to ALL,


  • sifta

    I think that, unfortunately, Rob may be on the right track in painting Mr. Kelly as a more of a self-styled guru rather than a careful thinker. The alacrity that he had in rolling all manner of questions into his worldview using what seemed a bit suspicious — particularly in the context to the question on human migration. He lost me there, and didn’t get me back. It’s clear that there are interactions between humans that are not reducible to economic utility and that humans don’t make decisions purely rationally. And if it’s not obvious, there is lots “research” out there to prove it to you.

    One interesting thing that Kelly had to say related to how living things seem to beat entropy and become more sophisticated with time. This is not a new idea, even conceived in such terms, and is expressed very nicely (and rigorously!) in the context of living things by Werner Loewenstein in his book “The Touchstone of Life” in which he sort of romanticizes the specific biological information flows within a living thing and between generations organisms — what Loewenstein calls the circus.

    Kelly extends this to manufactured artifacts, which he terms a new kingdom of life. That’s a whopper, and the proposition that a pencil is a living being bears some justification beyond a Jedi mind trick. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is axiomatic in Kelly’s formulation. Speaking of pencils, I didn’t hear anything in principle that fundamentally distinguishes the current situation of the iPhone/internet-equipped technium from the paper-and-pencil world. Is it the *percentage* of mediated person-hours and if so, what defines critical? And isn’t this the ground covered by Kafka and others at the start of the industrial age?

    Finally a few comments on the idea that technology development has, as a tendency, a direction that leads to more and better choices. First, the whole idea is a bit of an axiom stated without support. By definition, every new idea generated adds to the realm of possible choices in “the technium” even if many are bad ideas, or so particular to circumstance as to be instantly obsolete. Otherwise, is there anything more to this? Moreover, using this to justify a theory of progress in the Western tradition is kind of suspicious, and less circumspect than even the religious justifications for such.

  • Rick

    Hi chris,

    I liked the optimistic tone of KK’s interview, but I must admit I am way more pessimistic about the overall situation.

    Too much technology (power) + Too much IGNORANCE = !@ #$%^ &*((& ^%@ #$%^

    First of all the main point that is being missed in the discussion is that technology is toolmaking for toward the some augmented end. The problem is that we are not, as a society focused on life affirming ends or means in the preponderance of our activities. KK wants to see at least 1% more creativity than destruction on the same canvas where I see us literally a few steps from a tipping point toward an extinction event of humanity that is of our own making.

    The parallel of the distributed nature of the internet to that of nature is a good one. The problem is that the evolution of the internet is being leaning in a direction away from decentralized toward having more and more signs of a “BACKBONE” and a centralized “KILL SWITCH” as examples.

    Where I think KK really veers of into the ditch is in his want to see TECHNOLOGY as some new independent spirited corporeal creature separate of humankind. The same sort of Animal Spirits are attributed to the societal trends which seem to sweep crowds into frenzied mass murder sprees.

    Although he wants to take some responsibility for choices which is a step in the right direction, he puts in the mind of his audience that somehow we are more than not simply along for the ride. This is the kind of pragmatic sophistry that has bedeviled our civilization on its course toward an end that mirrors the destructive means of the megalomania that it would like to attribute to some ghost other than its own Juvenile Insecure Ego.

  • Potter

    The long responses here deserve some attention but let me give my own impression first: I listened twice and took notes ( I did again) and some ideas were new and others were entirely familiar as they have occurred to me before though maybe more in the form of questions than answers. I don’t recall that Kevin Kelly elaborated on what he meant by progress. Rather he did not know where this all was leading.

    The idea that I recognize has to do with artifice and (or as opposed to) nature. But I think in terms of art (the arts) as well and not only technology though it applies to technology as well and mainly in this discussion and in terms of pushing “progress” faster. Both art and technology are creations of humans. Since we are of nature, what we create is at once artificial, and, if you think more broadly, or on another level, is also natural (of nature). Maybe there is nothing that can be called artificial. Not a new thought for me.

    Kevin Kelly thinks on a level that encompasses the Big Bang – theological?, certainly philosophical. He uses words that we may (in our habits of thinking) interpret differently- like “progress” “beauty”. He also seemed to be struggling to communicate his ideas with words that were inadequate to them.

    The central question for me was -Is technology nature over which we have no control or very little control? (KK says someone would have invented the internet no matter what). Or do we have enough control through individual and collective choices. But if we do, we live in the dark about what we do. How can we make “good” choices especially when we cannot act so well collectively?

    In any case I thought this interview was so interesting and pregnant. I like the way he thinks. I believe there is a direction we are going in (towards more complexity, specialization, and using up our environment) and I have not had a good feeling about it; I think we are headed to destruction of complex life on this planet. Maybe it’s to start over again- or perhaps our evolved seed will escape to be planted in another world. I have wondered for years what kind of world we are sending our children into. Kelly seems more positive if not neutral (“We are on the way to something much bigger than us”) and relaxed (?) that inevitably we in a part of our “whole” evolution over which we have little control. This approaches religion.

  • Kevin Kelly here. A lot of points have been brought up in this thread, and many of them touch on very fundamental issues. It’s hard in a casual conversation to persuade someone else overhearing that conversation, especially if you are tackling some very grand themes as I do. I think I do a better job of laying out a logical argument in the book, where I have more room. I encourage skeptics to read my more considered version in the book. I’d be happy to respond to questions, criticism, challenges, feedback from those who have finished reading the book so I don’t have to re-write the book here. I know this is a thread about a radio interview, and not a book club, but these are slippery, vast, and contentious themes that need more room. I don’t have much to add to the interview itself other than to say that Chris Lydon asked the best and most thoughtful questions I been asked by an interviewer so far.

  • Thank you, Kevin Kelly! You’re a marvelous generator of long-tail comments and, for myself, lots of further reflections. We’ll post a conversation next with the historian Ian Morris whose book on “Why the West Rules — For Now” comes finally to many of Kevin Kelly’s views (and others’ apprehensions) about the speedy and seemingly “out of control” evolution of technology that in the next 30 or 40 years will change the human condition — what it means to be human — more than all history since the migrations out of Africa 50- to 100,000 years ago. Ian Morris makes it a showdown between Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity — a digitized version of human nature — and Isaac Asimov’s early science-fiction masterpiece, “Nightfall,” when the venerable, unknowing species tears itself apart. Stay tuned, everybody, and fasten your humanity belts. Chris Lydon

  • dobo

    the assertion that “technology is neutral” is plain stupid.

    Kevin Kelly- a low quality religious preacher..

  • Interesting view on the Amish and technology. My brother lives near a large Amish community and I’ve witnessed many aspects of their culture, beliefs, etc.

    I actually agree with many of their viewpoints, even though my current lifestyle greatly contrasts an Amish one.

  • congokong

    You make a common mistake in your rebuttal to what Kaczynski claims. You seem to believe he argues that we should all live in shacks like he did. That is false. What he did was a compromise, and even that compromise became more and more in favor of technological civilization when the wilderness around his home was getting destroyed. Ideally he suggests we should all live as nomads as most humans did throughout human history.

    Yes, as a nomad you still have restrictions of choice. Technology provides many new choices for us not available to primitive people. The trade-off however is immense; freedom to hunt what you want, when to wake up, where to go, etc. It’s autonomy. Kaczynski already explains it vigorously.

    I can imagine someone asking “Then why did people embrace technology in the first place?” Because they didn’t understand the implications. Even people such as you who have the implications thrown in your face in a 35,000 word essay don’t accept it. And the effect on our ancestors was subtle such as the example of the automobile that Ted points out. One way technology governs your life is how it starts as an option but eventually becomes mandatory, and even though this pattern repeats many are ignorant to it.