technophiles 2



adding page this day (from Howard Rheingold):

Original Tweet:

[actually added technophiles page 4 years ago from when howard shared piece then.. so will call this page technophiles 2 – medium posts written in 2016]


What Technophiles Need To Know: Part One

I wrote this in 1998 andpublished it on my website. I’ve been urged to make it more widely available. Here’s the first part. Four more parts will follow if there is sufficient interest.

I must describe my love for mind-extending technologies before I can describe how I started to think more critically about tools, minds, and civilizations.

I confess up front that I know of no theology or ideology that will answer the questions I can no longer avoid asking.

We are all partaking in, and many of us are helping to build, something that none of us understands.

A specific manner of systematically examining the world, extracting knowledge, and applying that knowledge to extend power, a system that was developed only a few centuries ago, has been so extraordinarily successful that it has totally sucked our attention..t..  

Our technologized culture shapes and fascinates us to the extent we don’t even see other ways of knowing and interacting with the world and each other.

People didn’t know how to think systematically about the material world until 17th and 18th centuries, despite millennia of attempts by philosophers to understand the nature of the energy and matter. . In the 16th and 17th centuries, in an unpleasant era of plagues, witch-burnings, Inquisitions, devastating religious wars and civil conflicts, a small number of European philosophers proposed thatif we could discover a better method of thinking about the world — a systematic means of discovering truth — we could govern ourselves in a more equitable manner,

imagine if we did that w/ the seeking of perfections (see below)

.. we could relieve the suffering of disease and hunger and improve the living conditions of many, if not all.

We take it for granted now, but the premise of this quest was a radically new view of human nature when it emerged, four hundred years ago: Humans are perfectible,are capable of discovering the means of our own perfection, and human institutions thereafter can be improved by perfected people: This was the blueprint for the modern idea of progress, in its original form.

A great deal of human misery has been relieved because those European thinkers began concocting this notion of perpetual discovery, perpetual change, perpetual improvement — and inventing tools for bringing about this transformation of the human condition.

“new method” that was extraordinarily successful. First, doubt everything. Then, gather evidence by examining the world and performing systematic experiments. Then formulate theories, preferably with mathematical formulae, that allow you to explain the evidence and predict the outcome of further experiments. In the beginning, few foresaw the limitations of the wondrous discovery. We can see now, however, how this successful transformation of human thought caused side-effects that were not visible for centuries.

At the end of the twentieth century, it is easy to see that technological progress based on systematically gathered scientific knowledge, coupled with industrial capitalism (or socialism, for that matter), requires continuous growth, damages the environment that supports life, diminishes both biological and social diversity, and everywhere seems to move us toward societies in which humans learn how to be components in larger social machines. .t

We simply don’t have a good method for thinking and making decisions about how to apply (and not apply) the powerful tools of rationality, the scientific method, reductionism, the combination of logic and efficiency embodied by technology.

That we don’t now know how to think and make decisions about technology doesn’t mean we are incapable of discovering a “new method” for thinking about technology. If ever our species needed thinkers of the caliber of Descartes and Newton, it is now..t

I don’t hope to discover that method by myself. But I would like to help encourage a more widespread public discourse about the problem, in the hope that our process of thinking together can help lead to this future mindset. And I hope that the people who will be designing and distributing tomorrow’s technologies can do so with a thorough knowledge of the systemic effects of their enterprise.

Let’s begin by not mistaking “thinking together” for “rushing for a solution.”

Perhaps the answer is not in the realm of “problem — -> solution.” Perhaps we need to think/feel outside that frame..t

ie: augmenting interconnectedness


What technophiles need to know — part two

It took me another fifteen years to even notice how quickly I had been sucked into spending most of my working day sitting in front of a computer, increasingly engaged with the things computers were making possible.

Every week or so, I’d get a call to help someone write. These were very smart people who knew their stuff, and either didn’t have time or didn’t like to write or were simply gifted procrastinators. 

had read the bibliographies of enough CSL publications to know that Doug Engelbart and JCR Licklider were responsible for the idea of using computers as mind amplifiers, long before PARC existed. 

Engelbart certainly existed, I learned, and was still pursuing his dream of mind-amplifying media. My curiosity led me to interview him, and the interview turned a key and unlocked something that has taken a long time to develop. I’m still tingling from my encounter with the ideals he inspired the day I met him, fifteen years ago. I’ve never encountered, and doubt whether I will ever find again, a person in pursuit of such a broad vision of the way the world ought to be, and in possession of such incredible tenacity in that pursuit. .t


In 1950, when there were only a few digital computers in the world, and television was a brand-new medium, Doug Engelbart conceived of a mind-amplifying device that would help the human race navigate the complexities of the future by representing information on TV screens and storing that information in a hypertext network. When I met him in 1983, Engelbart had been pursuing that idea for more than three decades.

Like a cross between the Ancient Mariner and an Old Testament prophet, he has been compelled to tell his entire story thousands of times. It took decades before anyone else in the world could perceive the future he had foreseen. His blue eyes still focus on a distant horizon when he explains.

Engelbart began to think about ways he could use his life to help the human race survive the explosive growth of technology he was helping create.

Engelbart read Vannevar Bush’s visionary article in the May, 1945, Atlantic, As We May Think. When he started thinking about how people could solve complex intellectual problems together, Engelbart began envisioning a version of Bush’s memex that was more of a communication device than just an information-finding tool..t

memex.. hosting life bits ness

ie: 2 convers.. as infra.. as it could be..

In 1962, Engelbart published his epochal paper, Augmenting Human Intellect, about a tool-using tool that would involve more than just hardware and software: new ways of thinking, working, communicating, and *new languages to represent these new mind-tools would be required,as well as **new training methods and organizational systems .. t.. to manage their use as part of scientific, educational, industrial enterprises. 

augmenting human intellect

*idio-jargon/self-talk as data

**no train

a whole new way of using our minds, our language, our institutions. ..he understood that these tools would necessarily be part of a profound systemic change. Read Engelbart’s conclusion, then remind yourself he wrote this in 1962.

Being around him affected me. It became clear to me that the world didn’t know that personal computers were invented by stubborn visionaries like Engelbart, and not by the computer industry or computer science orthodoxy. After talking to Engelbart, Alan Kay, JCR Licklider, Bob Taylor, and others who had been involved in “interactive computing” since the 1960s, I understood that this tool was the work of people who deliberately sought to extend the powers of intellect and communication. ..I wrote Tools For Thought to tell that story.


What technophiles need to know – part three

As soon as I discovered that my mind-amplifier could plug into other minds via a kind of groupmind amplifier, I spent the next fifteen years too enthralled to pay attention to other effects the technology was having on me and the rest of the world.

I wrote about those experiences in the last chapter of Tools for Thought. In 1985, I joined the WELL, and I’ve probably spent an average of three hours a day online ever since.

My social isolation, fascination and dissatisfaction with BBSs, inability to pay premium rates, set me up for instant seduction when the Whole Earth Lectronic Link opened in 1985, offering a kind of freewheeling online salon of techies, writers, activists, deadheads, and other early adopters of technology culture — at $2/hr. Where did the last thirteen years go? I had no idea at the time that reading, typing, thinking about, laughing at, crying over, fretting over WELL postings would involve a significant amount, if not a majority, of my waking hours for more than a decade to come. I ended up travelling around the world to research my book, The Virtual Community, and travelling around it a half dozen more times after it was published in 1993. 

People who communicate via computer networks definitely should be instructed about the danger of mistaking messages on computer screens for fully authentic human relationships.

for some people, online communication is a lifeline, a way of improving their quality of life, and one should think hard and long before appointing oneself the arbiter of whether it is healthy 

when critiquing virtual communities is that alienation is real and important, but it did not begin with computers, nor should our critique end there.


What technophiles need to know – Part Four

In the process of writing my book, Virtual Reality, and in my reading of the book’s reviews, I began to wonder whether the ultimate direction of personal computer development would be really be the empowering *mind amplification I had hoped for, or whether it might instead devolve into hypnotic disinfotainment

or perhaps.. *interconnected amplification/augmentation

Stewart Brand, the founder of the magazine, and the Whole Earth Catalog the counterculture best-seller that the magazine descended from, was a biologist who shared my fascination with mind amplifiers. Indeed, when Doug Engelbart produced his famous 1968 demonstration of the future of computer technology, his audio-visual coordinator was Stewart Brand. And Brand’s early writings about Xerox PARC helped steer me there, although I didn’t meet him for years to come. Brand’s mentors, Ken Kesey and Gregory Bateson, were iconoclasts, pranksters, and whole-systems thinkers. 


I’ve been looking for examples of humans recognizing a *problem caused by *technological intervention in their lives, finding ***a solution, and making it work in ****action.

*problem deep enough that 7bn would resonate w it today and ongoingly

**supposed to’s (aka: bureaucracy)

***cure ios city.. tech as it could be

****a nother way

Such people can be found, and they have much to say to us about what we need to know to find a solution that is democratic, humane, and workable. Right now, I think the first struggle is to get more than a tiny minority of people to recognize it is important to try to think together, as a civilization, about where technology came from, where it’s going to, and how to have a say in what happens next.