technophiles

technofile

 

 

 

 

intro’d to term/thinking via Howard here. (he wrote in 1998)

read it first right after i had added this page on focus.. so added some to it..

adding more here..

ch 1: where i’m coming from

“Fat Bits” was the name of the pixel-twiddling tool in Macpaint. I think I sat down for three hours without getting up, as soon as I started playing with Macpaint and discovered Fat Bits. 

Fat Bits was a kind of trance. Hours would go by, and I could keep my consciousness focused at the pixel level. It was a variety of abstraction exercise. My consciousness began to change. The Gutenberg trance begain to change into another one. In some ways, the changes were instantaneous; in other ways, the changes took years. Yes, the screen became a kind of reality, an extension of my mind. I started spending most of the day there. And as I learned to use it, I learned to exercise my cognitive faculties in ways that took advantage of the screen-mind trance. Abstraction requires a certain amount of somnambulism: forget about all the detailed underpinnings, once you’ve clumped them into an abstraction; continually strive to change your focus to the next level of abstraction, where you can clump abstractions together to create the even higher levels. it’s a breathtaking game, but you have to remember you’re playing it, or you run the risk of forfeiting part of your humanity. 

If you want to identify the culprit who shunted the human race into millennia of symbol-intoxication, it was the person or persons unknown who created the alphabetic-phonetic alphabet in the vicinity of Sumeria, around five thousand years ago. 

I speak now directly to others like myself who are admitted, even enthusiastic, technophiles. For that reason, I don’t want anyone to mistake this for an orthodox neoLuddite rant. I lack the certainty of the true believers — both the orthodox technophiles and the convinced technophobes. I confess up front that I know of no theology or ideology that will answer the questions I can no longer avoid asking. 

Where are we going? Do we want to go there? Is there anything we can do about it? I have written this because I hope we can think together about where these questions lead. Perhaps there are solutions that can only be found by many of us, working together.
Thinking critically about the technosphere we inhabit, which defines who we are and dictates how we live and die, is scary — like thinking about performing surgery on yourself. Your internal denial alarms are going off already, I know. But I urge you to repress the urge to rise to the defense of penicillin and civilization, and consider how I came to rethink my attitudes.
You’re reading this on the web, after all. I do all the HTML myself. I upload it to the server. I do a little PhotoShop, a little Unix. I’m not an archgeek, but neither am I totally unaware of how this new stuff works. It is possible to think critically about technology without running off to the woods — although, I must warn you, it is possible that you will never be quite so comfortable again about the moral dimensions of progress and the part we all play in it. I know that I’m not.

We are all partaking in, and many of us are helping to build, something that none of us understands. There are taboos against looking too critically at the real politics of technology. Marx was just as deluded as Adam Smith when it came to understanding the real invisible hand that has influenced how humans work, live, and think for the past several centuries. Although a few people understand the urgency and relevance of the history of technologies, most people aren’t even aware that progress wasn’t always our most important product.
One of the things that makes technology dangerous is the way people forget where tools come from, and what they were designed to do.

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. 

Knowing how we got here is particularly important now because civilization is facing a crisis about thinking about tools that was caused, in part, because we learned how to create tools for thinking. 

ch2: growing up futurian

1983 – Howard writing papers for people at parc.

By the time everybody was making a big deal of the Mac, I had met Bob Taylor, director of the Computer Science Lab at PARC, and 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. Practically nobody knew about the role PARC had played, so I told PARC’s public affairs director I wanted to write stories about the great stuff PARC was inventing.

The tale of teenagers in garages creating an industry was a great story. But there was an equally interesting, and in some ways more profound story of the mavericks who swam against the mainstream of mainframe computer science and created personal computing. These people were on a crusade, and the goal was not to make a fortune, but to change the way the world accomplished intellectual work, starting with themselves.

By 1983, tracing the origins of personal computing was already an exercise in archeology. Bob Taylor still directed the Computer Science Lab at PARC, but the Alto was already ten years old, Alan Kay had departed PARC for Atari Research Labs, and the deepest roots of the PC lay in an institution that no longer existed, Doug Engelbart‘s Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute.

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. He cooked up a brainstorm one day in 1950, driving to work, and it has dominated his life ever since. That brainstorm has come to dominate many other lives, since it is unthinkable that personal computers and networks and multimedia and hypertext and point-and-click interfaces would have developed without Engelbart’s tenacious vision, and the pioneering work he accomplished in its pursuit.

Engelbart: While driving through the fruit orchards of the Santa Clara Valley, circa 1950, on his way to work as an electrical engineer at Ames Aviation (now NASA’s research center), 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.

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. In contrast to the priesthood of the mainframe era, the ARPA programmers were revolutionary. They knew that access to computing resources could empower entire populations to think and communicate in new ways. So I wrote Tools For Thought to tell that story.

ch 3: seduction by mind amplifier

“Fat Bits” was the name of the pixel-twiddling tool in Macpaint. I think I sat down for three hours without getting up, as soon as I started playing with Macpaint and discovered Fat Bits. 

Fat Bits was a kind of trance. Hours would go by, and I could keep my consciousness focused at the pixel level. It was a variety of abstraction exercise. My consciousness began to change. The Gutenberg trance begain to change into another one. In some ways, the changes were instantaneous; in other ways, the changes took years. Yes, the screen became a kind of reality, an extension of my mind. I started spending most of the day there. And as I learned to use it, I learned to exercise my cognitive faculties in ways that took advantage of the screen-mind trance. Abstraction requires a certain amount of somnambulism: forget about all the detailed underpinnings, once you’ve clumped them into an abstraction; continually strive to change your focus to the next level of abstraction, where you can clump abstractions together to create the even higher levels. it’s a breathtaking game, but you have to remember you’re playing it, or you run the risk of forfeiting part of your humanity. 

If you want to identify the culprit who shunted the human race into millennia of symbol-intoxication, it was the person or persons unknown who created the alphabetic-phonetic alphabet in the vicinity of Sumeria, around five thousand years ago. 

ch 4: jumping into the virtual world

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.

In 1985, I joined the WELL, and I’ve probably spent an average of three hours a day online ever since.

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.

ch 5: from thinking tools to thinking about tools

When someone can make a business out of selling everyone in the world a tool for telling them what else to buy next, do other potential applications for any new medium have a chance to compete?

At the time I was writing about virtual reality, I received an invitation from Kevin Kelly, who is now the executive editor ofWired magazine, but was at that time the editor of Whole Earth Review. I took over the job of editor of Whole Earth Review when Kelly took off to write his book, Out of Control. Finding myself at the vortex of the Whole Earth community certainly accelerated my critical thinking about technology. And I was immersed in an atmosphere that deliberately widened its focus from just the details of digital technology to include the biosphere, and technologies of agriculture, energy, transportation, medicine, urban planning.

I was outraged, during my tenure as editor, when William Irwin Thompson, in The American Replacement of Nature, accused me and Stewart Brand by name of being agents of the Zoroastrian demon of mindless mechanism. Richard Nilsen, Whole Earth’s late “land use” editor, put my face in the contradictions of ecology and technology every time I talked to him. Whenever people say “you can’t stop progress,” my friend J. Baldwin, Whole Earth’s “tools guy,” and a former student of Whole Earth guru R. Buckminster Fuller advises asking the counter-question: “progress towards WHAT?One of my first issues of Whole Earth Review was devoted to “Questioning Technology,” an activity I discovered most people don’t want to engage in, even as a thought experiment.

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.

_______

technology

global systemic change

_________

Howard sharing it again in 2018 – so added technophiles 2 page as i reread

_________

 

Advertisements