How to Think About Technology

How should we think about technology? How do we know if some technology is going to have an impact, or just pass away like many of them before? How do we anticipate its uses and side-effects?

Kevin Kelly, in an interview in the North Star Podcast, explains that it normally takes generations to figure out what a specific technology is good for. More important, it not only takes time but actual use of the technology to figure it out:

The thing about new technologies (…) is that it takes several generations for us to decide what they’re good for. They’re kind of like babies. I think that technologies have to find the right job and that’s our job as their parents to kind of help guide them to find the right role and it takes some time. It takes some time and more importantly, it takes use. So these things are so complicated these days that we cannot figure out what they’re good for by thinking. I call that thinkism. Thinkism is a disease of our time. It’s particularly the disease of really smart guys who like to think, and they think that we can solve problems by thinking about them. And I think thinkism is completely wrong. And that’s where the singularity stuff comes in. Well, if I can accelerate the thinking about it, if I can be really smart, we can solve all kinds of problems.

No, you don’t just solve problems by thinking about it, you actually have to do things. You have to try things. And so I think that it takes using technology in daily use to figure out how it actually works, what’s really good about it. What’s bad about it. And then to rectify it, to do to this constant iteration where we go back and say, “Oh, we don’t want to do that. There’s too much of that. Let’s do it here.” So through use, we figure out what it’s good for. It’s through use that we steer it.

(…) I think it’s weird that we expect that we can kind of know how these very complicated things are going to react. Just like deciding that your baby is going to be a doctor. “I can see it in their eyes, you’re got to be an artist. They better be an artist.” They better be whatever it is.

I’m not very fond of Facebook, but I can understand and admire Mark Zuckerberg’s betting in the metaverse in the same context: to figure out the metaverse, you actually have to tinker with it. You need to try to do something with it to understand its potential and limits. That’s why I think it makes sense for Fortune 500 companies to experiment in the different metaverses, even it’s not clear what they are for. They are not doing it for efficiency’s sake. Maybe it will lead to nothing, but it will help them figure out what the metaverse can be used for, where it can take them… and more important, what the metaverse really is.

The same applies to Web3, even in face of the recent crash and collapse of tons of cryptocurrencies, crypto exchanges, DeFis liquidity pools, etc. Web3 has been criticized as a solution in search of a problem, but in reality it is too early to understand fully its implications and potentials.

future thinking Kevin Kelly David Perell Technology

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