Patt Morrison Asks: The Possibilian, Kevin Kelly
The 'Wired' magazine co-founder discusses the choices we have, both collectively and individually, on technology.
Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine, says that a Klein bottle "reminds me of the essence of life and mind. The bottle circles back to itself in the same way that DNA self-organized into life, and the same way that a mind circles back to itself to produce consciousness. All are strange loops." (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
The paperback of your book "What Technology Wants" is coming out. C'mon, paper? You?
The title makes technology sound like some greedy Cronus devouring its children.
There is a certain aspect to technology that is cannibalistic, eating its offspring. And I recognize that sometimes we are slaves to the "technium," to this larger thing we've made. Sometimes we are doing what it wants; other times we are in charge. We are the creators and the created. We will always have two minds about it: that it's wonderful, give me more, and at the same time, oh my gosh, we've got to stop it. Technology is an extension and acceleration of life, so I think of humanity as being more symbiotic with technology.
You write about how the Amish pick and choose the technology they embrace.
I'm a great admirer. They're not Luddites. In my experience they're totally into technology and trying to do what they can within the rules. The main distinction is that they're more selective of technology.
Each of us is actually choosing technology these days; we're being forced to, because there are so many choices, so much stuff.
We have choices? What's that "Star Trek" line, "Resistance is futile''?
Individually we have choices. Collectively we don't. We should work to always permit the choice of opting out. Most people are not going to opt out -- in that sense technologies are inevitable, but not for an individual. If you really don't want to use a laptop, you don't have to. The rest of society is going to be biased against you, but it is an option. I predicted there are going to be people who make a stand and make a living by not being connected. We're going to be defined by what we don't do, rather than by the technology that we do do.
You're an example of that, starting with your plastic analog wristwatch.
I still don't have a smartphone. I still don't do Twitter. We still don't have a TV at our house. I did buy a laptop six months ago. And I reserve my right to change my mind at any time and drop things I once did and adopt things I didn't do before. It's not that I'm against technology; I want to minimize the technology in my life, but I want to maximize the technology [available] in the world at large for others. I'm a Minimite!
Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, was notoriously anti-technology. Were you tempted to buy anything of his at the recent auction of his possessions?
I'm missing the collector gene! I wrote about this: There's an element of superstition in this collecting of artifacts. I think it's technological superstition. All the things he used were just copies -- whether it was his typewriter or whatever. You could buy the same typewriter somewhere else. The only reason why his was valuable was because of the idea that he touched it, that there's some aura you're going to get when you buy it. You could swap out the identical model and you would never know.
That persistent fear of technology, from Luddites to Mary Shelley to "Robopocalypse" -- is it well-founded?
Yes. I think we have to recognize and acknowledge that there is a possibility of things going wrong. It's a remote probability; the [result] is complete collapse rather than [our creations] being so smart that they take over.
How do you think we can make money in a Web economy? We've got a generation that will pay $5 for a cup of coffee but won't pay a cent for information, for music, for entertainment that required lots of money and labor to create and present.
In this world of ubiquitous copies -- and the Internet is the world's largest copying machine -- how does anybody make money on an idea when copies of ideas are free, and are actually required as the [economic] engine? My theory is that you'll want something better than free, what I call generatives. Let me give you an example: You can find a free copy of a movie on the Internet, but if you want to see a movie in the first hour of release, you'd be willing to pay. You're not really paying for the movie [but] for the immediacy of the movie. Or the music. Or findability, accessibility. Authenticity -- you can get [copies of] software for free, but if you want the authentic version, you're going to pay. There's been no better time in the world to be a reader or a watcher or a listener than right now.
What about being a writer?