The Unabomber was only half right. A Review of Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants

Usually, I would not bother reviewing a book that has been out for over a year, but Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants complicates this blog’s ongoing discussion of public intellectuals and the translation of social theory into popular press books. Kelly claims to have read “every book on the philosophy and theory of technology.” If we are to take him at his word, and if we assume his own conclusions are based on (or are at the very least- informed by) that reading, we should seriously consider the overall quality of the corpus of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and related fields. As social scientists we must ask ourselves: If Kelly’s work can legitimately connect itself to the likes of Nye, Winner, and Ellul, and still produce a politically and morally ambivalent conclusion, are we failing to provide theoretical tools that lead to a better world?

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The Fourth Wave of Technological Progress

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Much has been said about the arrival of the “information economy;” the “information age;” and/or the “knowledge worker.” If we take these claims seriously, and as indicating a shift in society and economy equal to the gravity of those statements, we should find similar revolutionary changes in today’s sites of industry as Mumford charted in the 14th and 18th centuries. The mine is the first wholly artificial environment. It has no sunlight, no women with large breasts in fields, and the very air that the miner breaths has had work done on it by a built ventilation system. The work of human beings surrounds the individual, and in this totalizing environment one is left to confront the world of abstracted use and exchange. The mine exists because of and through the scientific knowledge of the previous century. It is an environment that was made to be punishing (another way to say this is it was populated by the punished), and yet the extracted resources were the fundamental components of the physical container of society.