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?
Unlike my fellow Cyborgologists, who are based in sociology departments, I am working towards a Ph.D in an interdisciplinary field called Science and Technology Studies (STS). The field emerged in the late 60s amongst (and directly influenced by) the environmental movement, the anti-nuke movement, and second wave feminism. Today STS is an established field with departments all around the world. The interdisciplinary nature of the field makes it difficult to have one single umbrella conference, but the closest we get is the annual Meeting of the Society for
the Social Studies of Science, or simply "4S." The conference has panels on a wide variety of topics including, "(Re)Inventing the Internet: New Forms of Agency", "Evidence on Trial: Experts, Judges and Public Reason", and "Reproductive and Contraceptive Technologies: Shifting Subjectivities and Contemporary Lives". There are also two sister conferences that happen simultaneously at nearby hotels: The Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) and the History of Science Society (HSS). While the conference was enjoyable, and the talks were fascinating, I was left wondering if STS is up to the task of changing how we talk about technology, science, and innovation.