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Patt Morrison Asks: The Possibilian, Kevin Kelly

The 'Wired' magazine co-founder discusses the choices we have, both collectively and individually, on technology.

August 13, 2011|Patt Morrison
  • 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)
Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine, says that a Klein bottle "reminds…

This is a Klein bottle, a kind of Mobius strip rendered in glass. The man holding it has a brain not unlike these confounding items, possessed of unusual twists and multidimensional turns that can be challenging for lesser mortals to get their own heads around. Kevin Kelly began reflecting on the techno-Internet world before most people even knew it existed. A co-founder of Wired magazine, and still its "senior maverick," his brainstorming writings influenced the films "Minority Report" and "The Matrix," but that's the stuff he has already done. It's the stuff Kelly still wants to do -- and to take the world along him -- that boots him up.

The paperback of your book "What Technology Wants" is coming out. C'mon, paper? You?

I know -- paper! This is my last paper-native book, the last book that will be written to be born on paper. From now on I'm going toward digital first.

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.

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