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What Technology Wants

ISBN-10: 0670022152

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (October 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670022152
  • ASIN: B004Y6MT6O
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #286,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Verbalizing visceral feelings about technology, whether attraction or repulsion, Kelly explores the “technium,” his term for the globalized, interconnected stage of technological development. Arguing that the processes creating the technium are akin to those of biological evolution, Kelly devotes the opening sections of his exposition to that analogy, maintaining that the technium exhibits a similar tendency toward self-organizing complexity. Having defined the technium, Kelly addresses its discontents, as expressed by the Unabomber (although Kelly admits to trepidation in taking seriously the antitechnology screeds of a murderer) and then as lived by the allegedly technophobic Amish. From his observations and discussions with some Amish people, Kelly extracts some precepts of their attitudes toward gadgets, suggesting folk in the secular world can benefit from the Amish approach of treating tools as servants of self and society rather than as out-of-control masters. Exploring ramifications of technology on human welfare and achievement, Kelly arrives at an optimistic outlook that will interest many, coming, as it does, from the former editor of Wired magazine. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

"...consistently provocative and intriguing."
-The Economist


More About the Author

Kevin Kelly is Senior Maverick at Wired magazine. He co-founded Wired in 1993, and served as its Executive Editor from its inception until 1999. He has just completed a book for Viking/Penguin publishers called "What Technology Wants," due out in the Fall 2010. He is also editor and publisher of the Cool Tools website, which gets half a million unique visitors per month. From 1984-1990 Kelly was publisher and editor of the Whole Earth Review, a journal of unorthodox technical news. He co-founded the ongoing Hackers' Conference, and was involved with the launch of the WELL, a pioneering online service started in 1985. He authored the best-selling New Rules for the New Economy and the classic book on decentralized emergent systems, Out of Control.

Customer Reviews

This is a well researched book with hundreds of citations.
Paul W. Sauer
Highly recommended; a must read for anyone interested in the future of humanity and technology.
John Jakubowski
At best, these books can be entertaining and contain one quite novel and interesting thought.
Lassi*aL

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

166 of 175 people found the following review helpful By GDP on November 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
There is much in this book that is thought-provoking and interesting, and there are no regrets for having invested the time and effort in reading it. While the book is not a difficult read - Mr. Kelly's prose is clear and pleasing - it is a challenging read in that it requires an occasional pause to fully consider what exactly is being proposed in the author's seductive writing style. It is hard not to admire the author's deep knowledge of and passion for the subject, but reasonable people will disagree as to the content.

First, the positives. There are excellent overviews of the historical development of science as well as the concept of convergence that recurs in scientific and technological development (and also, as the author points out, in film-making). The case for considering technology as a self-perpetuating organism is forcefully made, and examples of parallels between evolutionary development and technological development are treated in depth.

There is also a helpful discussion about man's relationship to technology, covered in three chapters collectively called Choices. Here Mr. Kelly views the perspective of the Unabomber, the Amish, and a proposed contemporary search for a convivial relationship. As odd as it sounds to use the Unabomber as a lens through which to view technology, it is extremely powerful. The obvious point is that it is quite unthinkable to live without technology (Ted Kaczynski typed his manifesto and rode a bike), so that finding a personal balance with it should be the goal (preferably one that does not include bombs - either mail-bombs or the nuclear variety).

Second, the controversies. If I correctly interpreted what Mr.
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74 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Tim Wu on October 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I admire this book, the brilliance of which defies easy summary. It stands out for its courage, honesty, and the depth of its convictions. One of the best books I have read this year.

Roughly, this is a book about where our technology (or technium), if it can be considered autonomous, wants to go. The subtext is an lasting inquiry into whether, roughly, technology makes people happy or not. As such I'd consider it in a dialogue with writers like Thoreau and Edward Abbey, and more recent books like Shop Class as Soulcraft, Into the Wild, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

By profession I read a lot of tech books, from academia to business press and among them Kelly's book truly stands out. There are a few reasons. First, Kelly is just writing at a much deeper level than most authors have the courage to tackle. Most tech writers allow their natural optimism or pessimism to remain unexamined; For Kelly that is the topic itself, and it is refreshing. Compared with Kelly's book, many other books feel unbearably superficial (even perhaps my own!)

Second, Kelly writes from a level or deep personal experience which makes all the difference. This isn't about trite anecdotes or reporting, but rather the experience of a man who has tried living like the Unabomber at least for periods of his life. Basically, he has tried life with lots of tech, with little, and in between. He has, therefore, convictions from that experience that feel deep and genuine.

Third, Kelly has a natural, easy prose and an honesty in his voice which carries through every paragraph. It is extremely hard to write on abstract topics like the existence of a technium without quickly becoming technical or very confusing. For me at least, the book was a page-turner, which you expect from narrative but not from philosophy.

Highly recommended.

Tim Wu
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Bob Blum on November 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Are you simply trying to decide whether to buy this book?
The answer is "buy it. Absolutely, yes!"
It is Kevin Kelly's (KK's) magnum opus.
It is important, clearly and elegantly written, and
thoroughly researched. Also, it's so good,
it was hard to put down.

Nobody is better qualified to write about technology and tools.
This has been KK's lifetime focus, first as an editor of
the Whole Earth Catalog (the bible of the hippie back-to-nature movement),
second as a cofounder of the Well (a prominent early online community),
then as executive editor of Wired, and finally as curator of Cool Tools
(a popular website that reviews favorite tools) -
not to mention his other widely-read books, eg "Out of Control."

Other reviewers have summarized the book's major themes,
included key quotations, and told you why the book is important.
Coming late to the party, I will just hit a few crucial points that
other reviewers have neglected.

First, what I absolutely love about the book is KK's personal approach to life.
Reading Wired you might think he would be using every fancy tech gadget
the minute it comes out. Nothing could be further from the truth.
He does not carry a cellphone; does not travel with a laptop;
has no cable connection and does not watch tv. Why?
Because he genuinely cares about his QUALITY of life.
Kevin is a guy who spent years owning nothing but a sleeping bag and a bike,
who admires the Amish, and who is decidely not an early adopter.
Like the Amish, he will thoroughly evaluate a new device
before allowing it into his personal world.
Ambivalence and thoughtful examination are the essence of KK's approach to technology.
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