Contrary to staying the same

Yule Heibel’s recent blog post addresses a topic from Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine. She’s adding to his list of the four arguments against technology. The premise is that by understanding why technology makes some people feel uncomfortable, it will be possibly to find counter arguments in technology’s defense.

http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/yulelog/2009/04/26/comment-on-kevin-kellys-4-arguments-against-technology/

The four arguments that Kelly has found are that technology is:

1. Contrary to nature; 2. Contrary to humans; 3. Contrary to technology itself; 4. Contrary to God.

And Yule Heibel added the following,  “Contrary to staying the same” (or, as she explains, technology destabilizes). Her post is great and talks about stasis as decay 🙂  — so our options are really “life or death”.

I think that “Why would people be uncomfortable about change?” is a very profound question. And I’m writing to consider how this applies, for instance, to the issue of repressive regimes? I have always advocated for information technology because I believe it allows an openness (more information available than ever before, easier communication, etc.) and that with that comes a societal responsibility e.g. teaching kids to use the tools appropriately. But it seems to be a fact that increased information access probably does lead to destabilization of systems that have (perhaps) kept people “happy” (or at least gives them them security of knowing what to expect) for thousands of years.

Of course it must also be argued that free speech should have its limits (e.g. things like inciting hatred, or shouting “fire” for fun in a crowd, and so on, should be disallowed) But where do we draw the line in all those shades of grey?

I guess those who value freedom of ideas do have to accept a level of messiness and a knowledge that things will be constantly changing. But they expect NOT to live in fear because the system (in theory) is basically self-correcting (nobody has to watch a particular producer of media if the views aren’t acceptable, products can be boycotted, peaceful protest is accepted, etc.)

In contrast, pure stability may have to involve the repression of ideas, and violence to ensure that destabilizing ideas are not put forward (again it’s shades of grey because the “free” western world would certainly take violent action, such as incarceration, against anyone involved in, for example, child pornography).

But – Yule Heibel’s question leads to the question of whether/how two concepts (progress versus stability) so deeply different *can* coexist on this planet? and… How do we (those who want progress) ease the fear of the people who long for stasis?

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3 Responses to Contrary to staying the same

  1. Yule Heibel says:

    Great response, Elizabeth. I think your questions also show that technology isn’t something separate from “natural” or everyday, lived life.

  2. ewellburn says:

    Adding to this is Brady Ambler’s post about tribes and social networks (and TED, which I love, and Kevin Kelly)
    http://bradyambler.wordpress.com/2009/04/21/ted-interview-tribes-author-says-people-not-ads-build-social-networks/

    The idea in Ambler’s post is of insiders and outsiders and it implies that there are those who adopt something new and those who resist change —

    But I guess that’s what the ‘third cycle’ of world-changing ideas might be about – change made possible because of the ways that like-minded innovation-friendly folks can find each other (like never before).

    And perhaps tribes can now also disband and re-form into new tribes with a new ease as well… once informed, it’s just as easy for one person to take another away by the hand as it is to bring them in. No residual loyalty — only participating when it’s a good fit to do so. Which gives me hope that repressive regimes will not be able to retain power if information is allowed to flow (and if the population has acquired filtering skills, we mustn’t forget Clay Shirky here). Tribes will emerge to create the necessary change.

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