Victus Spiritus


The Gilded Cage of Technology

05 Apr 2010

Technology: Revolutionary in the way it transforms our lives, but it comes at a steep price. All those bits and atoms don't align themselves into forms of high utility, that's all the product of human imagination, will and execution. We struggle to maintain aging technologies (often too long) while inventing their replacements. Billions of human hours go into designing, programming and manufacturing the set of all tools. Even the systems that maintain the pipes in our homes are the product of continued technological care and nurturing, plumbers don't work for free, nor do the refined materials they use grow on trees.

If entropy had her way (and one day she will), we'd all be clumped particles surrounded by energy uniformly distributed in the cold darkness of space. But today is ours.

The collective vitality of all people defines the great wheel of need and potential technology. We are a people who embrace change, and work to manifest a brighter world than the one we are born into. Our imagination, curiousity, and will mold the raw clay of what could be into what is.

The Technology Behind a Blog Post

At the moment of writing, the firing of massive collections of synchronous neural pathways motivates my thoughts and fingers to form ordered symbols into a message. Optical feedback of a display enables some error correction and refinement. A temporary local cache of that message is stored on a device, until it is ready to be sent to a remote server. The bits and packets will take an unknown path routing through the Internet to the host server, to then be published to the web. An array of other networks will all be alerted of the presence of new content, some are pushed updates immediately (Buzz, friendfeed), some services poll for changes (pull feed readers), while others I manually alert (Twitter by tweetmeme, and HackerNews). Even the action of sharing a few morning thoughts requires a number of rituals to be of any utility. The constraints of the communication channel compose a form of gilded cage. If you want to communicate asynchronously with many people (and I do) you have to play by technology's rules. The immediate "pay off" of blogging isn't apparent to most people so it remains a tool for the minority. Microblogging, and to a lesser extent super simple blogging platforms (Posterous, Tumblr, Buzz*) have prompted many more people to express their ideas and activities so this may change.

Merits of Measuring Returns

Like course corrections while navigating at sea measured returns, or observations enable us to estimate the quality of an investment. What can be measured, can be improved. Capitalism has served as a form of social feedback fueling the technologies that benefit society now. If an equivalent function is fulfilled for a cheaper cost we tend to select it. Brands and social status are a psychological monkey wrench in this trend, but there function is dominated by social signals. If a new technology better caters to a shifted sense of value we choose it. By purchasing we vote with our dollars. Some applications of technology appear to resist direct measuring now (art, music). But we are free as individuals and organizations to reinforce the cultural qualities that we hold dear. As an example I reinforce the pattern of electronic ambient and drum and bass music, so it's likely tools that enable artists to craft richer music more easily will be developed.

Note:* Buzz in practice is turning out to be another blogging and commenting platform (I find more utility in other options, but enjoy reading and commenting there). Some use it as a republishing tool, but few use it for both aggregation and engagement with commenters.

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