Monday, November 19, 2007

Alan Kay's definition of 'technology', and taking things for granted

The article on the Kindle e-book reader I recently referred to starts like this

"Technology," computer pioneer Alan Kay once said, "is anything that was invented after you were born."
I like that, it’s nicely put. We are keenly aware of that which is different to the usual stuff we take for granted. We take older technologies for granted, so new technologies seem quite different.

But this is really just an artifact of the way we see the world – of our personal perspective. Objectively, the old and new are both just as much technologies, and a sharp distinction between them is a false one.

If we don't realise that, we end up with an overly narrow concept of ‘technology’ that tends to only include the newer technologies.

The article uses that quote to make a point about not taking books for granted as an example of a technology (and a very successful one at that):
So it's not surprising, when making mental lists of the most whiz-bangy technological creations in our lives, that we may overlook an object that is superbly designed, wickedly functional, infinitely useful and beloved more passionately than any gadget in a Best Buy: the book.
Given their point about not taking things for granted, what they say next is very ironic
It is a more reliable storage device than a hard disk drive, and it sports a killer user interface. (No instruction manual or "For Dummies" guide needed.)
No instruction manual needed. Unlike computers, or cars (people need to get instruction to learn how to drive) or other modern technology. Except that's a kinda silly statement to make, that takes our reading skills for granted.

They may be able to pick up a book now and read it straight away, but then, I can just load up a computer program and use it, or start a car and drive it. I once had to learn how to use them, but then again, I -- and they -- once had to learn to read too. No one just naturally learns to read. It's an artificial skill, and one that takes a lot of time and effort to learn. It's just that, in developed countries, everyone has learnt it at a young age, so long ago, that it's easy for us to take for granted.

No comments:

Post a Comment