Alas I have not yet got a copy of Kevin Kelly’s latest book. I am looking forward to seeing it but not perhaps for reasons he would appreciate. Cory Doctorow says that Kevin Kelly suggests in his new book “humans cannot direct or prevent technology’s course, at least not in the long run”. If this is an accurate summary, then a) it makes a mockery of the subtitle of his book “how technology changes us and vice-versa” (emphasis mine) and b) it makes me want to get ahold of the book and maybe add it to a future course just in order to provide evidence that popular and well-respected thinkers take this point of view, which has been widely criticised in academic circles. In fact “technological determinist” is something of a dirty word (phrase?) in academic discourse. That’s not to say that technologies don’t have their own logics in my view, but they are expressed in different ways in different societies. Mind you I find the opposite, hard social constructivist line controversially laid out by Grint and Woolgar in, for example, “What’s Social about Being Shot?” is equally unpersuasive.
Here’s a brief example of why KK is wrong – why have we taken so long to put wheels on suitcases? Not because the technology to do so did not exist, nor because it would not have been useful. I wager it’s because it took the disappearance of servants and the increase in all forms of travel to make the difficulties in lugging around luggage socially important enough to make people start thinking of alternatives.
If you don’t want to buy “What Technology Wants”, there’s a blog posting by KK that seems to cover this part of his argument here.