Technology (8): Kevin Kelly on finding jobs for infant technologies

This extract is from one of the best interviews with Kevin Kelly I’ve heard, on David Perell’s The North Star podcast. It covers a lot of the broad sweep of KK’s thinking about technology, how it works and what it “wants.”

Here KK gives a great explanation of why we shouldn’t be surprised when it takes a while to find the best uses for new technologies:

… the thing about new technologies and… the reason why I give Mark [Zuckerberg] some slack is that it takes several generations for us to decide what they’re good for. They’re kind of like babies. I think that technologies have to find the right job and that’s our job as their parents to kind of help guide them to find the right role and it takes some time. It takes some time and more importantly, it takes use. So these things are so complicated these days that we cannot figure out what they’re good for by thinking… you don’t just solve problems by thinking about it, you actually have to do things.

You have to try things. And so I think that it takes using technology in daily use to figure out how it actually works. What’s really good about it. What’s bad about it. And then to rectify it, to do to this constant iteration where we go back and say, “Oh, we don’t want to do that. There’s too much of that. Let’s do it here.”

So through use, we figure out what it’s good for. It’s through use that we steer it. So the problem with a lot of technology critics is they want to ban technologies. They want to turn them off, turn them away. If you do that, you don’t get to steer. You steer technology by using it.It’s like riding a horse. You have to kind of mount it and then get it and then use them daily in order to find out what they’re good for.

Thinking about them is too complex. We just cannot anticipate both its benefits and its harms by thinking. We have to only do it by use. And the more complicated the technologies get, the more critical it is that we arrive there through use… And so I preach… the embrace of technologies as a way to steer them.

Okay, so the problem, not the problem, the thing with social media is that it’s less than 5,000 days old or something, right? It’s an infant. It’s going to take some time, a generation, for us to kind of figure out what it’s good for, how to use it, what the limits are, all these kinds of things. And then we can begin to try and steer it. I think it’s, I don’t know, I think it’s weird that we expect that we can kind of know how these very complicated things are going to react. Just like deciding that your baby’s going to be a doctor. “I can see it in their eyes, you’re got to be an artist. They better be an artist.” They better be whatever it is. … So, we’re just at the first rev of this. We’re in the dawn of social media. It’s going to take a while.

Kevin Kelly on The North Star with David Perell

If you want to go further, check out New Rules for the New Economy (available in its entirety free online), What Technology Wants and The Inevitable, which are all excellent.

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