Monday, February 23, 2009

On the Evolution of Technology

The Unabomber said (before he started bombing, or maybe in between bombings) that technology is not simply something created and cultivated by man but rather is more liken to a separate entity which propagates its self independently of and in some cases despite mankind's best interests.

I've always been somewhat of a fan of this idea, if for no other reason than that it invokes images of technology evolving and becoming better by an odd and hitherto unknown form of natural selection. And I mean natural selection.

Mankind has for eons used artificial selection to create new breeds of plants and animals by enhancing the reproductive chances of those individuals which display those characteristics most favorable to human exploitation (larger grain size, thicker and faster growing wool, etc).

And in the case of technology as an organism one would expect a similar form of human-controlled artificial selection. However this is not always the case. I think those of us with enough tech-savvy to be reading this post are aware enough of the infuriatingly self-serving way in which tech tends to operate from time to time - the idea generally being that this concession in user-friendliness or this little bit of unnecessary complication is required as a stepping stone to reach a more user-friendly plateau.

Perhaps it is nothing but simple intellectual hubris which drives us to embrace stronger and faster technology as being 'better' than more usable and intuitive products. "This phone may be far too complex and ineffective at placing calls, but im smart and patient enough to deal with it. And besides, its really cool!"

Or perhaps I am simply making the cardinal mistake in attempting to understand evolution and natural selection by personifying the actions of a cold and impersonal system. Perhaps I am forgetting the universe's most potent and omnipresent rule - tautology as it is: That which happens, happens. And that which survives, survives.

Either way, this little slideshow put up by Wired shows (with perhaps the exception of the iphone) how the cell phone has evolved from 'brick to slick.' Furthering its own power and favoring intelligence over physical durability, the gradual change into my beloved G1 from Motorola's humble DynaTAC 8000x seems nearly to mirror our species' own ascent into the frail and over-brained beings we are now.

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