Our greatest invention so far

A different take on the idea of enough from last week, this time through the eyes of Kevin Kelly:

I’m interested in how people personally decide to refuse a technology. I’m interested in that process, because I think that will happen more and more as the number of technologies keep increasing. The only way we can sort our identity is by not using technology. We’re used to be that you define yourself by what you use now. You define yourself by what you don’t use. So I’m interested in that process.

Earlier, he explains,

The technium is anything useful that a mind makes. That doesn’t even have to be a human mind. Any mind. So that includes not just the gadgets but it also includes the law, our writing. […] The greatest technology humans ever invented is humanity itself. We domesticated ourselves. We turned ourselves into part of the technium because we cannot live as a species. We cannot live without technology. We’ve invented ourselves. And it’s our greatest invention so far.

So collectively our humanity comes out of technology: humans are make tools, heat their food. But individually, we’re perhaps increasingly defined by the technologies we choose to do without.

A chip with heels, a chip with wheels

Kevin Kelly, speaking at TED on the next 5,000 days of the Web:

Everything will have embedded in it some sense of connecting to the machine, and so we have, basically, an Internet of Things. So you begin to think of a shoe as a chip with heels, and a car as a chip with wheels. […] A lot of people think about the new economy as something that was going to be a disembodied, alternative virtual existence, and that we would have the old economy of atoms. But in fact, what the new economy really is is the marriage of those two, where we embed the information, and the digital nature of things into the material world. That’s what we’re looking forward to. That is where we’re going—this union, this convergence of the atomic and the digital.

More on the Internet of Things in this great talk from Matt Jones earlier this year.

Liking Lala

"Built by a team of engineers responsible for services like Yahoo!, eBay, Blogger and AOL," the new web-centered music service Lala.com boasts a selection of 6 million songs. Here’s the pitch: play songs once for free. Play them online as much as you like for 10 cents each, or download them as non-DRM MP3s for 79 cents each. Like it or not, I think this might be the future of digital music. Music is backed up in the cloud automatically (it’s almost like Gmail for music), and the songs you need locally are only what your iPod is capable of storing or what you really need to have when you’re not online, which, in the age of 3G smartphones, is increasingly rare. Instead of restricting ownership with software like DRM, limited ownership is incentivized with price. Better still, the service eliminates digital redundancy by transcluding data: instead of every user having their own track, it’s one track for every user.

To quote the sagacious Kevin Kelly: “Ownership is not as important as it once was.” Lala.com is proof positive of this trend.

Update: Apple saw Lala’s value as well, purchasing the company in December 2009.


Plenty Magazine has a great oral history of the Whole Earth Catalog. Here’s Kevin Kelly: “The WEC helped rid us of our allergy to commerce. Brand believed in capitalism, just not by traditional methods. He was the first person to embrace true financial transparency. His decision to disclose WEC’s finances in the pages of the catalog had a profound ripple effect. A lot of those hippies who dropped out and tried to live off the land decided to come back and start small companies because of it. And out of that came the Googles of the world.”


Great idea for keeping your music current from Kevin Kelly: “At my birthday or Christmas, I request as my only present that my kids, nieces and nephews burn me a disc of their favorite music in the last year, or so. It is an easy gift for them to make, and a great learning experience for me. The few tracks I can’t stand, I just delete. The stuff I love I seek out on iTunes to purchase more of. From this I get the fashionable tunes.”