MEME'S EDITORIAL MISSION
We live in an era where technology and its social impact appear to exist in a mysterious state of uncontrolled change. Without context, we appear to hurtle forward, powerless, in a state of overwhelm.
So, it's no coincidence that the dominant theme of our time is one of uncertainty and that everywhere we turn, reactionary political forces play on our fears, telling us that the best future requires a return to the past. But we all know that this is impossible. Worse, it undermines the better qualities of being human and raises the specter of intolerance and pessimism; a dark road all too frequented in this century. On the other extreme, a small band technological evangelists continue to insist that technology is inherently virtuous, and that through the mysterious forces of Darwinian natural selection, a new society will be born. Those who cannot keep up will simply be "weeded out" through this cycle of human-machine evolution. Both extremes share a similar arrogance and lack of compassion for the individual.
The first step towards ending this fundamental anxiety is to address the problem -- our insistence on treating technology like some form of sorcery or magic. By de-mystifying technology, we return it to its rightful place -- in the tool-box, as an accessory to whatever ends we seek. As Arthur C. Clarke put it "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Magic, long associated with mystery and irrationality, is back in vogue. Reinvented under the cloak of jargon and hype ("intelligent agents", "genetic algorithms", "neural networks") we are led to believe technology is beyond the understanding all but the priesthood. Magic versus reason. Reaction versus progress. The struggle of our century remains the same struggle, a struggle between those descendants of the Enlightenment that believe in progress and those that do not.
As this century ends, we can say this was period where technology enabled the greatest of horrors and a return to unprecedented barbarity on a scale never before seen, along with dramatic improvements in living standards for the majority of people alive today. Technology is neither good or bad; it is value neutral. What does matter are the choices we make in deciding what end technology should serve. The same hammer that builds a house can bash a skull. We have the choice in how that hammer is used. If that's the case, then the continuing dramatic rate of technological innovation needs to be understood, and placed within a human context. All too often technology is presented as mysterious or monstrous. This just serves to disempower us from experiencing a state of certainty and control over our tools and the environment we create with them. The Into the Matrix web site (http://www.reach.com/matrix/welcome.html) and the Meme newsletter you're now reading are dedicated to cutting though the jargon, the anthropomorphic metaphors and evasive hype slung at us from all sides. By placing technology in the human context where it belongs, I hope to reaffirm the idea that the future can exist as an improvement on the past.
PREVIEW OF THE NEXT ISSUE OF MEME.
Windows 95 marks the end of the personal computer era, and with it the dominance of Microsoft. No longer nimble, and with too much at stake, the currents of history and technological innovation are about to pass Microsoft by. Find out why in Meme 1.02.
Meme 1.01 and its contents copyright 1995 by David S. Bennahum. First spawned by Into The Matrix at http://www.reach.com/matrix/welcome.html. Pass me along all you want, just include this signature file at the end.
Direct comments, bugs and so on to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.