Technology is more than computers

Moira Gunn recently interviewed Michel Stipe and Mike Mills of R.E.M. about how they have incorporated technology into their music.

Well there really wasn’t a lot of technology to be thought about when we started. You plugged your amps in and you plugged your guitars into that and hopefully your microphone worked and that was it.

R.E.M. was making music just like our stone age ancestors with only amplifiers, electric guitars, and microphones.

Alan Kay defined technology as “anything that was invented after you were born.” Danny Hillis defined it as “everything that doesn’t work yet.” So if you were born after the invention of amplifiers, electric guitars, and microphones, these reliable technologies aren’t technology.

7 thoughts on “Technology is more than computers

  1. I attended MIT, which is not the Massachusetts Institute of Tcomputers, though they do teach computer science there (not my major). Back then, technology was that wonderful mixture of science and engineering, that you used to get stuff done.

  2. Also, nothing humans do is ‘natural’; we’re a separate, and lesser, creation from the natural world, and therefore all our works are set apart from it.

  3. Perhaps the point of the quote though is more about options. The variety of technology available (or at least that they knew about) was much less, and therefore they didn’t spend much time fiddling with the options.

  4. “The word ‘technology’ means ‘magic’. It’s basically anything that’s really cool that you don’t know how it works.”

  5. I don’t think this situation is mysterious, although maybe it is ironic.

    I’d like to change the phrase “indisitnguishable from magic” to “indistinguishable from no technology” in the standard quote. I think it captures a large part of these observations, especially if you allow technology to advance through changes in human cognition.

    I think it is much more interesting to think about what technology is incorporated in the creation of music. How about a pickup on an acoustic guitar? Or a recording device? Or the construction of the studio? Or whatever is generating the electricity being used? I’d say all of these could be fairly said to be totally uninvolved, despite in fact being part of the production process, and clearly technology.

  6. I like Douglas Adams 3 categories for technology:

    1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

    2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

    3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

  7. Eric,

    Thanks for that list. I’d add a fourth category:

    4) anything that gets invented after you’re sixty is just a giant PITA you don’t have time or energy to fool with, and the primary reason you ask your kids or grandkids for help.

    When my daughter was four or so, her grandparents got a stovetop popcorn maker and were excited to show it to her. After a few false starts they had it cooking, but it was taking a little time to pop. My daughter helpfully suggested they just make it the old fashioned way in the microwave.

    The main thing I miss about stovetop popcorn is watching the Crisco melt in the pot. I loved that mysterious point in spacetime when the last little white bit melted. Ahh memories. Now why won’t my blankety-blank TV stop overdubbing everything in Spanish?

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