Computers are not about technology

The main problem of the technological focus of computers is precisely that: that it is seen as a technology.

Because of that, technologically savvy people are attracted to it, and arising problems in all areas of life are discussed within a technological mindset.

Our current society is very much coloured by technology. Johan Huizinga, a Dutch historian and one of the founders of modern cultural history, pointed out the dangers of this focus in several works of cultural criticism during the rise of National Socialism in Germany.

Technology is usually seen as an antithesis to life, although not necessarily so (please review some of the talks of Kevin Kelly). When a technological mindset is applied to problems of society or politics, the attitude quickly becomes one of “designing solutions”. We “design” a set of laws, a computer system, a business, a medication, a treatment plan — anything to create a desired future. We feel that if we do this, we are in control. The leading metaphor of modern “western” society is that of the “successful person”: life is what you make of it, failure is a personal choice, freedom is the highest value. Even our own identity became a design target.

That this strategy usually fails does not seem to teach us a lesson.

Certainly, I completely agree that human beings evolve through learning. That the focus of human evolution has shifted to the mental plane, at least to a large extend, I do not contend. But the essence of that uniquely human trait, our mind, is not knowledge or even the power that some associate with it.

The essence of our mind is that it is a communicating device.

Through our mind and its defining human characteristic: language, the human species is doing something quite extraordinary. It is almost creating a new life form, one that has been called noosphere by Teilhard de Chardin. We can view the invention of the modern computer, and the revolution that is taking place as a result of that, as an extension of the linguistic ability of the human species.

The power of human language is extended in the history of the human species by several developments:

  1. The invention of drawing and writing
  2. The invention of the modern printing press (movable type)
  3. The invention of the modern computer

Each of these developments had dramatic effects. We know that the invention of writing more or less coincides with the first city-states and the rise of the upper-class. It coincides with concepts of ownership (like land, cattle, and women), codified law, but also the concept of time-keeping and even devices to help measure time in a fixed and location-independent way.

It is no different with the invention of the printing press, which, as we know, made knowledge suddenly widely available.

However, the invention of the modern computer is still taking place. We are in the middle of it. Our society is going through fundamental upheavals.

Computers are not about technology. They are about language.

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