When does technology stop being technology?

I’ve frequently used Alan Kay’s definition of technology as “anything that was invented after you were born”. The following perspectives from the late Douglas Adams and from Bran Ferren are richer and perhaps more useful.

I found this material originally from Jenny Levine, The Shifted Librarian, who’s been following these issues for as long as I have.

From Adam Curry comes the following, excellent essay by Douglas Adams written in 1999. Yes, the Douglas Adams. How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet

“I suppose earlier generations had to sit through all this huffing and puffing with the invention of television, the phone, cinema, radio, the car, the bicycle, printing, the wheel and so on, but you would think we would learn the way these things work, which is this:

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.

Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.”

And then there’s this wonderful observation:

“One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no ‘them’ out there. It’s just an awful lot of ‘us’.”

And still this quote:

“Another problem with the net is that it’s still ‘technology’, and ‘technology’, as the computer scientist Bran Ferren memorably defined it, is ‘stuff that doesn’t work yet.’ We no longer think of chairs as technology, we just think of them as chairs. But there was a time when we hadn’t worked out how many legs chairs should have, how tall they should be, and they would often ‘crash’ when we tried to use them. Before long, computers will be as trivial and plentiful as chairs (and a couple of decades or so after that, as sheets of paper or grains of sand) and we will cease to be aware of the things. In fact I’m sure we will look back on this last decade and wonder how we could ever have mistaken what we were doing with them for ‘productivity.’ But the biggest problem is that we are still the first generation of users, and for all that we may have invented the net, we still don’t really get it.”

Which is really where I wanted to end up to say this. Net Generation. To them, it’s not “technology” the way it is to you and me. Unless you’re under age 21 and reading this, in which case disregard that last sentence. My whole point is better illustrated by this last quote:

“Most of us are stumbling along in a kind of pidgin version of it, squinting myopically at things the size of fridges on our desks, not quite understanding where email goes, and cursing at the beeps of mobile phones. Our children, however, are doing something completely different. Risto Linturi, research fellow of the Helsinki Telephone Corporation, quoted in Wired magazine, describes the extraordinary behaviour kids in the streets of Helsinki, all carrying cellphones with messaging capabilities. They are not exchanging important business information, they’re just chattering, staying in touch. ‘We are herd animals,” he says. ‘These kids are connected to their herd ‘they always know where it’s moving.’ Pervasive wireless communication, he believes will ‘bring us back to behaviour patterns that were natural to us and destroy behaviour patterns that were brought about by the limitations of technology.’ “

[The Shifted Librarian]

In most organizational settings, power and age are correlated. That plus the fact that the average tenure of senior management is less than 10 years and you see why technology has such a hard time gaining traction in organizations.