Saturday, August 30, 2008

PL 32/08: Hi tech. Hi touch. Deep thought.

Filed under: library 2.0 — plinius @ 12:18 am

Three things are required in order to understand the new knowledge society.

The role of high technology. The role of human relationships. And a set of adequate concepts.

Negroponte with OLPC prototype.

In the seventies Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog wanted to unit hi-tech and hi-touch.

Hi tech is a practice, not a theory. High technology requires learning by doing. Swimming is learnt in the water. Blogging is learnt on the open web. Hi touch means to open the doors of perception (Huxley) and accept the possibility of personal change.

Not mental or moral change as such, but change in the ways we respond and act to the challenges around us.

People my age grew up after World War 2 – and were shaped by a triumphant late-indutrial society. The new networked society is radically – though not totally – different. Ideas, rules and habits must be questioned, reworked, transformed or abandoned.

In periods of deep and rapid change, reality outruns the words we use to describe the world. We need new – or renewed concepts – that explain the new realities. I am not thinking of academic theories, however subtle and deep, but of popular concepts – cultural memes – that help the public understand the changes in their life worlds.

Hi tech. Hi touch. Deep thought.

My personal list of new concept books starts with Nicholas Negroponte.

Being digital (1995) is really a collection of articles from the magazine Wired. Negroponte was very good at long-range forecasting – seeing the implications of inventions and trends long before they penetrated markets and publics.

The book is stll worth reading. But discovering Wired in the early nineties was a revelation. Fifteen years later, Wired is loaded with glossy advertising. The new writing has moved to the web.

Negroponte was an early bird. He diagnosed the future with flair. Today, the future is already here – but we lack words to describe it.

A bunch of bright and brassy authors are rushing to the rescue.  Like

  1. Thomas Friedman. The World is Flat. More …
  2. Nicholas Carr. The Big Switch. More …
  3. Chris Anderson. The Long Tail. More …
  4. John Battelle. The Search. More …
  5. David Wineberger. Everything is miscellaneous. More …
  6. Clay Shirky. Here comes everybody. More …

Do people need to read all these books? Hardly. It is not the reading, but the practice that matters.

The main concepts and ideas can be picked up – rapidly – from the web. At zero cost. But the new words will only lead to understanding if the old words lose their power.

The cup must be emptied before it can be filled. Zen mind, beginner’s mind.



  1. Your list contains bright people, but as with most of the US they think that it the problem or the salvation is the technology – stupid!. Pro et con. But technology does not solve problems. People do – and a particular kind at that: Those who gain power.

    At the end of it, we deal with power struggles. But technologies can and will of course tilt the game.

    Comment by Helge — Saturday, August 30, 2008 @ 9:23 am

  2. When a stone age tribe in Oceania first met the world outside, the young – who got hold of steel axes – took power from the old, who stuck to their tried and tested stones.

    Comment by plinius — Saturday, August 30, 2008 @ 10:03 am

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