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“A meme is any learned feeling, thought or behavior. Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, practices, habits, songs, dances and moods. Memes propagate themselves and can move through a sociological “culture” in a manner similar to the behavior of a virus. As a unit of cultural evolution, a meme in some ways resembles a biological gene.

The word “meme” is a neologism coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins to describe how one might extend Darwinian principles to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. He gave as examples tunes, catch-phrases, beliefs, clothing-fashions, and the technology of building arches.

Meme-theorists contend that memes evolve by natural selection (similarly to Darwinian biological evolution) through the processes of variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance influencing an individual entity’s reproductive success. So with memes, some ideas will propagate less successfully and become extinct, while others will survive, spread, and, for better or for worse, mutate. “Memeticists argue that the memes most beneficial to their hosts will not necessarily survive; rather, those memes that replicate the most effectively spread best, which allows for the possibility that successful memes may prove detrimental to their hosts.” <wiki>

This talk of ‘temes’ sounds quite similar to what Kevin Kelly has described as the Technium. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post. You should definitely check it out.

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What does technology want?

“One of the species on earth – homo sapiens – makes a lot of stuff. Like termite mounds or colony bird nests, this stuff appears to be an extension of animal bodies. In broad strokes this is the stuff we call technology. Marshall McLuhan, among others, have noted that clothes are people’s extended skin, wheels extended feet, camera and telescopes extended eyes. Our technological creations are great extrapolations of the bodies that our genes build. In this way we can think of technology as an extended phenotype. During the industrial age it was easy to see the world this way. Steam-powered shovels, locomotives, television and the levers and gears of engineers were a fabulous exo-skeleton that turned man into superman.

A closer look reveals the problem with this view: the extended phenotype of animals is the result of their genes. They inherit the basic blueprints of what they make. Humans don’t. The blueprints for our stuff stem from our minds, which may create something none of our ancestors ever made or thought of. If technology is an extended phenotype of humans, it is a phenotype not of our genes, but of our minds. Clearly technology is not built by inheritable genes but by spontaneous ideas.” <excerpt from Kevin Kelly‘s The Seventh Kingdom>

More essays by Kevin Kelly on technology from The Technium:

  • Technology wants to be Free <link>
  • Humans are the Sex Organs of Technology <link>
  • The Paradoxical Nature of Technology <link>
  • Major Transitions in Technology <link>

Kevin Kelly is the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, and a former editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog. He has also been a writer, photographer and conservationist. Kelly is a student of cultures (Asian ones in particular) and is considered by some an expert in digital culture.” <wiki>

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