FAQ on Why "The Future Does Not Compute"

Steve Talbott has continued to write about technology since his book “The Future Does Not Compute” was published back in 1995. He has published many articles online that give insights into his philosophy. The best place to start in these writings is his FAQ.

One of the FAQ items that jumps out at me is number 6

What gift does the computer bring us?

The primary–and in the deepest sense the only–gift of every tool is its resistance to the human good. In overcoming this resistance we advance as human beings. The painful results of my indiscipline with my hammer invite inner growth, which is the only enduring gift of the tool. After all, which is of more lasting value: the cabinet I build with nails and eventually leave behind, or the inner mastery I gain through struggling with myself, hammer in hand–a mastery I will carry as healing capacity wherever I go in an overwrought world?

By claiming to be master of all tools, the computer challenges us to contend for our own mastery on all fronts. Failing the challenge, we lose ourselves; rising to the challenge, we gain ourselves. The computer is our hope if we can accept it as our enemy; as our friend, it will destroy us.

For me, this is a deep insight into the nature of the computer and the responsibility and opportunity it brings. Of course, it sits in contention of mainstream thought that places the value of the tool IN THE TOOL rather than in the learning that it brings.

One of the most challenging elements of being a Waldorf parent who works in technology is trying to convey how important it is to bring a human sensibility to technology. Waldorf parents are (stereo)typically artsy folk who may reject computers as well as mainstream values. I believe that it is important for the Waldorf community to embrace these questions of the effects of technology without rejecting it outright. I believe that knowing the enemy (who is also a friend) is critical if we are to find ourselves through this tool we call a computer.

Some subtle changes

Steve Talbott’s book “The Future Does not Compute” has me thinking about some subtle changes I am making in regards to technology. I know these will sound trivial, but they are the start of something much larger. After reading about 100 pages of the book I have decided to:

Change I decided to make was to stop getting NeverLost on my rental cars. For those that don’t know, NeverLost is a GPS mapping system that you can get in Hertz Rental Cars. You plug in an address and it will guide you there. It works very well (most of the time) and I have been using it for over a year now whenever I go on the road (at least once a week). It just removed the stress of having to navigate to the places where I have to go while on the road. I just came to the realization last week that it has also atrophied my navigation skills to the point of the absurd. I have not idea how to navigate around the South Bay Area even though I am down there on a regular basis. NeverLost does the “thinking” for me and I end up dependent on it for all direction. The problem is that I end up getting where I wanted to go, but not having any idea how I got there. I miss the journey and therefore the entire point of the trip to begin with – it is not about getting “there” it is about what you learn the process. For example, I now know that 280 N goes almost directly West through most of Cupertino and that Sunnyvale Blvd turns into De Anza Blvd in Cupertino (I mean, would Cupertino really stand for a Sunnyvale Blvd running through its midst?).

Another change is to the ring mode on my BlackBerry email/phone. By default the phone vibrates when a new email or call comes in. It is possible to set up many different “profiles” with different rings based whether the device is in or out of the holster and whether it is an email/vm/phone call that is being received. The change I have made is to add two new profiles: Caleb and Anna. These are the modes I will use when I am hanging out with my Son Caleb (age 8) or daughter Anna (age 4). For Caleb I have set it to not ring or vibrate at all when an email arrives and to ring when a phone call comes in. The reason is that when I am hanging out with Caleb while I am working I don’t want to worry about emails that arrive but I need to answer phone calls that would come in – and he is accepting and aware of that. For Anna it is important that I observe “radio silence” because I don’t want to be distracted by the thing unless I decide to check it – and I don’t want Anna to be awakened to my “scattered self” when I am caring for her.

This might beg the question of why I would have the thing on at all when I am with my children. I do realize it has an off button and I turn it off in the evening after the work hours. But one of the real benefits of the BlackBerry for me is that I can have lunch with my Son in the park or play a game with my daughter or talk with my wife when I am working at home. The BlackBerry makes it possible for me to carry the important part of my office with me so that if I need to check in every 15 minutes I can do so. It also makes it possible for me to step away from my computer even when I am awaiting an important call or email. That is the good part of the device. The negative is that it can distract from my current task and certainly from my being present with my family. So the new ring tones are a conscious effort to counteract that. I will still turn it off when I don’t want to be bothered.

These changes are subtle, but there will be more to come…

Media Blackout

If you know me well, you know that I don’t have television reception and don’t take a newspaper or listen to the radio. In fact, my family has effectively cut itself off from media for the past three years. There are many reasons for this choice, but much of it stems from our Son being enrolled in a Waldorf School (Cedarwood School in Portland). We ended our media contact in July of 2001 – meaning that we really did not even get to see much of the media take on 9/11. I have a feeling that we will continue this media blackout until our children get to an age where they really desire to know more about politics and the larger world. For now (at ages 3 and 7) they are more interested in hanging out with Mom and Dad.

That said, I do get some news from the Web and lately I have been subscribing to more feeds from various blogs. So far I am focusing on blogs that relate to technology and ERP applications – so mainly work related. But it is an interesting way to get news in general, particularly for someone like myself that is avoiding the “mass media”. I don’t think I will be subscribing to any of the popular political or hard news blogs anytime soon – I just don’t have any interest in bringing that influence into my life right now, but when I am ready, I will probably use that as my main source of information.

Avoiding the media (in all its forms) has an interesting effect for me. It focuses my attention more on my life and away from things that are outside of my control. I have no influence over the sort of politics reported in the media (that is not to say I cannot have an influence, but at this stage in my life I have neither the time or desire to exercise any influence). It gives me focus on the things that really matter to me – my family, my work and my personal goals. For me it is a way to cut out the things that I can’t change. It may sound ignorant, but it frees me up in many ways and makes me more effective in all my endeavors.

I have been asked how I find out about important events that occur locally, nationally or globally. The answer is that I talk to people, and they tell me about what matters to them (and sometimes that is information that came from the media). I would much rather get my news from this grassroots source – it is much more personal and interesting than reading it in the morning paper. It is fun to have someone ask about a recent big political event and respond with – “I hadn’t heard that – can you tell me about it?” rather than “Well, my opinion is X”.

I know my approach is not for everyone. Some people have jobs that require constant contact with the media. Some people just find it to be extremely entertaining and hard to give up. And some people really work hard to influence the events that occur on a local, national or global scale. I know it is important for other people to follow events in the media (after all, where would I get my news otherwise?) but for me, it is a great thing to have a media blackout at this point in my life.

The Future Does Not Compute

Just started reading a great book “The Future Does Not Compute” by Stephen Talbott. It was published back in 1995 and is considered the key text of the “neo-luddite” movement. I am not very far into it, but I will report on my opinions as I go. It is a treatise on the risks inherent in technology. In many ways it is the counter-balance to books like “Smart Mobs” by Howard Rheingold and “The Age of Spiritual Machines” by Ray Kurzweil. Those texts (particularly Spiritual Machines) tend to take a somewhat Utopian view of technology, while Talbott lays out the dangers of technology out of control. A fascinating read, particularly for a Waldorf parent like myself.

Anna’s best quotes

Our daughter, Anna, is 3 and 3/4 years old and has gotten to that stage where she has some great quotes. Two of the best recent ones are related below:

While we were in Kauai earlier this month she saw a cat pouncing on a lizard. We managed to get the lizard away from the cat in time to save it, but it did lose it’s tail. The tail wiggled around by itself and had a gooey drop of blood at the end. I let her pick it up and she looked at me very matter of fact and said “Dad, look, lizards are made of jam!”

Just this evening we had dinner at a local restaurant and we decided that we would have one piece of pie to split for the whole family. Anna eats quite well, but while she was munching on her salad she said “I think I want just sugar for dinner”. She ended up eating a good meal, but we had a good laugh over that one.

Hawaii Bound!

We are off for Kauai tomorrow and will be there for 17 days – a wonderful break our hectic schedules. We will be staying at a couple of places, but the main one will be North Country Farms in Kilauea. We stayed there last year and highly recommend it. It is a small organic farm run by a Waldorf family. There are two little bungalows on the property that are very comfortable. We will wake each morning, pick some fruits and veges from the gardens and then head out to the beach. We should be good and relaxed by the time we get back – if we come back at all 😉