Lauren Kaye - Manifesto

1. We ought not to live forever even if technology makes it possible.

It is natural for human beings to die. This is the cycle of life; this is evolution. To deny this fact, and instead, to seek self-preservation out of self-interest will actually make evolution/development/progress stoic instead of perpetuating it. Kurzweil believes that if we can keep preserving ourselves until we develop enough technology, we can keep ourselves alive, and in turn, use technologies to make ourselves smarter so we can develop smarter, faster, cheaper technologies that will launch us into the singularity. This sounds a little like im-breeding, keeping the same pool of genes and ideas, and doing so could actually retard growth and development because there would be no change, no fresh ideas or life. Kurzweil justifies his theory by using his self-preservation plan as proof. He takes 250 supplements per day and twice weekly receives intravenous treatments. In “The Singularity is Near,” he argues that once the appropriate technology is developed (nanobots that can scan the inner workings of our bodies will be able to replicate cells/tissues/organs and repair damaged ones) we will be able to live forever. He compares this maintenance of the body to that of a house. Neither of these ideas suggests to me that this is a viable or appealing option. Having to work so hard preserve our bodies (that are designed to age and die) seems tortuous. Furthermore, replacing every biological element of our bodies with technologies hardly seems like living forever than replacing life with something artificial/manmade.

2. We should act respectfully and conscientiously online even as anonymous users.

We ought to preserve the common resource that is the internet’s potential. By this, I mean that we should view our internet use as a commons; if a few people take advantage of our common resource, it can ruin it for everyone, but if we act respectfully and conscientiously, we can preserve our online freedoms and use the internet to produce a collective/cognitive surplus. We should not post nasty things about people or bully people. This article discusses an extreme case of taking advantage of the anonymity of the internet: http://mashable.com/2010/08/25/three-teens-murdered-after-appearing-on-facebook-kill-list/ a “kill list” was posted on Facebook anonymously and three murders were carried out from the list. Other examples we discussed in class were the gossip websites where anonymous posters can contribute any trash talk/gossip without check, and the anonymous online postings in response to credited letters-to-the-editor in the (school) newspaper. Lanier, in “You Are Not a Gadget,” suggests that you “Don’t post anonymously unless you really might be in danger.” In order to preserve the anonymity that allows oppressed people to react, learn, gather, and try to make a change (like Shirky’s examples: people reporting violence and attacks on Ushahidi.com, people with diseases navigating around the healthcare road blocks using patientslikeme.com, and the Association of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women fighting against the threats of fundamental Hindi). I would say the respectful and conscientious behavior should extend to Facebook, where we respect our peers’ boundaries by not stalking people we don’t know or violating the privacy of strangers just because we’re doing it anonymously.

3. We should not assume that technology is deterministic or progressive.

Nye’s “Why Technology Matters” opened the semester by asking the question, “is technology deterministic?” The answer was no. Inventions and technologies have been accepted and rejected on the basis of timing, need, appeal, and many other (somewhat) arbitrary factors. Lanier discusses this in “You Are Not A Gadget” when he talks about all of the possible ways the internet/world wide web could have been, but wasn’t and therefore, isn’t. He names UNIX, MIDI , and files as examples of established ideas that could have easily been different, and probably, better. In that sense, technology isn’t deterministic because new technologies don’t necessarily trump old technologies. Old technologies that weren’t chosen could have been better than newer technologies. Furthermore, he says that these “locked-in” formats and ideas are not progressive, but they’re stuck. If we were to take stock in the idea that technology is deterministic/progressive (an idea that I unthinkingly took stock in before I started asking these questions this semester), I maybe ought to believe Carr’s assertion that as technology and the internet develop, we will continue to become shallower thinkers; maybe I ought to believe that if Kurzweil is right about Moore’s Law, that the singularity is near and that it is progressive. Rather, I think we should question technology’s determinism and progression and evaluate and choose the direction we want it to go (and I think we ought to have a say or create a say in this discussion).

4. We should not be dependent on technology to survive.

Technologies are usually designed to make our lives easier. We use our phones to store numbers that we don’t want to remember. We use the internet to communicate almost instantaneously with people and keep in touch with worldwide. On a more basic level, we count on our refrigerators to keep our food fresh and our heaters to warm our homes and the air conditioning to keep us comfortable. However, I think one of the most fatal flaws about developing technologies is the inclination to depend on their existence. Carr explains in “The Shallows” that our brains are malleable and can be re-wired with repeated activity. Unfortunately, using technologies to provide our food, comfort and entertainment has left us vulnerable. We have re-wired our brains so that we have not retained survival skills (basic skills that humans used to support and maintain life) because we haven’t needed them for so long. What if technology failed? Would we be able to fend for ourselves if we were forced to live without electricity and the conveniences that technologies provide? I started to think about this in terms of technologies being progressive. It struck me as odd that people who resist technology are deemed backwards, uneducated, unprogressive, when those are the people who would make it if our infrastructure failed. In Ray Kurzweil’s vision of the singularity, if everyone were dependent on technology to survive—the way he depends on his supplements and medical technology—would we be better off or just setting ourselves up for technology to fail us because we’d given up our biological survival skills?

5. Because the technologies are available, we should use them to educate our selves and others; we should use our cognitive surplus to make changes that represent our ideals and values.

Both Nye in “Why Technology Matters” and Shirky in “The Cognitive Surplus” say that with great technology comes great responsibility (alright, neither of them said that, really), but that technologies are a potential that we can harness and shape if we choose to participate. For Nye, this was more in the scope of choosing technologies that represent our values instead of basing our values on the technologies available. Shirky gives a model for what harnessing technology looks like: it can look like Pickuppal.com, and the grobanites, and couchsurfers.com. He says that if we band together and use the capabilities the internet provides, we can utilize the technology to reach our desired means. This could be as simple as saving money on a commute to work to the global impact of reducing a community’s carbon footprint. Shirky also talks about the more banal internet uses like creating pictures for lolcatz.com. I think that since the technology is readily available, we ought to spend less time looking at and making funny/stupid cat pictures (or on Facebook, textsfromlastnight, twitter, etc) and more time using the internet to make the changes that reflect our values (be it better healthcare, more/less internet protection, or more reliable public transportation).

6. Just because the technologies are there does not mean we should let them interfere in our real-world interactions or our participation in the real world.

The convenience and prevalence of technology has made their public uses socially acceptable, however, they seem to be getting in the way of our relationships and interactions with the real world. In the article, “Antisocial Networking?” posted in the considered reply discussion, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/fashion/02BEST.html?_r=1&pagewanted=1&sq=texting&st=cse&scp=52, it seems that communication technologies, cell phones and networking sites like Facebook and Myspace, are replacing the real communication between people. In “The Shallows,” Nicholas Carr talks about the ways the internet shapes our interactions with the real world (or our lack thereof). In particular, he mentions using the internet for research to replace going to the library, which he says no one ever really liked doing. Even though we’ve eliminated the pain-in-the-ass of going to the library, looking up books, and having to read through them for the information we’re looking for, we’ve also lost the experience of stumbling upon information when reading a book, or learning an entire idea instead of just the meat of what we’re looking for, which is what we get when we do an internet search. Kurzweil says in “The Singularity is Near” that before we know it, we will be living in virtual reality and be one with technology. In class, the reaction was that these two needed to get a life—to get a girlfriend or get friends. Even though this is our reaction, the majority of responses to the cell phone discussion said that we’d prefer not to speak directly to our friends, girl/boy/friends, so I believe we should stop giving up our real relationships for the relationships with our technologies (before we turn into Carr and Kurzweil).