RE: Aunger speaks

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Thu 14 Nov 2002 - 14:05:34 GMT

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            <The media folks believe writing and printing have precipitated major
    > discontinuities in human culture.>
    Yep. Quite aside from obvious people like McLuhan, someone I've recently come across who draws on what he refers to as "evolutionary epistemology", has addressed the history of information and communication technology from an evolutionary perspective. Paul Levinson offers this position in a number of books, but the one I've been looking at is called 'The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution' (1997, Routledge).

    I think his understanding of evolution might be as wobbly as Aunger's biology apparently is, although I'm not really qualified to judge either author on those bases.

    Basically Levinson's argument is one of "soft" technological determinism, whereby information and communication technologies had major societal consequences, but not necessarily ones intended or forseen by the inventors of the technology (which would be "hard" technological determinism). He compares this to natural selection whereby adaptations persist more by accident than design. I've haven't read the whole book yet, but I guess he means something akin to one idea about how insect wings evolved out of adaptations providing better heat regulation for the insect, and then eventually could be used for other purposes like flight. Similarly, the telephone was intended by Bell to be a device to help the hard of hearing, not a means of long distance communication.

    I don't know if the analogy works any better or worse in this sense than in the memetics sense of cultural evolution. But it's another iron in the fire.


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