RE: Aunger speaks

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Thu 14 Nov 2002 - 15:08:46 GMT

  • Next message: Vincent Campbell: "RE: Mini case study of memetic mutation"

    > <The media folks believe writing and printing have precipitated
    > > 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
    >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,
    >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
    The law of unintended consequences is a driving force in memetic evolution. Look at the internet. Originally invented for DARPA to maintain communications during a nuclear war, it became a tool of science when universities got brought into the circle and went totally crazy when the public caught on and took to it like they took to books when the printing press made books cheap and easy to reproduce. Today's internet bears little or no resemblance to the original idea or purpose for which the technology was invented, although it proved useful for that purpose on 9/11 when the communications around the New York area were knocked out by the towers falling and the flood of calls from all parts of the world.


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