Watching Technology, Entertainment, Design Lectures (TED Lectures) just now, I took in a couple of Kevin Kelly presentations.  Then I visited his blog.

Kelly is writing a book and inviting feedback from visitors for his emerging ideas.  I remember a similar process engaged in by Orson Scott Card for a book he was writing ten years ago or so.  Card was writing fiction.  The end result was disappointing.  Kelly is exploring the nature and ramifications of technology.  I expect the results will be profound.

In one of the TED Lectures of Kelly discussing the ideas he’s playing with as he writes his book, he describes technology as a seventh earth biota emerging from human machinations.  While looking at Kelly’s blog, it hit me that the principles I work with might apply to technology.

I left the following message on Kelly’s blog…

“I study the effects of neoteny and acceleration on human evolution and societal transformation.  This was called heterochronic theory over 100 years ago.  It is a biological evolutionary principle popularized for a time by Stephen Gould in his 1977 book, Ontogeny and Phylogeny.

Heterochronic theory traces the effects of changes in the rate and timing of maturation.  These effects can be profound.  Gould and others estimated that the effects of neoteny or the prolongation of ancestor infant features into the adults of descendants (modern humans) have an enormous amount to do with how we became human.

My own work explores these patterns as they influence the evolution of society.  (See neoteny.org)  Reading your work I am stunned by the possible application of these same principles to the evolution of technology with possibly predictable trajectories.  In other words, the ancestor stages of technological development may be influencing the manifestation of new technologies, as brand new discoveries are incorporated at earlier and earlier stages of our societal ontogeny.

Ontogeny may not only recapitulate phylogeny, but technology may recapitulate ontogeny.”

Consider the possibility that the speed and direction of technological innovation may have a structure isomorphic to biological evolution.  In biology, changes in maturation rates and timing influence the allometric shape, size, behavior, reproductive strategies, neurologies, physiologies and psychologies of individuals and species.  Exploring the history of technology might reveal a similar kind of mutability.

Most obviously, a product developed for use by adults, once accepted and assimilated, will work its way backward to be used by younger and younger members of our species.  Consider the reverse.  Toys, possibly having started as an adult technology at an earlier time and worked their way down to early childhood, may be carried forward by its young proponents to manifest later in adult ontogeny in another form.  An example of this might be sewing machines making possible the game of dress-up turning into avatars in virtual realities.

This still presumes a correspondence and inevitable integration between various iterations of technology and human ontogenetic stages.  Consider that technological forms themselves may manifest heterochronic tendencies independent of what stage of humans are using the devices.  In other words, ancient technologies hypothetically can be observed to prolong themselves into eventual modern forms.  This would assume that technologies manifest themselves in cycles equivalent to a single human lifespan, with beginnings, middles and ends.  Let’s say between the year 1500 and the year 2000 there were 10 product cycles in a particular technological succession.  Over that time the cycles may have grown shorter and shorter, starting at 75 years, ending up around 4 years.  Let’s say each cycle matured around halfway through the cycle.  If an aspect of the technology in the year 1505, early in the ontogeny of cycle one, appeared later in cycle 3, even later in cycle 5, emerging halfway through the cycle in cycle 8, then we could conclude that early aspects of cycle 1 were prolonging their way into later aspects of cycle 15 if those aspects were manifesting in the fourth year of cycle 15’s four-year cycle lifespan.

Do technologies have cycles?  Indeed.  In the gift industry, there are repeating trends with increasingly more sophisticated derivations.  Tracing evolutions of technologies or how technologies inspire new technologies is one thing.  Observing the prolongation of early cycle features into the later stages of descendant cycles seems as daunting as following how the later stages of ancestor technologies manifest earlier and earlier over time in later cycles of descendant technologies.

Obviously, a few examples at this point would go a long way toward making clear the potential patterns we are exploring.  Maybe readers at this juncture could jump in?


Comments

This entry was posted on Monday, July 27th, 2009 at 6:25 am and is filed under Neoteny, Ontogeny, Society. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
2 Comments so far

  1. EquiisSavant on July 28, 2009 3:17 am

    I agree with the proposition that technology can change biology. Computers, cell phones, things like Twitter — all good examples. It changes our brain neurology, for one thing. I will answer your last e-mail of a week ago when I get out from under a law project I have had to work on all week. (On computers.) But I had to comment here, too. I really think you are on the right track, and should develop this idea.

  2. trolololo on July 8, 2010 2:43 pm

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