Arnold Kling  

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Russ Roberts is also a fan of Kevin Kelly's new book. I still have not finished, but it continues to be interesting.

One aspect is that an invention goes through a life cycle. At first, it is "stuff that does not work very well" (pace Danny Hillis). Then it becomes utilitarian. Then, it becomes either in the background or useless. In the latter case, it is regarded as art.

Anyway, that probably does not sound like such a profound insight, but it's the one I encountered most recently in the book. Overall, there are many insights, some of which are profound.


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COMMENTS (3 to date)
Richard Hammer writes:

In the mid 1990s I read a handful of books on complexity/spontaneous-order. I found Kevin Kelly's "Out of Control" to be the best. So I expect to value this new book by Kelly. Thank you for notice of it.

Dave Schuler writes:

I think that the life cycle described is either wrong or enormously over-simplified. Some technologies are both revolutionary and practically perfect right out of the box and some never get beyond the “doesn't work very well stage”.

Starting a fire by the ancient method of rubbing two sticks together can be accomplished very nearly as quickly as doing so with a Zippo lighter—in seconds. It just requires a little skill.

The skill required to use the technology must be considered as distinct. Otherwise, why not compare the skills necessary to produce the tools for rubbing two sticks together (very little) with the skills necessary to produce the tools for making a Zippo lighter (substantial)?

We've been producing computer operating systems for nearly 60 years now. There have been thousands of them from GM-NAA I/O to the phone operating systems of today. IMO none of them work particularly well although today's OSs are enormously more complex than those of a half century ago.

Will they ever get beyond the “doesn't work very well” stage? I don't think so. They're too intimately entwined with the hardware whose use they facilitate and the tasks for which they're being employed both of which change rapidly.

JP98 writes:

Right now I'm very frustrated because there's a book I studied in grad school in the '80s that explored the idea of a life cycle of inventions -- and I can't remember the title or author for the life of me! At the time, it was very popular with academics in the material-culture area.

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