It's Technology All the Way Down

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To be human is to be a user (and maker and remaker) of technology.

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Jezebel's Lindy West makes a profound point about the desire to fix a certain technological era as the "natural" one. She also makes it in the funniest way possible:

Humanity isn't static--you can't just be okay with all development up until the invention of the sarong, and then declare all post-sarong technology to be "unnatural." Sure, cavemen didn't have shoes. Until they invented fucking shoes! (You know what else they didn't have? Discarded hypodermic needles. Broken glass. Used condoms.) They also didn't have antibiotics, refrigeration, written languages, wheels, patchouli, the internet, and NOT LIVING IN A ROCK WITH A HOLE IN IT. But I don't see anyone giving any of that up in the name of "health." Hey, why not install a live gibbon in your fridge so you have to fight it to get to your bison jerky? Just like nature!

I think people should (and cannot help but) shape the technologies that they use. But I despise the easy recourse to "natural" that some technology opponents want to make. Because the alternative to 21st century technology is not "nature" but some other technologically-mediated reality. Tired of staring at a computer all day? Well, go back a 100 years and you'd have been working in a grueling factory all day. Go back another century and you'd have been tending a field all day. Go back 500 years and more than half of your children would have died before the age of five. And yet you'd *still* be using all kinds of humanmade objects and systems. As we read yesterday, humans may have been deploying fire for 1 MILLION YEARS. No matter how far back you go, you'll find us shaping our environment. It is technology all the way down.

But that realization is a good thing. Rather than misdirecting our efforts pursuing an impossible and hazy dream of the natural, we can fight to reshape our tools to align with our social goals, realizing that part of what it is to be human is to use, make, and remake tools.


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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