technology and perception

In an interview done back in 1994 (and since then more or less spread around half the world because it’s been released in a way that effectively allowed non-commercial redistribution), William Gibson, Canadian author and god-father of cyberpunk, was asked to name the invention being in his opinion the most important piece technology came up with, to this day. He found quite a good answer on that one:

“…My favorite piece of technology is the Walkman. It forever changed
the way we perceive music. The Walkman has given us the opportunity
to listen to whatever kind of music we wanted wherever we wanted. …”

Though quite some time passed since I both read this interview and most of the books he wrote so far, I still sometimes remember that very quote in various situations of dealing with technology in everyday life.

Why?

Because I think this is a pretty good approach towards any sort of technology: Just think of inventions, devices, gadgets (and most of the things you need to put batteries into) as extensions of our current capabilities, as tools that in some more or less influential way change the way we percieve our environment, the way we do certain things in everyday life.

Think of digital cameras: I started taking photos years ago during my childhood days, using an old-fashioned camera with very old-fashioned rolled films, being very basic and yet functional. Taking pictures always involved having to wait until the film was all filled up, then turn it in for development, wait quite some time and then finally one day recieve the pictures altogether. It was a lengthy process, sometimes I took pics and just saw them very much later because I didn’t in time manage to get the film all filled up… sometimes I tried some things with my camera which didn’t work out in the end and it took months to finally see the pictures were just too dark or too bright or unusable in other respects. Because it also was not really inexpensive (you had to buy films, to pay for the development and the pictures), taking pictures was a hobby done just once in a while.

Nowadays, we’re talking about digital cameras, and at least after people started including them into cell phones, they’re everywhere. Some days ago I also recieved a new telephone including such a sort of gadget, and, well, what do you know… Of course, the quality of the pictures you take with this camera is absolutely lousy, doesn’t compare to the pictures taken with a good film-based SLR camera or even a digital camera device which is a little more expensive, but that’s not the point.

The point simply is: It’s _there_, all the time. Since I take my phone with me most of the time, I now also got a camera with me most of the time. And though I probably never thought I would, I am by now also using it. In a certain way, it changed my way of looking at taking pictures, from “done-once-in-a-while” to merely being sort of an everyday routine task you don’t think about that much, anymore. It’s there, you get used to it, and after spending some days you start taking pictures of almost everything that looks interesting even in the slightest way. You’ll by then also find that there are lots and lots of interesting views all around you, and every day you’ll find it easier actually percieving, seeing them. Technology changes how you look at the world, and, in a bigger, connected way (talking about photos and perhaps communities like flickr or fotolog) changing, extending our communication, our horizon, the network of people we’re sort of connected to.

And so, even if Gibson in the same text prove not to be too visionary while talking about e-mail and fax and while he admitted being almost without understanding how most of these new technologies work, perhaps he’s right after all:

“I’m not a techie. I don’t know how these things work. But I like
what they do, and the new human processes that they generate.”