We rented a scooter, my sister and I, and decided to ride the damn thing all the way from Candidasa on one side of Bali to Ubud, almost all the way on the other. On the way my lower back began to ache and, to my eternal frustration, my sister was determined to knock her helmet against mine as frequently as possible.
So we took a lot of breaks. At one point, during an expanse of comfortable roadtrip silence, we both breathed in deeply. There is a smoky, bonfire-like smell to the developing world that has either been lost or covered up by modernity. It is the burned fields of farmers yet to discover genetic agriculture. It is burned trash. It is cooking fish fresh from the sea, cigarettes without filters, bon fires in rusted trash cans to stay warm. The smoke pervades everything: clothes, hair, the foggy dew of morning.
There is so much to write about and so little time to do so. I’m especially excited to announce a project that I’ve been working on for the past few months, but first need to finish up some final to-do’s so that it is ready for announcing.
Right now I’m back in Linz where a group of 40 or so geeky artists have spent our weekend judging thousands of entries for this year’s Prix Ars Electronica. I was lucky and spent most of my time in the digital communities session with Regine Debatty, Alessandro Ludovico, Haitao Huang, and Felix Stalder. Even more interesting than all the digital communities we reviewed were our more theoretical discussions about how digital communities have evolved (for better and worse) over the past five to ten years and what impact online society has had on offline society. Or is there even a real distinction any more?
The earliest adopters of new media tools – those of us who spent a good part of this decade writing pseudo-manifestos about the democratizing nature of new media – now seem to be on the frontline of a re-emerging movement of techno-skepticism. Meanwhile all those who asked me, time after time, ‘why would anyone want to know what I’m eating or when I go to the bathroom’ are tweeting their hearts out. Literally.
No one else writes as eloquently, in my opinion, about the good and bad of technology as Kevin Kelly. I can’t wait to read his upcoming book, The Technium, even if it is just a polished version of the blog. I read a recent post of his this morning that brought me back to Bali and its smoky, scooter-saturated highways twisting through brightly covered rice paddies. Some excerpts:
I remember the smoke the most. That pungent smell permeating the camps of tribal people. Everything they touch is infused with the lingering perfume of smoke — their food, shelter, tools, and art. Everything. Even the skin of the youngest tribal child emits smokiness when they pass by. I can hold a memento from my visits decades later and still get a whiff of that primeval scent. Anywhere in the world, no matter the tribe, steady wafts of smoke drift in from the central fire. If things are done properly, the flame never goes out. It smolders to roast bits of meat, and its embers warm bodies at night. The fire’s ever-billowing clouds of smoke dry out sleeping mats overhead, preserve hanging strips of meat, and drive away bugs at night. Fire is a universal tool, good for so many things, and it leaves an indelible mark of smoke on a society with scant other technology.
Living in a world without technology was a refreshing vacation, but the idea of spending my whole life there was, and is, unappealing. Like you, or almost anyone else with a job today, I could sell my car this morning and with the sale proceeds instantly buy a plane ticket to a remote point on earth in the afternoon. A string of very bumpy bus rides from the airport would take me to a drop-off where within a day or two of hiking I could settle in with a technologically simple tribe. I could choose a hundred sanctuaries of hunter-gatherer tribes that still quietly thrive all around the world. At first a visitor would be completely useless, but within three months even a novice could at least pull their own weight and survive. No electricity, no woven clothes, no money, no farm crops, no media of any type — only a handful of hand-made tools. Every adult living on earth today has the resources to relocate to such a world in less than 48 hours. But no one does. The gravity of technology holds us where we are. We accept our attachment.
We are not the same folks who marched out of Africa. Our genes have co-evolved with our inventions. In the past 10,000 years alone, in fact, our genes have evolved 100 times faster than the average rate for the previous 6 million years. This should not be a surprise. In the same period we domesticated the dog (all those breeds) from wolves, and cows and corn and more from their unrecognizable ancestors. We, too, have been domesticated. We have domesticated ourselves. Our teeth continue to shrink, our muscles thin out, our hair disappear, our molecular digestion adjust to new foods. Technology has domesticated us. As fast as we remake our tools, we remake ourselves. We are co-evolving with our technology, so that we have become deeply co-dependent on it. Sapiens can no longer survive biologically without some kind of tools. Nor can our humanity continue without the technium.
I highly recommend the entire article.