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The Moral Dimension of Technology

by Kevin Kelly

What technology brings to us individually is the possibility of finding out who we are, and more important, who we might be. During his or her lifetime, each person acquires a unique combination of latent abilities, handy skills, nascent insights, and potential experiences that no one else shares. Even twins—who share common DNA—don’t share the same life. When people maximize their set of talents, they shine because no one can do what they do. People fully inhabiting their unique mixture of skills are inimitable, and that is what we prize about them. Talent unleashed doesn’t mean that everyone will sing on Broadway or play in the Olympics or win a Nobel Prize. Those high-profile roles are merely three well-worn ways of being a star, and by deliberate design those particular opportunities are limited. Popular culture wrongly fixates on proven star roles as the destiny of anyone successful. In fact, those positions of prominence and stardom can be prisons, straitjackets defined by how someone else excelled.
Ideally, we would find a position of excellence tailored specifically for everyone born. We don’t normally think of opportunities this way, but these tools for achievement are called “technology.” The technology of vibrating strings opened up (created) the potential for a virtuoso violin player. The technology of oil paint and canvas unleashed the talents of painters through the centuries. The technology of film created cinematic talents. The soft technologies of writing, lawmaking, and mathematics all expanded our potential to create and do good. Thus in the course of our lives as we invent things and create new works that others may build on, we—as friends, family, clan, nation, and society— have a direct role in enabling each person to optimize their talents—not in the sense of being famous but in the sense of being unequaled in his or her unique contribution.

However, if we fail to enlarge the possibilities for other people, we diminish them, and that is unforgivable. Enlarging the scope of creativity for others, then, is an obligation. We enlarge others by enlarging the possibilities of the technium— the greater ecosystem of technology – by developing more technology and more convivial expressions of it.

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