What Technology Wants

what-technology-wantsA couple of years ago, Robert Krulwich, one of the affable, avuncular hosts of WNYC’s Radiolab, interviewed a very leading-edge guy named Kevin Kelly and another writer, Steven Johnson – also very interesting but it’s Mr. Kelly I’ll focus on here. Kevin Kelly can include in his resumé that he was an editor of the Whole Earth Catalog and is the founding executive director of Wired magazine. I thought I should listen.

In his book (which I’m just now reading)  What Technology WantsMr. Kelly proposes that the ” . . . global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us . . . has some degree of autonomy. “ To my great relief he names this agitated entity The Technium and not The Matrix.  And he tempers the notion by saying, “I don’t believe the technium is conscious (at this point).” OK, the tempering is tagged with foreboding but let’s not go there right now, Mr.  Anderson. He fleshes this out with the idea that technology has “ . . . needs, a compulsion toward something . . . The technium wants what we design it to want and what we try to direct it to do.” More provocation . . .

I began to see humans as nodes of the technium; it creates us and flows through us and we create it and it extends beyond us, behind us and around us. There is a strange creepiness about all of that (it can lead to Keanau Reeves with a coupler in the back of his head) but there’s also a very interesting, useful and even transformative aspect to it.  It seems natural that such an idea would flow from someone who cut some teeth on The Whole Earth Catalog.

I finished Kelly’s introduction and returned to my current project, a transcription of “Fats” Waller’s smashing tune,  A Handful of Keys. I decided that I’d use the project to test drive a program I’d known about but had never tried: Transcribe! It’s a great app designed by folks who know what a music transcriptionist needs to organize a project. But I was a little disappointed with the quality of the slowed-down audio, so I pulled up the always-reliable  Amazing Slow Downer.  Yep, it was indeed easier to pick out pitches and rhythms but I didn’t have the interface that let me see the timeline with markers and all of the other transcriptionist’s tools . . .

The technium wants the Transcribe! interface with the ASD gizmo.!

But then I thought, “No, that’s just the direction the technium wants to go. What the technium really wants is the SmartMusic slow-downer / speed-upper gizmo with the Transcribe! interface.” Because, the amazing thing about the SmartMusic gizmo is that it preserves note attacks in real time and then loops the sustained pitches in stretched time.  Anyone who has listened to the bbbwwwwaaaaaaa of a slowed-down wind instrument attack knows what I’m talking about . . .

And then I thought, “The technium wants to reach even further.  What it really, really wants is the SM gizmo plugged into Finale®.” Then a waveform can be beat-tracked to measures on a musical staff and the transcriptionist can hear a clear attack, get it right and enter it – all in one app . . .

Well, truth be told, it didn’t all happen in exactly that order. As soon as I heard the SmartMusic gizmo with its real-time attacks I wanted it plugged into Finale. That was several years ago. But now I know that the technium wants it too.

Make it so!