Internet of Nothings

Internet of Nothings

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The "Internet of Things" or the "Quantified Self" are examples of recently-emerged stages of technological evolution. We take for granted that smart devices will be the perfect replacements for our dumb tools. But these assumptions are worth examining more closely! The philosophy of technology is a new and fascinating field that deserves engagement from those who build the structure of technology itself: programmers, engineers, geeks, designers, etc… It's surprisingly difficult to give a precision definition of technology or speak fully about its character, and yet it is obvious that it is the defining essence of the present age.

As a lifelong geek and programmer, I'm a big proponent of technology. As a philosopher, however, I'm cognizant of the need to take a critical stance towards especially the things I love most. And as a linguist, I know how hard it can be to talk clearly about the elements of our lives which are so central to them that they form the backdrop of every utterance. Thus we need a conversation about the operating assumptions of technology and the channels it carves into the bedrock of our relationships with others, ourselves, and our natural world.

JavaScript is at the practical cutting edge of these philosophical issues---it's the language everyone knows (or is learning), and you can use it to do everything from creating a social network to hacking together Internet-connected devices in an afternoon. JavaScript makes it *easy* to Quantify the Self and make an Internet of Things. But these are concepts worthy of a critical rethinking. What are "things", anyway? How did they function in the matrix of human meaning for most of history? How is technology reshaping that function? Why should we care? What are the ramifications of treating myself as an I/O device?

Such questions need to take a prominent place in our discussions and public debates. For who else is in a position to reflect deeply on the technological enterprise, if not us, the holders of the keys to technological advancement?


Jonathan Lipps

June 28, 2014