Radical techno-fundamentalist Kevin Kelly has posted another manifesto that is quite remarkable (even in the context of Kelly’s mindbogglingly uncritical body of work) for its steadfast refusal to acknowledge that a research program might somehow be misguided. Kelly never ceases flogging the idea that if a computer scientist is working on something, then it is our future: not a possible future, but the future. The research program in this case is the continuous archiving and retrieval of personal experience, which Kelly refers to as “lifelogging.” (This terminology is presumably in accordance with the Wired magazine style manual, which requires that any technology or practice deemed to be “inevitable” be given a catchy name of the form [noun + verb + ing], see e.g. crowdsourcing.)
Kelly begins by extolling the glorious benefits lifelogging will bring. Then he gives example after example of lifelogging failing to be useful or usable. But no matter! For true believers like Kelly, failures are just speedbumps on the road to guaranteed success. One is reminded of our president’s similar blindness to failure or mistakes of any kind as he stares into the bright shining light of his desired future. The strong evidence that lifelogging isn’t needed, isn’t wanted, and doesn’t solve the problems it claims to solve is irrelevant, because lifelogging is “inevitable” and will soon be “pervasive.” “Skeptics” might complain, and might even try to prohibit lifelogging, but these naysayers should be ignored. Kelly’s message is that resistance is futile, so we might as well begin adapting our laws, culture and norms now.
But resistance is not futile, and CARPE technologies are not inevitable. People can and, I expect, will reject lifelogging, for the very reasons that Kelly cites in his article. The central flaw in Kelly’s reasoning (other than his rampant technical determinism) is a belief in “information” as some phlogiston-like magical substance that will, if gathered in sufficient quantities, empower us to live better lives. But as Daniel Yankelovich argues in Coming to Public Judgment, what people lack is not information, but the realization that they can exert influence over the world in which they live. Kelly is ready to cede this influence entirely to the computer scientists and product developers at Microsoft. I am not.