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Protopian

I was reading Kevin Kelly’s Reddit IAmA from last year and I really liked his definition of “protopian”. In response to the question, “As a radical techno-optimist, what do you think is something people believe technology can/will do that you think it can’t?” Kelly answered, “I am protopian, not utopian. I believe in progress, that things are getting better by a little bit. I don’t believe that we can eliminate problems without introducing new ones.”

Reminds me a bit of Adam Gopnik’s framework for how people think about the internet (and technology generally):

The Never-Betters believe that we’re on the brink of a new utopia, where information will be free and democratic, news will be made from the bottom up, love will reign, and cookies will bake themselves. The Better-Nevers think that we would have been better off if the whole thing had never happened, that the world that is coming to an end is superior to the one that is taking its place, and that, at a minimum, books and magazines create private space for minds in ways that twenty-second bursts of information don’t. The Ever-Wasers insist that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that a new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others–that something like this is going on is exactly what makes it a modern moment.

I’m with the ever-wassers and Kevin Kelly. I’m incredibly optimistic, but I am also realistic about the complexities of the world and the challenges that even the most amazing technologies can introduce.

December 12, 2014

Comments

  • Gary says:

    The challenge then is remaining an ever-wasser. That’s why Kevin Kelly and others of his generation remaining so open to change, are so interesting. I’m seeing the change happen daily with my kids showing me how things could be and are going to be. Fluxing between realistic and optimistic seems to be a prerequisite for being a protopian.

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