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For anyone interested in the questions and thinking behind how technology is impacting who we are as human beings, the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of Adbusters is a must-read.

Played as a dichotomy, The Natural World is one half of the mag, and flip it over and start at the other end and The Virtual World is the other half. It contains Adbusters’ usual thought-provoking and sometimes frustratingly challenging mix of art, commentary, articles, short meditations, low- and high-brow commentary. I particularly loved this quote from a 1994 (!) Harper’s Magazine article by Kevin Kelly, who is now the senior maverick at Wired Magazine, which is reprinted at the front of the Virtual half of the magazine:

“The Net conveys the logic of both the computer and nature. In nature, the Net finds form in, for example, the beehive. The hive is irredeemably social, unabashedly of many minds, but it decides as a whole when to swarm and where to move. A hive possesss an intelligence than none of its parts does. A single honeybee brain operates with a memory of six days; the hive as a whole operates with a memory of three months, twice as long as the average bee lives.

Although many philosophers in the past have suspected that one could abstract the laws of life and apply them to machines, it wasn’t until computers and man-made systems became as complex as living systems- as intricately composed as a beehive- that is was possible to prove this. Just as a beehive functions as if it were a single sentient organism, so does an electronic hive, made up of millions of buzzing, dim-witted personal computers, behave like a single organism.

Out of networked parts- whether of insects, neurons or chips- come learning, evolution and life. Out of a planet-wide swarm of silicon calculators comes an emergent self-governing intelligence: the Net. ”

This concept, of seeing technology (here the hardware and software that make up the web) as inherently natural (going along with the very arguable idea that humans are natural > humans create technology > technology is natural), goes against the grain of seeing tech as ‘apart’ from us.

Kelly goes back to this idea at the end of the reprinted piece when he writes:

“Instead of sucking the soul from human bodies, turning computer-users into an army of dull clones, networked computers-by reflecting the networked nature of our own brains and bodies- encourage the humanism of their users. Because they have taken on the flexibility, adaptability and self-connecting governance of organic systems, we become more human, not less so, when we use them.”