The Missing Hyphen

My first event at ICFA today has been a panel on “technoculture”. The panel was made up of academics, and being academics they spent quite a bit of time discussing whether or not the word should be hyphenated. That’s not actually as daft as it sounds.

The central point here is that the interaction of technology and culture has been changing. For most of human history, although we are tool-using creatures, the majority of the interface between technology and culture was the provenance of specialists: the smith, the miller and so on. More recently, in the 19th and 20th centuries, human society has lived in the shadow of technology. It has worked in factories, ridden on trains, watched television, and feared the nuclear bomb. That too, however, is changing. These days technology is very much more personal.

We have had a personal relationship with technology for some time. The cyborgization of humankind began with things like armor and weaponry, or the potting wheel. It continued through the invention of eye glasses and the pocket watch. The automobile is an excellent example of how some humans spend much their lives interfaced with machines. The 21st Century, however, is rapidly becoming more and more about personal technology. We have mobile phones and MP3 players, we communicate via the Internet, and all of this (including the eye glasses) is rapidly converging into the overarching concept of wearable computing. We are not far off the point where we will put on our technology when we wake up in the morning, and interface with our environment through that technology in all of our waking hours. And if you believe the likes of William Gibson and Charlie Stross, we may one day live all of our lives within virtual environments.

So the hyphen is going away because technology and human culture are no longer separate things. We are technological beings now.

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