Technology is anything that was invented after you were born.
I have always liked that definition, but had no idea where it had come from, until coming across this post from Kevin Kelly, who attributes it to Alan Kay.
Kelly continues with a couple of expansions of Kay’s thought which I hadn’t come across before. The first is taken from an essay by Douglas Adams (written in 1999 on this new-fangled internet thingummy):
1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.
Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.
The second is the simple, but insidiously powerful line:
Technology is everything that doesn’t work yet.
Kelly ascribes it to Danny Hillis, Adams uses the same line but says it comes from Bran Ferren – but as they are partners at Applied Minds (a company with possibly the least informative website in California) it comes to much the same thing. As Kelly comments,
Buried in this sly definition is the insight that successful inventions disappear from our awareness. Electric motors were once technology – they were new and did not work well. As they evolved, they seem to disappear, even though they proliferated and were embedded by the scores into our homes and offices. They work perfectly, silently, unminded, so they no longer register as “technology.”