The Myth of Invisible Technology

June 2016, by Olaaf Rossi

We are working on a project at Awaken Group where the stakeholders involved say that the best technology is “invisible technology.” It has one wonder about the desired outcome of that statement. I suppose that there are a few possible interpretations:

“I don’t want to see technology, but I want it to help me.”
“I don’t want to be bothered by technology, but I like what it enables for me.”

Is this actually true? How do you not interact with something, yet experience the resultant of it? How is it possible to use something, have something help and shape you, but also have it be invisible?

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Let’s take our current electronic devices: increasingly, we experience others and ourselves through the mediums that they create such as social media, smart phones, and advertising. These experiences are no less real than others—we hear of children committing suicide because of cyber bullies, flame wars over politics, and marriage proposals put forth by suggested that we “change our online status.” Even if you power down your smartphone, leave it in a drawer, and hop on a flight to India, the emotions that you have from your interactions there are still with you.

Or, consider future neural implants or even bio/nanotechnology: it will be physically invisible, yes, yet it has wide ranging ramifications in our very beings. What kind of people do we become when we have digital chips implanted onto our brains? We won’t need smartphones or AR glasses as the technology will be totally physically invisible. We’ll have digital projections in our eyesight and in our thoughts. Our very future lives, our modes of interaction, our souls would be drastically different—we would be forging a different kind of relationship with our machines.

As Ray Kurzweil wrote:

“As we enter the 2030s, there won’t be clear distinctions between human and machine, between real and virtual reality, or between work and play.”

My argument is that there is no such thing as invisible technology—we can choose different sorts of relationships to our machines and it’s the individuals who have to determine that relationship. However, no matter what sort of relationship you’ve chosen, the technology has left its mark in some way; it’s sometimes the medium itself that leaves the biggest mark, though this doesn’t need to be a bad thing.

As Glen Slater wrote about the movie E.T.:

“The space visitor ‘calls home’ by rigging up a device from an assortment of electronic toys and uses wind power to keep it working. His gadget vividly contrasts the oppressive technology of the grown-ups trying to keep him on earth. What is apparent in these images is a psychic proclivity for a more Hermetic style of technology—a hands-on inventiveness that uses odds and ends (like Hermes’ lyre) to solve a problem. It is the very opposite of the monolithic technology that eviscerates body and soul in these stories.”

The space visitor was more human in his relationship to technology than the grown-ups on Earth. What does that bode for us as people, as many believe that scientific discoveries and their application are synonymous with human progress? Choose your relationship wisely.

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About Olaaf Rossi
Olaaf is a project engineer at Awaken Group, where he primarily works on digital, software, and IT strategy projects. He has worked in technology since 1999, and also founded several technology firms in New York, ranging from application development to media system consulting and implementation.