Doug Bruns

My life has sprinted parallel to the advancement of silicon technology.

In Philosophy, Technology, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas, Thinkers on May 11, 2010 at 6:05 pm

I was three years old in 1958. That was the year Jack Kilby demonstrated a continuous sine wave from his integrated circuit to the management team at Texas instrument. That was the year modern technology was born.  It was the first successful working integrated circuit. He had been wrestling with what was poetically referred to as the “tyranny of numbers.” This specific tyranny was one of size and scope. In order to get the computing machines to work as the engineers suspected they could, they required more and bigger components. The machines were taking up entire rooms, and to make the situation especially humbling, every thing had to be soldered to every other thing, by hand. Kilby solved the problem by using a single piece of semiconductor material. He was awarded U.S. Patent 3,138,743 for “Miniaturized Electronic Circuits” in 1959. In 2000 he got the Nobel prize in physics.

My life has sprinted parallel to the advancement of silicon technology. I have been alive from the birth of the chip to the iPad. Heidegger, who was 69 when Kilby overthrew tyranny, had already written (tellingly?) about the relationship between authenticity and non-technical modes of existence. Sartre had thrown in the towel, declaring western culture hopelessly inauthentic, offering little hope for recovery. He was 53.  They didn’t know technology as we know technology. Somewhere along the personal time-line, a few years after Kilby’s chip,  I discovered Henry David Thoreau and his experiment in the woods.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what is not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…

I don’t wish to infer that technology makes for less authenticity. But, Thoreau, whose opinion I trust,  suggested a threat incubating in the pre-dawn of modern existence and I think I should pay heed. His existence, that existence which would drive him to the solitude of the woods, was primitive compared  to our  post-Kilby reality. But it’s only a matter of degrees, I suspect. The point being, add up enough degrees and you have an angle, angles stretch wide enough and before you know it,  you’re 180 degrees from the direction you wish to be headed.

I have no idea what to do about any of this, wondering if action is even warranted. I only worry, not having gone to Walden and not knowing if I am practicing resignation or not, that I will misstep and fumble awkwardly tripping into the/my future. Mostly, I think that is already the case.

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