03 June 2011

When Our Inventions Invent Us

Of all inventions institutions are unique: they are the only inventions that, in time, invent us. Institutions like school, business, church, government and media define the individual’s life. A seven-year-old child has little choice about whether he is educated within an Afghani Wahabi school, where he is taught that America is evil, or in an Oklahoma City elementary school, where he is taught that America is good. Yet by the conclusion of either education, the individual will have learned to defend what he is taught. One of the first things that any institution does is teach its members how to defend that institution. 

There are no other inventions that program into their users this defense of the invention. Phonographs become CD players with little protest. Horse-drawn carriages become automobiles; telegraph gives way to telephone. Yet individual Jews, Christians or Muslims will die protecting their church. Austrians, Mexicans and Ethiopians will die protecting their country. Institutions do not just shape the life of the individual; they readily sacrifice those lives in order to survive.

The question is whether its possible to create a generation that is not institutionalized. Such a generation could treat institutions as tools rather than, be treated as tools by these institutions. It seems to me that such a remove will be necessary before we can engage in social invention in the same way that we now engage in technological invention. 

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