Putting the Fun Back in Tech

Among the technocracy – at MIT and beyond – inventing the future and having fun aren’t mutually exclusive.

Inventing the future is a difficult business, which is why the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – the owner of this publication – can be a rather serious place. MIT students are even serious about goofing off: consider the planning that goes into the clever hacks perpetrated upon the Great Dome, the campus’s architectural centerpiece. In past years students have redecorated the 46-meter-high dome as R2-D2 and topped it with a police cruiser.

In that spirit of serious play, we present what we’ve taken to calling the “summer of fun” issue. We haven’t, of course, abandoned our focus on emerging technologies. You’ll find plenty new to chew on: a new algorithm from IBM that could make search engines more intelligent (see “Smarter Search); genetically engineered fluorescent E. coli bacteria that can signal environmental changes (see “Bacterial Sensors); even an animatronic squirrel that uses social cues to manage your telephone calls (see “Executive Squirrel). But in this issue, we’ve mainly chosen to draw out the social and personal meanings of novel technologies.

Two of our features this month – on the rise of “continuous computing” and the promise of “nutritional genomics” – are previewed later in this section. Both are concerned with how technologies can change very basic, social parts of life: community and food. The third (a kind of fun travel story) is about the Kingdom of Bhutan, a poor Himalayan nation with some unusual ideas about how it should modernize and use new technologies (see “Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise?”).

This story is part of our August 2005 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Traditionally, Technology Review hasn’t written that much about society. Our subject matter is emerging technologies, and they have historically been purchased by corporations, universities, and governments. That’s because emerging technologies used to require an extraordinary capital investment, one well beyond the means of most people in their private capacities. Nor did most people see the need to experiment with really novel technologies. Thus the personal computer, the local-area network, the Internet itself were all first used in commercial, government, or academic settings.

But this is changing. The spread of cheap laptops, handheld devices, affordable Internet access, Wi-Fi, and a dozen other consumer technologies has led to a wonderful explosion of new social applications for them. But here’s the really interesting thing: most of these social technologies have simple editing and programming tools that let ordinary folks do innovative things that risk-averse corporations and government agencies would be hesitant to try. We suspect that Technology Review will be writing about the impact of new technologies on society much more frequently. Besides, social technologies are more fun.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from undefined

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

You've read of free articles this month.