How Technology Works

Kevin Kelly's Apple II

November 8, 2010: 12:49 PM ET

How a founding editor of WIRED learned to live with technology like the Amish do

Kevin Kelly. Photo: Fashion Tribes

My favorite part of Kevin Kelly's new book "What Technology Wants" is the story he tells about how his first computer -- an Apple II -- changed his life.

You see, although Kelly is one of America's most influential tech writers -- he was the editor of the Whole Earth Review, one of the founders of the Well, a founding editor of WIRED and author of Out of Control (which the creators of The Matrix required that all their actors read) -- he keeps technology at arms length, living his life without broadcast or cable television, a laptop or a smartphone.

In his most recent book -- a natural history of technology as if it were a living, evolving organism with its own unconscious needs and tendencies -- he tells how he dropped out of college and wandered for nearly a decade through remote parts of Asia in cheap sneakers and worn jeans, "with lots of time and no money."

"The cities I knew best were steeped in medieval richness," he writes, "the lands I passed through were governed by ancient agricultural traditions. When I reached for an object, it was almost surely made of wood, fiber or stone. I ate with my hands, trekked on foot through mountain valleys, and slept wherever."

When he returned to the States, he sold what possessions he had, bought an inexpensive bicycle, and rode 5,000 miles across America, where the closest thing he found to the state of minimal technology he had experienced in Asia were the Amish communities of eastern Pennsylvania.

At age 27 he retreated to some woods in upstate New York where he built a house with beams he carved himself from oak trees using a chain saw -- a power tool that taught him, as he puts it, "that some technologies are simply superior to others."

Then someone loaned him an Apple (AAPL) computer. He writes:

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