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Tools for Conviviality by Ivan Illich
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Tools for Conviviality (1973)

by Ivan Illich

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Ach, what to do about all this! This book was written in 1973 but is still well out in front any ideas I have worked up to. But then look at the crazy world around us! If ideas matter, if expression of ideas matters, how could the world have gone in the direction it has, with this book in the world? It's not an obscure book or an obscure writer, either! This is a serious puzzle!

What was the point of the Occupy Wallstreet movement? Well, it didn't seem to have a coherent message. But I heard a lot about the 99% and the 1%, the growing wealth inequality. Is the fundamental problem a matter of how industrial products are distributed? Perhaps the challenge is to increase industrial output so that everyone enjoy the comfortable lives currently enjoyed by but restricted to the 1%?

This is the perspective argued against in this book. The problem is not about who controls industry or how much industry produces or who gets to enjoy the outputs of industry. Instead, the whole structure of industrial culture is itself the problem.

Illich proposes that technology passes two watersheds as it develops. There is a point where technology really enhances the ability of people to engage with the world. Then there is a point where the technology has engulfed the world and comes to rule people. People are forced to conform to the demands of the technology, People become powerless to act, but instead are acted upon.

It's interesting to think about warnings like that of Stephen Hawking, that artificial intelligence could somehow take power away from people. From the perspective of this book, we have long ago passed deep into that territory. How would Illich write about this today! Look at how deeply information technology... mobile internet access... has restructured society, and enforced participation. Basic survival requires constant connection, keeping up with the ever shifting protocols, the browsers, the menus, the add-ons, the apps.

Illich talks about the impending collapse... well, that could take of the form of "B. F. Skinner's concentration camp" - how far have we fallen into that pit?

This is a compact and dense book, like a bullet shot from a rifle. Disturbing, almost shattering - I suspect even more than when it was written. It's like the medicine we should have taken long ago, and without which, yes, the disease indeed progresses just that way.

Now what? I will be reflecting on this book for quite a while! ( )
1 vote kukulaj | Jan 3, 2015 |
"Ivan Illich has aroused worldwide attention as a formidable critic of some of society's most cherished institutions - organized religion, the medical profession, compulsory education for all. In 'Tools for Conviviality' he carries further his profound questioning of modern industrial society by showing how mass-production technologies are turning people into the accessories of bureaucracies and machines."
  tyrnimehu | Aug 31, 2007 |
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Introduction: During the next several years I intend to work on an epilogue to the industrial age. I want to trace the changes in language, myth, ritual and law, which took place in the current epoch of packaging and of schooling.
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