I can’t tell you what’s so great about Oliver Frljić’s rendition of Crime and punishment. I still enjoy the strangely pleasant afterglow, and feel that trying to express what caused it risks ruining it.
In fact if I’d try and say something about the play, it’d probably come out as though I hadn’t been too happy with it: The moral is depressingly dark, it’s hard to keep track of the intrigue since the same character can go by many different names, and there’s a constant soundtrack playing over the dialogue which makes it difficult to hear, even though I’m sitting close to the stage.
Still, I’m bewitched. And only vaguely aware of why.
Scenography and lighting is obviously part of it, as is the dream-like aural experience.
There’s also something about Gustav Lindh, the young actor who’s playing Raskolnikov. It’s the first time I see him, but as with all great artists his style is instantly recognisable while at the same time utterly unique. So physical, like there’s some strange sort of visual magnetism going on around him…
But really I‘m not too sure what I liked or why.
I guess I wouldn’t make much of a critic.
This is true for lots of things in my life. I know what coffee I prefer but couldn’t describe its taste. I can’t put my finger on what’s so special with the people I love and hold dear. I laugh out loud to Wes Anderson’s movies but couldn’t tell you what makes them funny. I feel firmly rooted in some geographies even though I’ve never lived there permanently (as I’m enthralled with Japan even though I’ve never been there). As for books: many of the ones that has made the most lasting impression, remains enigmatic to me.
The ability to not only know what you like but also being able to contextualise your opinions and package them so that they can be conveyed to others, is what I think of as being intellectual.
It’s a loaded term which is often used to label a certain kind of individual, but I rather like to think of it as a kind of approach.
A good friend of mine* has an intellectual approach to theatre, or at least that’s the way it seems to me.
(* the same person that goes by ‘Done-Done-Danni’ in Defining Done)
He pays regular tribute to Thalia just like I do, so it sometimes happens that we’ve gone to see the same plays.
Technology is one phenomenological bucket where I operate differently.
Tech is constantly on my mind, and as evidenced by the posts on this blog, it’s something I’m making a very conscious effort to not just experience but to really understand.
So do I have an intellectual stance in relation to technology?
I’m not sure it would be linguistically correct to say so. Because while the definitions vary, none of them include technology among the worthy objects of interest for an intellectual.
Here’s a snippet from Wikipedia:
An intellectual is a person who engages in critical thinking, research, and reflection about the reality of society, and who proposes solutions for the normative problems of society. Coming from the world of culture, either as a creator or as a mediator, the intellectual participates in politics, either to defend a concrete proposition or to denounce an injustice, usually by either rejecting or producing or extending an ideology, and by defending a system of values.
…wouldn’t you agree that this is a surprisingly narrow and exclusive definition?
I mean, what about all those folks who don’t necessarily “come from the world of culture” or who does’t “propose solutions“, “extend an ideology” or “participate in politics“?
What about if you simply want to explore what impact certain types of machine learning hacks can have on our roads? Or what the rise of AI means for psychiatric treatment? Or how writing open source software in the age of large language models affects copyright? Or how science and tinkering melds in how we look at engineering? Or how human nature is all mixed up into how we think about ‘cyber security’? Or how to best invest taxpayers money into R&D?
And what about if you look at all of these issues not from a general philosophical point of view, but based in understanding of the foundational technologies?
I think there seems to be a word missing in the English language for that type of person, so I’m going to go right ahead and propose one:
Let’s talk about the technolectual.
My spell-checker is trying to be helpful here saying that there’s no such word. Perhaps I meant technocrat?
The term technocrat was coined in the 1919 by California engineer William Henry Smyth, who used it to promote a form of government in which decision makers are chosen based on their scientific expertise. Or to make it sound less anti-democratic: “the rule of the people made effective through the agency of their servants, the scientists and engineers”.
Nowadays, in my book at least, the word technocrat has a pretty clear pejorative flavour to it, and perhaps rightly so.
Neither do I mean technologist. I know it’s a popular label, but to me at least it often has an evangelical ring that implies thoughtless optimism.
No, I really mean technolectual, and here’s my attempt at a definition:
An individual with a solid mastery of a craft, a scientific field or a technological domain, who uses his or her insights to formulate a personal opinionated stance, aiming to exert influence on society. Typically operating from the fringes of established institutions.
Here follows some of my favourite tinker-thinker-doers who I think merit to be called technolectuals:
- Atul Gawande
- Carlo Rovelli
- Camilla Pang
- Carlota Perez
- Christina Wodtke
- Christian Norlin (hi Christian!)
- Cindy Alvarez
- Donella H. Meadows
- Didem Gürdür Broo (hi Didem!)
- Ellen Ullman
- Heather Meeker
- James Bridle
- Jeff Hawkins
- Jonas Söderström (hi Jonas!)
- Josh Waitzkin
- Julia Ravanis
- Karen Pryor
- Katie Hafner
- Katrine Marçal (hi Katrine!)
- Ken Kocienda
- Marc Porat
- Madeleine L’Engle
- Max Tegmark
- Megan Smith
- Neal Stephenson
- Paul Ford
- Pepper White
- Philippe Squarzoni
- Robert Pirsig
- Rosalind Williams
- Sofia Lundmark (hi Sofia!)
- William Gibson
The list could go on.
But if so many brilliant people all belong to the same category, then how can it be that we lack a term to describe them?
I think that’s revealing.
In her book Retooling, Rosalind Williams writes about the headache this type of people cause at MIT, where she served as dean of Students and Undergraduate Education during the 90’s. Of course Williams doesn’t call them by the same name (she refers to them alternately as systems- and design people) but the technolectuals are still clearly recognisable.
They’re the people who spent their entire life trying to tackle messy real world situations. Problems that lack clear-cut solutions and resist fitting into the academic straitjacket. Which means the practitioners who struggle with them can’t so easily express their insights in ways that will garner the type of prestige that counts if you want to get anywhere in academia.
(In so many ways, Williams profiling of the technolectual is reminiscent of my father’s life story. Thanks for being such a trail-blazer dad!)
Why is it important to recognise the contributions of these people, starting by honouring them with an appropriate label?
It’s important for obvious reasons, but reasons that we still rarely touch upon in public debate. We need their voices because the very fabric of our society depend to such large degree on their work. We need to listen to them because they’re the forerunners who can give us a hint of where the puck is going.
Post Scriptum update: As one of my teenage daughters agreed that there was indeed a word missing in the English language, she went right ahead and coined it. As of the 16th of March, Technolectual is now officially part of Urban Dictionary’s vocabulary!