Schroeder’s Rewilding and Personhood

I’ve been gobbling up books by Karl Schroeder this Winter, and have become fascinated by his idea of the “rewilding.” Here’s a short video where he talks about the concept. To summarize, the re-wilding is the concept that, once computers are in everything, the sum total of the things that those computers are embedded in will become like an entity and advocate for itself (or, at least, this is how I understand it). Schroeder also gets at this in his book Ventus which is an interesting read that hints at speculative futures.

Two thoughts I have on this that create a strange tension:

  1. Much of my work is in embedded, interconnected objects. Something like the rewilding seems very possible, considering the technology is nearly there today. Embedding computers into objects and materials is already happening with things like “smart homes” and digital fabrication technologies. Computers are ubiquitous, and so, what happens if (and when) they become computational representations of allĀ kindsĀ of physical and natural objects? The rewilding is one possibility.
  2. On the other hand, we seem to be completely running in the opposite direction of this possible future. Two humorous examples involve assigning personhood to non-person entities. One example being the personhood we’ve assigned to corporations through Citizens United. The other, if the good people of Toledo get their way, is assigning personhood to lakes. In this future, everything is a person, and as such, is assigned the rights of personhood. This seems to be a dangerous future for us, where we spiral even further into human-centered narcissism.

On the one hand, we have a technological inevitability that, perhaps inadvertently, could lead to the de-centering of the individual by flattening the ontology of things. On the other, we have a desperate future where everything is a person. I’m not sure if I understand how these two things reconcile themselves.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

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