My Two Favorite Technology Policy Books of the Past Half-Century

by on July 12, 2013 · 0 comments

Future and Its Enemies coverTechnologies of FreedomI was honored to be asked by the editors at Reason magazine to be a part of their “Revolutionary Reading” roundup of “The 9 Most Transformative Books of the Last 45 Years.”  Reason is celebrating its 45th anniversary and running a wide variety of essays looking back at how liberty has fared over the past half-century. The magazine notes that “Statism has hardly gone away, but the movement to roll it back is stronger than ever.” For this particular feature, Reason’s editors “asked seven libertarians to recommend some of the books in different fields that made [the anti-statist] cultural and intellectual revolution possible.”

When Jesse Walker of Reason first contacted me about contributing my thoughts about which technology policy books made the biggest difference, I told him I knew exactly what my choices would be: Ithiel de Sola Pool’s Technologies of Freedom (1983) and Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies (1998). Faithful readers of this blog know all too well how much I love these two books and how I am constantly reminding people of their intellectual importance all these years later. (See, for example, this and this.) All my thinking and writing about tech policy over the past two decades has been shaped by the bold vision and recommendations set forth by Pool and Postrel in these beautiful books.

As I note in my Reason write-up of the books:

The past 45 years have seen remarkable advances in information technology: the Internet, mobile communications, ubiquitous news and entertainment options, and much more. What made these and other innovations possible was a general openness to the unplanned, the unpredictable, and even the uncontrollable. In our willingness to embrace a world of uncertainty and incessant change, we found unparalleled technological abundance. No two books more eloquently captured and celebrated the information age than Ithiel de Sola Pool’s Technologies of Freedom and Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies.

And I conclude by noting that “While plenty of tech pundits and academics cling to… stasist thinking today, Pool and Postrel’s books continue to provide beacons for a better world, free from the top-down, technocratic mentality and prescriptions of the past. At least thus far, permissionless innovation has largely trumped the precautionary principle in tech policy. Let’s hope the dynamist vision can hold the line for another 45 years.”

Head over to Reason to read the rest of my essay as well as all the other excellent books that contributors have recommended as part of the symposium.  There are some really great selections in there.

And if you care about the future of technological freedom and human liberty and progress more generally, please do read (or re-read) both Pool and Postrel’s books when you have a chance.  They changed my life and they will change yours, too.

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