Zee Spencer

Agency, Society, and Invention

I've become convinced a life well lived requires a high level of personal agency.

I believe this not from rational introspection or a position of moral highground; but from noticing the things which make me happy or sad, bring me joy or rage, or drive me to engage or withdraw.

Before we can continue, I'd like to explore the definition of agency.

A poor, yet working, definition of agency

Agency is ones ability to choose how to live their life.

Consider the available resources we all have:

  1. Time
  2. Physical strength
  3. Emotional presence
  4. Mental attention

Someone with high agency effortlessly chooses how to spend these resources. Someone with low agency struggles to choose how to spend these resources.

What does this have to do with society?

If you agree with this definition of agency, the following statement may be reasonable:

A useful measure of society is how it increases or decreases the agency of the people who dwell within it.

What does this have to do with invention?

Again, we must start with definitions.

Invention is the placement of a thing or idea into a new context

Inventions are frequently placed into a societal context, and as such have an impact upon that societys agency.

Inventions tend to enable or disable individuals in interesting or unintended ways. Consider the television. It increases availability of things one could spend their mental energy on without ever leaving the home!

However, it's also a conduit for subtle(or less so!) conditioning which influences how people "choose" to spend the limited resources we have available.

Tying it all together

As we build the inventions of this generation, we are responsible for considering the impact of the things or ideas we are building on the agency of the society they are being placed into.

Practical Steps

Some of the questions I like to ask myself when choosing what to invest my resources in are:

  1. Who is likely to have their agency impacted by this thing or idea?
  2. What are the positive ways this will impact their agency?
  3. What are the negative ways this will impact their agency?

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