A recurring theme in science fiction is the idea that one day, our technologies will become self-aware, grow their population, and take over the world. Of course, humans will still be around, otherwise there’s no story, but they will be second-class citizens to the tools that they invented.

I've often wondered why self-awareness always comes first. Perhaps it's because it makes for a more interesting storyline. After all, a technology doesn't need to be self-aware to be self-reinforcing.

A couple of years ago, Nielsen ran a study that showed that the average teenager sends more than 100 text messages a day. Adults might get startled or nostalgic when they hear this, but the kids, for the most part, are happy. They like being in touch with their friends, and are not so concerned about the fragmentation of their attention or their dependence on their devices. Their phones are an extension of themselves.

If there were a textbook example of a viral technology, SMS may be it. Its use facilitates its spread. People get texts, and they respond. The responders then at some point become initiators, and the story goes on. Eventually, even the kids who don't want to be attached to their phones don't have such an easy choice. In a culture where everybody sends each other 3000 texts a month, you get left out if you only send 30.

There is a story of Bill Joy asking Danny Hillis what he thought about the scenario in which humans one day merge with robots. Danny responded that the changes would come gradually, and we'd get used to it.

That's the way it is with technology. We get used to it. I will get older and sound like a Luddite when I suggest that a hundred text messages a day might be too much. That will simply be the pace of modern life.

When the mechanical clock was invented, one of its early uses was to set the arrival and departure times of factory workers during the industrial revolution. At the time, people hated the idea of getting to work at a certain time; it felt like the ultimate victory of machine over man. Now, it's seen as responsible behavior.

But if aliens come from outer space and see people wake up grudgingly every morning to the beeping of an alarm clock, they might wonder who is the master and who is the tool.