Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Many people ask my what Neoteny (my company's name) means. It means the retention of childlike attributes in adulthood. I first heard it from Timothy Leary when we were working on a book together. (It was called "The New Breed" about the techno youth culture. We never finished it, but I still have a pile of notes. Maybe I should get around to publishing some of it someday...) Tim loved the word. He used it to mean all of the great things that you often lose in adulthood such as curiosity, playfulness, imagination, joy, humor, wonder, etc. It is a biology term that the people in evolutionary theory use to when discussing traits that we retain in adulthood like lack of body hair, etc. There is a good web site about Neoteny at

Adulthood in the past meant that you finished learning most of what you needed to learn and you switched to production mode and started focusing on repeating tasks and narrowing your focus. I think that with the amount of change in the world today, it is impossible to "grow up" and finish your learning. I think Neoteny will become more and more of a survival trait in the future.

On the other hand, Neoteny means some strange things as well. It is sometimes used in the context of sexual preferences, stunted growth and other problems. When Jun was joining Neoteny and he asked a high school student whether they knew what Neoteny was and the student said, "Giant tadpoles". So, there are pros and cons.

When I say Neoteny on the phone, it is often mistaken for New Otani. There was a company callled Neonagy (ne is roots, onaji means "same" so they meant "our roots are all the same" in Japanese.) and many people make mistakes and call us Neotony. But, I think that as the world starts to focus on biotech, I'm glad I picked this name instead of e-blahblahblah, i-blahblahblah, Netblahblahblah, or blahblahblah incubator. ;-)

NEOTENY, AND THE FUTURE OF HOMO SAPIENS A short contribution from Victor Serebriakoff

Neoteny describes the fact of evolution, that the new species emerge from the form of the young of the evolving species. The hominids arose from the Bonono or chimpanzee stage because their young stayed young longer, they remained experimental, playful whimsical longer and longer. There is, with homo sapiens, a developmental pause at the age of three which continues until the sudden changes of puberty. Homo has the longest period of immaturity of any creature on Earth. It is almost two decades from the stage of an almost helpless, senseless and completely dependent baby until the fully developed adult.

And this tendency appears to continue. We may notice that while most of humanity stop play and begin to work most of the daytime in their early twenties and play only in their spare time, there is a significant minority who continue to play all the time. They are usually the most gifted and talented, they become scholars, students and artists and occupy themselves with tasks for which their is no immediate substantial gain for themselves, intellectual tasks in fact. This is a continuation of childish behaviour and that minority contains all the intelligentsia. With the development of automation, the increase of prosperity and the availability of unlimited energy - see later contribution - the proportion of the neotenous minority will increase until it become a majority, I believe.
Victor Serebriakoff.

An article called "Awakening genius in the classroom"

1 Comment

Please finish this book. I'm very curious about the topic. Especially if it has some historical perspective... i.e. maybe answering the question: "with prolonged education and economic wealth in the US, is neoteny becoming more common?"