325--Week 1 Questions/Comments

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The essays collected in chapter one attempt to define the term “technology” from different angles. Marx traces the perception technology from one of mechanical arts to a more general and abstract use that categorizes progress. What allowed for the transition in how technology is perceived today? – Jessica Kilday

In the article, “Do Artifacts Have Politics” the author discusses the importance of considering social and cultural implications of technology within the context of the time in which it was developed. The example of the bridges constructed in New York show how the upper classes benefited from the overpasses and how intentionally other social classes were not included. It’s a good example, but it seems like a similar pattern naturally emerges with any new technology. When first developed, it may be hard for most people to enjoy the benefits. So, my question is, when looking at the social implications of technology does it necessarily have to be the best and newest form in order to be considered a technological advancement or should it be one that is more widely benefited by a larger number of people? --Jessica Kilday

I first want to say, is it me or is the text a little wordy? Seems to me this could be explained a little more easily. Anyway to answer what Jessica said in my opinion progress seems to always be measured by technological advances. In History as I have been thinking about it, our achievement has been linked to some sort of tech advance. I think the transition of mechanical arts to technology came from greed. Like the tomato picking in California, replace the worker with a machine you don't have to pay. Anyway to make money the better, and with the industrial revolution we became a capitalist nation. Now in the 21st century I think we rely on computers, cell phones, calculators, etc way to much. Don't get me wrong I love my computer and phone just as much as the next guy, but I also feel that we have come a long way really fast and that is not always the best. Also maybe why the transition happen is because it's more marketable, everyone can have a piece of technology it's not just for the rich as in early days. I may have made no sence but I am just thinking out loud...Aislyn Cathers

I was reading people's responses and found I agree with Aislyn and her comments alot. The text seemed very wordy, especially the first couple essays. I don't want to say that it "sucked," but it definately came across a little dry. In addition, I believe that we also rely on high-tech devices more than we probably should. However, in saying this, I'm being hypocritical. oops forgot to add my name ---- Jeff Phillips

I agree with Aislyn's point that greed and power have a great deal to do with how technology is formed and the purpose behind it. Langdon Winner's article implies that technology embodies "specific forms of power and authority." In addition, he goes onto state that there is a common assumption that "technologies are introduced to increase efficiency, the history of technology shows that we will sometimes be disappointed." I think this quote concisely describes the majority of Langdon's point - sometimes technology is not used to better mankind - it is used to further prejudices or gain power or money. I think this is a fair warning that we are all shaped the the technologies around us, and we need to hope that the people in charge of major decisions like highways or bridges (as Jessica brought up) are in everyone's best interest. – Elle

I found it very interesting how technology has been perceived over the years. What actually is considered to be technology is a very complex question, it seems that each generation has there own idea of technology and it is every changing. -- Kellye Sorber

I found Winner's article very relevant to today. Everything is developed for a reason and typically only benefits the upper class when first introduced. It reminds me of the Ipod, when it first came out I did not know really anyone with one except celebrities, but as objects become more popular and technology improves new and better devices appear and those older ones that seemed so out of reach now become readily available for the majority. --Kellye Sorber

I think Langdon Winner's presentation of technology as a political tool is fascinating. However, I think his example of Robert Moses' overpasses being used as a cultural and social divide is an exception rather than a rule. To me, new technology is created for the improvement a single function or group of functions. Normally, it is not designed to specifically alienate certain classes or races of people. -- Laurence (Lon) LeSueur

Although some technological developments do have some sort of political impact, the motivation for their invention is far different. Certain technological developments aren't created with politics in mind, they're created to improve the world by making it more efficient or pleasant. --Lon LeSueur


I found the reading to be very eye opening for me, personally. I don’t think I was thinking of technology the correct way before the reading. I guess it is hard to say that there is a right or wrong way to view something as broad as technology but I do think that I had a narrow sense of the term.--Erin Sanderson

I think that Jessica brings up a good point with her question, and I can’t figure out based off of the reading what the answer would be. My instincts would tell me that a form of technology that is more widely benefited by a greater number of people would be more of an advancement than one that is considered “new” or “the best”. This is definitely something to talk about. --Erin Sanderson

The section "Masculinity and Technology" raises a couple of issues for me that I find very interesting. The author states that if one understands technology and has a skill, then one is truly a man. He explained that with the case of Frederick Douglass. Now, my first question is do we think that's a valid argument? Do we believe that people today still believe that you're wimpy if you don't understand technology? That you're not a real man? The next thing I found interesting was the notion that women are inferior and therefore should not be as technologically fluent. Technology has always been seen as far more masculine and a more manly skill to acquire. But with the dishwasher and the washing machine, and other such advancements, do you believe that the classification that technology = masculine is changing? Or does a large majority of society consider technology to refer to computers and other such items that the stereotype might not be different? -Kelly Wuyscik

In response to Kelly's point - I really had a hard time swallowing this Masculinity and Technology article. It raised a lot of questions in my mind as well. I can follow some of what Pursell was getting at, but there is a certain point where my "girl power" feminist-like mantra isn't enough to carry me through an article that ignores that technology TODAY is not necessarily all made for men by men. I agree that historically masculinity and technology coincide, but I would like to think that Leo Marx's definition of technology as a hybrid of words to describe one non-specific institution is best - with no implication that man or woman reigns supreme. I would really like to open this one up to discussion in class because I really would like to further dissect Pursell's argument, maybe I misread or overlooked something eye-opening. – Elle

I agree with Elle and also didn't quite agree with the Masculinity and Technology article. The author had a few valid points, but occasionally historians tend to take what they believe and attempt to stretch it to the "nth" degree to make a point. --- Jeffrey Phillips

Langdon Walker's article "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" and Donald MacKenzie's article "The Social Shaping of Technology" address the premise that technology itself is not merely technical. Rather, "technological advancement" brings social, economic, and political consequences that often have negative repercussions for different groups of people often lost in the historical narrative. We view the latest technology as the "best" and often do not consider the how "advancement" might effect the way society progresses and develops norms (Robert Moses' parkway overpasses discriminating against the poor and minorities). Similarly, the development of the mechanical tomato harvester by the University of California in the late 1940s put small tomato farmers out of business and cost thousands of people their jobs. As MacKenzie asks, what are the characteristics and qualities that make a certain mode of technology "best"? Who benefits from these new additions? -Bryan Lees

In her article, "Problems with 'Skill'" Nina Lerman discusses the hesitancy in using words such as skill, sophistication, and intelligence. Lerman argues that these words carry loaded meanings that people often associate with one's social status, ambition, etc. The term "knowledge" seems better because it covers all types of technology (churning butter to locomotive operation). I find Lerman's argument compelling because I believe that we subconsciously and consciously label people based on their "skilled" or "unskilled" labor. Part of the reason that I decided to take this class is because I knew that there has to be more to technology than just the basic facts of its invention, use, etc. Technology can reinforce stereotypes, social status, economic position, and more importantly, the value we assign to one another as human beings. -Bryan Lees

The first reading helped me realize that I, and I'm sure others, thought of technology and its modern usage as an older term than it actually was, and that technology to my grandparents' generation meant something completely different from what it means to our generation. --Lauren Milner

While I think Winner's article is relevant to the times, I feel the statistics are a bit vague at times. Yes the number of tomato growers have decreased from the thousands to hundreds but how many of them actually use this tomato harvester? And are the farms all big business companies? Also, in Mackenzie's article, I dislike the thought of having to ask "Best for whom?" Does this question really fundamentally matter? Can't something be just as good for someone as it is for another? Does something have to specifically be best for only one category of person or can one aspect of that thing be best for one person but another aspect best for the next? Just because a person is a woman (to use Mackenzie's example) does not mean that person will automatically agree on a technology with all other women. --Lauren Milner

I found MacKenzie’s discussion of “technological determinism” to be interesting. I think it’s a strange idea that there could be only one predetermined way for a technology to advance, and that it does so without any influence from society. I do, however, understand how the technology that succeeds could be considered to be “intrinsically” superior to the technology that “fails.” Hindsight is 20/20, after all. Of course, MacKenzie points out that it’s not necessarily superiority, but rather the early adoption of one technology and the improvements made to it that lead to creating a lasting technology. It sort of reminds me of the PC vs. Mac debate. Isn’t there talk about the PC dying out or something? If that’s the case, it’s likely that the Mac will be considered “intrinsically” superior by future generations. But then there are people who already think that. --Taylor Brann

Though the essays came from different disciplines, it was interesting to see how they overlapped. For instance, both the philosopher Winner and the sociologist MacKenzie argue against the idea of technological determinism. Historian Lerman and sociologist Latuor challenge the perceptions and handling of technology. Lerman feels that “technological knowledge” consists of simpler things than running machinery and computers, while Latour is disgruntled at the way science and technology studies are separated into categories by critics. --Taylor Brann

There are also different interpretations of technology. Leo Marx believes the rise of technology is represented in the replacement of simple tools with electrically and chemically powered things, as well as the replacement of family-owned firms with centralized corporations. Lerman believes that haying and sewing, simpler tasks often learned from family, involve as much “technological knowledge” as operating heavy machinery and programming a computer. -Taylor Brann

“Do Artifacts have Politics” by Langdon Walker and David Mackenzie’s “The Social Shaping of Technology” bring up interesting arguments revolving around dividing society and cultures. This is not a rule for new inventions rather should be viewed as an exception. Perhaps it is me having a biased opinion but I do not feel that technological advancements should be viewed as a bad thing or as a dividing tool for classes and feel that judging technology is unjust since it is there to help us as a whole and not hurt us.--Sean Marren

As far as technological advancements are concerned I really do not see them as a bad thing. By this I mean I do not feel that inventions were not aimed at hurting people by cutting jobs as much as helping create a more efficient way of getting jobs done. Yes with technological advancements there is always going to be a positive and a negative; however, one can not look too much at the negative if the positive is outweighing the negative. With that being said, I do feel that as a society as a whole we are far more dependent on technology than we should be which is causing problems. Some people lose their minds if they lose their cell phone when in actuality it truly is not that big of a deal.--Sean Marren

The idea that kept screaming out to me throughout the readings was the sterility of technology, despite (or perhaps due to) its innovations or deviations by the various cultures. Marx's explanation of technology as "no specifiable institution," and his seeming rejection of technology's importance to history evoke images of Blade Runner or Brave New World and their scorched earth destruction of anything remotely human. -Cash Nelson

That being said, Mackenzie's point about how everyone sees technology differently is completely unfounded without the generic nature of said technology. It is a wonderful catch-22 situation, quite honestly. We hate anything to be bland and dehumanizing, but we can't innovate on it unless it is essentially a blank slate. -Cash Nelson

I really enjoyed the view that was taken on by the essays of what technology is really defined as. It opened my mind to what is really considered as "technology." In my mind technology is only what we use today, i.e. computers, internet. This has been taught to me through living my life, but what I have not realized was that technology is just about everything through time that has made our lives easier or allowing us to have a better quality of life. i.e. heater etc. -- Jimmy Conroy

I also enjoyed how the the term technology is defined differently as time goes on; how technology was seen in the early 20th century compared to the 21st century. New farming machines that replaced mules was seen as new technology in the 20th century. This compared to a laptop of today did not have a relation to me, but as I read these essays they showed me that these are all forms of technology that can be related to each other as a history. -- Jimmy Conroy

I really like the article about the Hybrids. It really struck me how true it is that everything sort of meshes together today. You can start a conversation about one topic and end up on something completely different through a bizarre way of relating ideas. It's kind of neat to me. -Kelly Wuyscik

I read the text more focused as did that of Sean Marren. I can see his point of view on the advancements of technology a positive thing and to look at both sides to it the good and the bad. From the readings I thought more of the negative, mainly because that is the why I usually think of technological advancements, being less personal and dividing a person from society and the world around them. There was a time where I believe the new technologies were a positive addition to life, as in the 19th Century, but in the early 20th Century as car were becoming more popular it divided families at the same time as being a positive growth for society. The term technology used over time has morphed into completely different meaning, thinking from the reading, it opened my thoughts to more than just the ipod or video games.-- Maggie Wroe

I enjoyed how the readings for this week touched upon the different areas in which technology can be seen (gender, politics, society, etc). The article that I most enjoyed was Langdon Winner's "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" This article made me realize that technology does embody authority and power, which was clearly seen in his example of Robert Moses's road works. Another article in which I found interesting was Carroll Pursell's "Masculinity and Technology." I agree that technology is very much masculinized. An example that Pursell gave was how no one was buying the Edsel because the front end of it "suggested the female vulva." Here's a link to a picture of a Ford Edsel: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3e/Edsel_Citation_Convertible_1958.jpg - Melissa Graham

The reading I find most thought provoking is was the essay by Carroll Pursell. I also have noticed that no one has really commented on it (I think). The issue of gender studies has been a recent issue, as far as I know. Pursell states, “When gender has been raised as an issue, it is women, not men, who have been studied.” (p. 18) The socially constructed idea of masculinity drives historical study, especially as I have seen it in elementary school classrooms. This is a random connection, but I am sure everyone remembers studying the big and powerful guys in social studies (i.e. Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln). Another thing I found interesting was how she described the negative connotation of women with skilled trades resulting in fear of “economic competition and sexual emergence” before the Industrial Revolution, and of course seen during it (p. 18). She makes many strong arguments throughout the essay about why it is important to study gender, both men and women, as a catalyst that changes technology and many other areas. However convincing Carroll Pursell’s argument, I found that her topic sentence in the conclusion worthy of further investigation and confusing to me in comparison to her thesis.- Kirsten Walleck

I will have to agree with Kellye in that I enjoyed reading (most of) the essays on technology and the changing perception through the years. The authors’ writing strongly reflected their various background and specializations. Noticing the relationship helped me see each author’s point of view on technology and the relationship between the readings mentioned by Taylor. Overall, the reading provided a great basic knowledge of technology in the context required for this class.- Kirsten Walleck

I thought Langdon Winner's essay on technology and politics had boring arguments with interesting examples. Winner recognizes that its important to note the social system that technology is embedded into, but warns people have over-relied on that concept to ignore technology itself. I don't think that's true. The NY bridges example is demonstrative: to recognize the implications of the bridge, even Winner has to explain the original social context that the bridges were built into. --Matt Struth

I disagree with those who have written that in general, technology is progressive (in a good way) and that it isn't necessary to ask "Best for who?" These readings made me think of a science fiction short story I read when I was much younger. A feature of the plot was that technological elites in our society had already developed amazing new devices, like teleportation, but resisted sharing that technology for fear of putting truckers out of work. It makes you wonder- would teleportation be good or bad, and if you could create and release the technology would you do so? The benefits are obvious: life-saving medical applications (forget ambulances), super-easy and cheap vacations, etc. But so are the costs: not just lost jobs (which ultimately seems silly, because the economic benefits would easily outweigh) but also military applications. Asymmetric adoption of teleportation might lead some countries into wars they might otherwise have not fight. If India developed teleportation before Pakistan, what would stop them from teleporting nuclear weapons into Islamabad and disabling Pakistan's ability to retaliate (hopefully respect for human life)? This doesn't mean we should develop teleportation (or any new technology) but it does mean its important to put thought into how we implement it. I think this ultimately was the key idea in many of today's readings. -- Matt Struth

I find the lack of decisive opinion given by the editors of this book to be somewhat annoying. "We have taken the most generous position, namely that technology is whatever and wherever our essayists say it is... we hope that the question "what is technology?" will remain open through the end of the book..." Something about this just makes me feel like this is a cop out answer. We can't decide so we are going to let other people tell all their opinions so that everyone can have a say. I guess it could be looked at as a outlet to facilitating other scholars ideas, but hopefully at some point during this book the people getting credit for it might have an opinion of their own for us to ponder. -- Elle

I found the transition of the meaning of technology interesting. It began as something simple and transformed into more of a process. Marx uses the example that although the steam engine was the symbol of nineteenth century progress, it failed to represent the complex technological system that the steam engine relied on such as stations, signals, and tracks. This relates to Langdon Winner's article because the meaning of technology has evolved to the point where it is interpreted in a political way. --Karen Siegmund

In regards to the creation of new technology, referred to in the Winner article, I don't think that any artifact is created without an idea for its use, be that use be good or evil. The vast majority of inventions purposes can be easily deduced by most people. The Moses bridges case is an extreme one and I do not think that it is a very good representation of typical advancements made in any field. -Brian Brown

While I believe there is some basis for the article about masculinity in technology, I believe that it has been blown out of proportion. While there are many inventions that may appear to look like a phalus like object, that does not mean that they were designed with the idea of showing that it was created by a man because it mimics the shape of a man's reproductive organ. It is quite possible that the artifact in question was designed that way in order to increase its effectivity, ease of use, or it was merely a coincidence. I believe the author puts far too much weight on the idea that men are so insecure that they require to reassert themselves as being dominant over females whenever they invent something. -Brian Brown