Sunday, February 11, 2007

Turning 50...

...and feeling good. Had a big talk today with Wanda about where I stand in life and career and we both agree that flashy, splashy people get all the press and influence too much.
Here is a great link to that thought regarding technology. The linked blog is about a book by David Edgarton, The Shock of the Old.

Here is some from the link:

There are certain bits of received wisdom that nobody normally challenges. Such as: we live in an era of constant, accelerating change, that innovation is the key to economic survival, and that we all travel everywhere by personal jetpack. OK, I made that a bit obvious. That's the problem with yesterday's futures. They're so yesterday. Yet the same people who were so sure about the jetpack future didn't have the slightest inkling that by 2006 we would be flying to Budapest for lunch on a whim, for pocket money. On planes seemingly little different from the machines the world's elite used to fly in the 1950s.
What's happening? Why do things not change according to the headlines? Why is white-heat-of-technology Concorde a fading memory while the utterly conventional Boeing 737 rules the skies? Why won't vinyl records go away? Why are killer diseases such as malaria not eradicated, as everybody assured us they would be in the 1960s? Why don't we live in titanium pods, served by robots? Because people were thinking jet-pack when they should have been thinking bicycle.
This is the fertile territory explored by Professor David Edgerton of Imperial College in his new book, The Shock of the Old. In it he eviscerates our obsession with novelty. It's time, he argues, to look at the history of science and technology in a new way. It's blindingly obvious, really. Instead of recording the history of when devices and processes were invented or predicted, why not look at the way we really use things?
For Edgerton, the problem is not that technology has been ignored - we can't get away from accounts of it - but that those accounts have been idealistic rather than pragmatic. They incline towards glamour, drama, spectacle. The humble soldier's rifle - Lee-Enfield or AK-47 - was massively more important in 20th century warfare than the V2 missile or the atom bomb, he points out. But a basic killing tool like the rifle doesn't make good television - or good political capital - like the V2 missile or the atom bomb. Weapons of mass destruction, anybody?
"A lot of our understanding of 20th century global history is shaped by a very particular understanding of technology that may not be that useful," he remarks. "I'm not saying that there isn't very, very dramatic change. On the contrary, I want to highlight the fact that there is change. But in terms of the technology that is actually used, it's very different from the stories of invention and innovation that are told. Those stories are very narrow - our creativity is much more general than we think."
In other words, we've got it all wrong. Corrugated-iron sheeting and bicycles feature more prominently in all our lives than the Apollo moon missions and nuclear submarines. "For example, motor car technology continues to change. Steel-making technology continues to change. Textile technology continues to change. And all those are changing our lives today," he says. Glamorous, no. Important, yes.

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