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Our Own Devices: How Technology Remakes Humanity Paperback – June 8, 2004

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Our Own Devices: How Technology Remakes Humanity + Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (Vintage)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (June 8, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375707077
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375707070
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,080,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“An intellectual thrill ride. . . . [A] memorable mosaic, a big picture that illustrates how human progress is half a matter of striding and half of stumbling. . . . Illuminating reading.” —The New York Times Book Review

"In this stellar fusion of how we design and use technology, and how technology in turn transforms us, the simple shoestring is a . . . path to understanding everything that matters. . . . Tenner brings both scholarly precision and droll humor to his topics."
ThePhiladelphia Inquirer

“This quirky romp . . . explores how common objects redefine us as fast as we redesign them. . . . Tenner offers many profound insights.” —Wired

“Accessible, elegant. . . . Tenner covers a remarkable broad canvas. . . . He has an eye for the odd detail and the little-known fact. . . [and] will take you to some fascinating places.” —Boston Review

From the Inside Flap

From the author of Why Things Bite Back? which introduced us to the revenge antics of technology?Our Own Devices is a wonderfully revealing look at the inventions of everyday things that protect us, position us, or enhance our performance.

In helping and hurting us, these body technologies have produced consequences that their makers never intended:
? In postwar Japan traditional sandals gave way to Western-style shoes because they were considered marks of a higher standard of living, but they seriously increased the rate of fungal foot ailments.
? Reclining chairs, originally promoted for healthful brief relaxation, became symbols of the sedentary life and obesity.
? A keyboard that made the piano easier to learn failed in the marketplace mainly because professional pianists believed difficult passages needed to stay difficult.
? Helmets, reintroduced during the carnage of World War I, saved the lives of countless civilian miners, construction workers, and, more recently, bicyclists.

Once we step on the treadmill of progress, it?s hard to step off. Yet Edward Tenner shows that human ingenuity can be applied in self-preservation as well, and he sheds light on the ways in which the users of commonplace technology surprise designers and engineers, as when early typists developed the touch method still employed on today?s keyboards. And he offers concrete advice for reaping benefits from the devices that we no longer seem able to live without. Although dependent on these objects, we can also use them to liberate ourselves. This delightful and instructive history of invention shows why National Public Radio dubbed Tenner ?the philosopher of everyday technology.?

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Robert I. Hedges HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
"Why Things Bite Back" stands as one of my favorite books, and is definitely the best single volume available on the unintended consequences of technology. I was, of course, eager to read Edward Tenner's "Our Own Devices," a volume more focused on the historical adaptations of a select few technologies and man's co-evolution with them.

Tenner intentionally selected mundane technologies that get no more than a passing thought on a daily basis, and in several cases not only tracks historical adaptations of specific inventions and technologies (the history of the baby bottle, or eyeglasses, for instance), but also contrasts the diametrically opposed ends of the technological spectrum as it applies to what are similar design constructs (for instance posture chairs versus reclining chairs, and musical keyboards versus text keyboards.)

The scope of Tenner's research is astounding, and makes seemingly mundane items interesting. Particularly strong are the chapters on the zori (a sandal), and eyeglasses. In the chapter on zoris, for example, Tenner documents the work of a Liberian craftsman, Saarenald T. S. Yaawaisan, who recycled old sandals into toy helicopters until he had acquired all the used sandals in Monrovia, at which point he began purchasing new sandals to make into toys. The story goes on to explain the subsequent problems with Monrovian sandal recycling vis-a-vis the release of dioxin into the environment. This illustrates the fanciful research Tenner put in to make this an eminently readable book.

My favorite chapter, and one that will strike a chord with many readers is on the history of eyeglasses.
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9 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Fecklar on June 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
The book finished more interesting than it began, but overall the book was a disappointment. Many of the topics were interesting - shoes, chairs, music and text keyboards, eye glasses - and occasionally the writing was interesting.

Mr. Tenner's style was more academic - many facts and dates and names - but he rarely made any of the people or situations come alive. If he followed that path, the book would have been far more interesting and entertaining. For me, what makes history is not the the facts and figures, but the people and the color of the situation.

After reading the book I have many interesting tidbits of information, but unless someone is HIGHLY interested in the history of chairs or one of the topics in the table of contents, I can not recommend they pick up this book. I wish I could.
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10 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A. Hasan on August 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
Tenner gives loads of citations and research but doesnt even have a thesis. He rambles off example of interactions between humanity and its technology. His writing style is poor and will lose you in his trail of thought. He is very bad at describing what he is thinking. He never actually "says" anything. All he does is present research.

He very rarely, if ever, derives a conclusion from what he brings up. He should not be called a philosopher of everyday technology, because at least in this book, he never actually does any thinking.

Very very poor. I would not recommend it at all.
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