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Technology Matters: Questions to Live With

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262140935
ISBN-10: 0262140934
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Technology can seem like an implacable force that gathers power as it advances and abruptly transforms society. But Nye, a scholar who carefully studies the symbiotic relationship between humankind and its tools, observes that creating tools and technologies has always been intrinsic to being human, and that while it seems as though we're being controlled by technology, we are in fact making choices about which technologies we embrace and how we use them. In an accessible narrative spiked with clarion examples and nimble interpretations, Nye poses a series of leading questions that guide readers to a more accurate perception of the unintended, unpredictable, and serendipitous evolution and impact of technology. How does technology influence how we interact with nature, how we care for ourselves, and how we learn and work? Are our technologies improving our lives or limiting our horizons and endangering our very existence? The issues pertaining to the role of technology on earth are complex and ever more urgent, and Nye provides an invaluably methodical and provocative primer. Donna Seaman
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"Nye's book addresses many of the issues and debates surrounding our highly textured technological society, and these are reflected in the questions he asks. Does technology control us? Does it lead to cultural uniformity or diversity? To sustainable abundance or to ecological crisis? To more security or escalating danger? The book is rich in examples, is easily readable and is short enough to be recommended for a day's read."

"The incessant march of technology's evolution is the subject of David Nye's very readable book. It is written in the form of questions and expansive answers, with read like a primer (if not a discursive catechism) on what historians of technology have been thinking about over the half-century or so since their field was formalized. One of the striking effects of Nye's treatment is that it leads the reader to the incontrovertible conclusion that the answers to questions about technology evolve no less than technology itself. This is hardly surprising: thinking and writing about technology can be as creative a pursuit as inventing."
New Scientist

"A deeply informed historian who writes with impressive clarity, David Nye persuades us in Technology Matters that we should ask the kind of life-shaping questions about technology that we customarily pose about politics and economics. He does not finally answer the timely questions that he explicates, but provokes us to search for our own answers."
Thomas P. Hughes, author of Human-Built World: How to Think about Technology and Culture

"Applying the lessons of history to modern-day dilemmas, Nye defies much common wisdom about the power of technology in society. With irony and wit, he exhorts us not to succumb to defeatist notions of technological determinism but to take charge of our own human destinies."
Arthur Molella, Director, Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Institution

"In the field of technology studies, David Nye stands out for his ability to distill complex issues into concise frameworks. This book masterfully crystallizes debates about the social and cultural impact of technology into ten questions that in their very asking demonstrate how philosophical concerns about technology are, as always, concerns about ourselves."
Marita Sturken, Associate Professor, Department of Culture and Communication, New York University

"Technology Matters provides a scintillating and sweeping assessment of how technology and culture have shaped one another over time and how humanity's future will be shaped by the choices we make today. Nye's latest analysis of the reciprocal interplay of technology and culture extends his more academic work to a broader audience and does so in a clear and engaging manner."
Jeffrey K. Stine, National Museum of American History

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 298 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (March 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262140934
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262140935
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,782,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David E. Nye's publications focus on technology and American society. He was born in Boston but spent his childhood in rural Pennsylvania. He was educated at Amherst College and the University of Minnesota. He has taught in both the United States and Europe, and he has lectured in every western European country. Author or editor of 20 books, he has won grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Leverhulme Foundation, and national research councils in Denmark and Holland. He has appeared on NOVA, the BBC, and Danish television, and has been a visiting scholar at the universities of Cambridge, Leeds, Harvard, MIT, Warwick, Oviedo, and Notre Dame. In 2005 he received the Leonardo da Vinci Medal, the lifetime achievement award and highest honor of the Society for the History of Technology. His most recent book, America's Assembly Line, will appear with MIT Press in 2013.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The title is one that will often elicit the response, "Well Duuuuh!", yet that should not be said with any great emphasis, for the content backs it up. Nye points out that if a society can be insular or universal it is possible for technological progress to be reversed.
He cites the example of Japan, which rejected guns and contact with Western nations. The warrior class "forgot" the knowledge of how to make and use guns in favor of the more pure weapons of swords and the other Samurai tools of battle. However, once the American Commodore Perry sailed into Japanese waters to "convince" the Japanese leadership to open up the country, they understood that the days of isolation were over.
The other example noted is that of Amish communities in the United States. These groups selectively filter new technologies, incorporating only the items that they believe will not dramatically alter their society.
However, these two examples are very much the exception through human history. The Japanese islands remained free only because the western powers made no attempt to control them. It was the only country in Asia that was not made either a direct or de-facto colony of a Western nation in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The Amish maintain their insular culture only because they are part of a society that provides them the legal and social protection to do so.
The global nature of the world has changed the situation; it is now possible for potential new technologies to be introduced slowly or not at all. Given the successes in cloning mammals, it is nearly certain that humans could be cloned. Yet, there appears to be universal agreement to delay or even ban the technology.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John A. Daly on August 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David Nye in his book, Technology Matters, persuasively makes the case against technological determinism, suggesting instead that culture and technology interact, each evolving in ways affected by the other. I enjoyed the book, especially as an introduction to a large body of literature on technology and society. I came away from reading the book with a strong hope that we learn how better to make technological decisions, for example by improving the use of advisory bodies for government and corporate decision makers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A. Pickett on October 11, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this as a required text for a course. But I have to say, Nye's commentary is so much better than that of my professor! It opened my eyes to politics, history, sociology, and psychology as much as it did to technology.
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful By emloughl on December 11, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book was a required reading for a University course on Science, Technology & Society.

This book provides a very great set of fundamental questions to ask in order to understand the way that society interrelates with technology. In addition, he structures many of his analyses with interesting anecdotes to add flavour to the discussion.

The downside behind this is that anecdotes are often *all* that are given, and the structure of his arguments are so often flustered and lost in a great mist of examples and stories.

In addition, although the book begins by stating that it will remain unbiased, allowing for an open and objective observation of these questions, this statement is quickly tossed out and the author indulges in endless opinions and conclusions made to each of these questions. Put concisely, he provides answers to each of these questions, as if they are "the" answers. He doesn't allow the reader to come to their own conclusions.

What's worse, is that the arguments he makes are riddled with logical fallacies, and are based primarily on anecdotes with very little structure or reasoning.

For instance, in Chapter 3, Nye asks the question "Is technology predictable?". He cites a study that shows that, of over 1000 peer-reviewed papers on the prediction of technologies in the future, 1/3 were correct, 1/3 were incorrect, and 1/3 were yet to be determined. He then went on to conclude that prediction of technology was no more accurate than guessing, or "flipping a coin". Thus, he concludes, technology cannot be predicted.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By CJWCA on December 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book outlines a brief history of technology and the social uses of each innovation. The interaction between technology and society cannot be ignored, which is a great consideration in this great monograph. Easily something to consider for the rest of your life.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book raise important questions and is well written and researched. Though I disagreed with the author sometimes
his points are reasoned and researched. He discusses both the positive aspects of technology and the sometimes frightening
questions surrounding. Mind-expanding.
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