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The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology Paperback – January 15, 1988

ISBN-13: 978-0226902111 ISBN-10: 0226902110 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1st edition (January 15, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226902110
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226902111
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Langdon Winner is professor of political science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the author of Autonomous Technology.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Phil Ozoffer on March 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
In The Whale and the Reactor, Langdon Winner asserts that technology is inseparably connected with politics, in that the technological decisions we make are often decisions significantly shaped and motivated by political forces. Some of these politically shaped technologies are obvious, such as those created for and used by the military. However, most are much more subtle. Winner provides an example early in the book about the bridges over parkways in Long Island, New York, describing how they are only nine feet tall. He then claims that these bridges were actually politically designed and built to achieve a specific social affect; to keep busses, and thus the poor and racial minorities, out of public parks.

Winner's primary intention is not necessarily to restructure or provide alternatives to the role politics has in technology, but rather to first recognize it. Winner asserts that the concept of technological determinism is much too strong, but claims that currently we exist in technological somnambulism, "willingly sleepwalking through the process of reconstituting the conditions of human existence." Although it need not be, technology, driven by politics, is shaping the world in which we live, rather than a cognitive society as a whole.

Winner also argues that politics also uses the promise of technology to restructure and format society to its liking. Many technologies need a specific structure around them to function at their greatest potential. By controlling technology, something society has blindly placed their faith in, politics can in turn control the structure of society necessary for technology to prosper.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Tom Gray on February 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
In this book, Langdon Winner presents a philosophical description of the position of those who oppose the paramount place technology has taken in society. Central to Winner�s argument is his observation that technology is inherently political. He presets two ways in which this is so. The first, which is rather unconvincing, is that a piece of technology can be used as a means of political coercion. He cites the fact that Robert Moses designed the overpasses on the parkways around New York City to be so low as to prevent buses from using them. This ensured that low-income people could not live in the communities adjacent to these parkways which was a political aim of Moses. Now Moses used technology in this case but since technology represents the means by which things are done in the world, this seems to have been inevitable.
Winner makes a much more convincing case for his second form of politics in technology. Any technology requires a compatible environment to work in to achieve maximum efficiency. People who benefit from a specific technology will through political means strive to change society to achieve this compatibility. Specific technologies carry their own political imperatives.
Now in itself the co-evolution of society and technology is not necessarily harmful to human society. Modern technology requires and educated work force and hence drives a political imperative for an educated middleclass population. The needs of technology and a beneficial state of society are compatible in this case. However Winner does not see it this way. He sees technology as an independent force for change that will indifferently discard traditions and social structures that are incompatible with it.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas M. Kothari on February 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
The debate that our book club spawned from the material was intense and exciting.
This book clearly defines an interesting problem that is hidden underneath a complex facade of consumerism and innovation. Winner chooses not to offer alternatives to our pursuit of unlimited technology, but instead, he describes certain aspects of technology, such as politics, that should be taken into consideration as society blindly accepts technology on a product-by-product basis. How are we being limited?? This is an important question to ponder as you read this.
His way of citing examples is actually VERY humorous and embarrassing at times, which makes the book easy and enjoyable to read. Instead of being told WHAT to be aware of, he sets up a method that informs the reader on HOW to be MORE aware of the technology around us and the implications of it. I believe that this a very effective way to make people think without ranting about political views, etc.
I wish they would reissue this book with a beautiful cover design, it truly deserves more attention.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
A fascinating read. Thoughtful, intriguing, insightful. Professor Winner's book investigates the impact technology is having on our society in ways you are not likely to have previously considered.
My reaction was the same as I had when first exposed to Emerson's writings: "Hey, he's absolutely right! Why hadn't I thought of that? It's so obvious -- now that he's connected the dots for me."
If this topic interests you at all, and it should given that you utilize the web to search for good books, you will absolutely fall in love with this book. Guaranteed.
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