- Series: science.culture
- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; science.culture edition (May 13, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226359344
- ISBN-13: 978-0226359342
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.3 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #598,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Human-Built World: How to Think about Technology and Culture (science.culture) science.culture Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
All Books, All the Time
Read author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more at the Amazon Book Review. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
"Thomas P. Hughes presents a wide-ranging yet deeply insightful view of technology and how its relationship to society and culture has changed over time. Readers of this book will benefit greatly from Hughes's informed and understanding perspective on what technology is and how it is perceived." - Henry Petroski, author of Small Things Considered; "Human-Built World offers a thoroughgoing, incisively rendered and engaging history of humanity's relationship to technology.... Although Hughes gives invention and engineering a central role in the creation of our world, the purpose of his sprightly polemic is to rail against technological determinism.... As technically based systems already invisibly govern so much of our daily lives and will continue to penetrate our culture still further, this is a timely and urgent book." - Adam Wishart, Times Literary Supplement; "Do we 'think' about technology? Probably not. It is the stuff that surrounds us. Yet even if we no longer wonder at the internet or mobile telephones, we worry about chemical weapons and human cloning. Indeed, as Thomas P. Hughes shows in this brilliantly concise history, people were arguing about the rights and wrongs of technology long before the term gained currency in the late 20th century." - Mark Archer, Financial Times"
From the Inside Flap
Hughes draws on an enormous range of literature, art, and architecture to explore what technology has brought to society and culture, and to explain how we might begin to develop an "ecotechnology" that works with, not against, ecological systems. From the "Creator" model of development of the sixteenth century to the "big science" of the 1940s and 1950s to the architecture of Frank Gehry, Hughes nimbly charts the myriad ways that technology has been woven into the social and cultural fabric of different eras and the promises and problems it has offered. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, optimistically hoped that technology could be combined with nature to create an Edenic environment; Lewis Mumford, two centuries later, warned of the increasing mechanization of American life.
Such divergent views, Hughes shows, have existed side by side, demonstrating the fundamental idea that "in its variety, technology is full of contradictions, laden with human folly, saved by occasional benign deeds, and rich with unintended consequences." In Human-Built World, he offers the highly engaging history of these contradictions, follies, and consequences, a history that resurrects technology, rightfully, as more than gadgetry; it is in fact no less than an embodiment of human values.
Discover books for all types of engineers, auto enthusiasts, and much more. Learn more
Top customer reviews
Acknowledging the complexity of technology, Hughes interweaves the history of technology over the past two centuries with the progression of society, culture, art, and architecture. In telling the story, he shares how technology has become an essential part of life, influencing all aspects of human activities. He concludes: "Today the endangered state of the natural environment, the deteriorating human-built world, and the threat of technology out of control reflect people's values and their resigning themselves to determinism. A change in values and an activist stance toward technological change will be an effective response to these pressing problems. Such a value change and activism will not come about, however, unless technology is better understood. This book is intended to provide such an understanding" (p.173.)
Human-Built World clearly illustrates the impact of technology on society, good and bad. However, in Hughes view, there is an imbalance of influence, where society's impact on technology is at best subtle, possibly driven by an imbalance of values (ex. need for mass production driven by mass consumption.) As a technologist, I found the book intriguing and illuminating, leaving me thirsty for more insights and positive examples in culture and technology. Though I partly agree with Hughes conclusion, I do question our ability to shape technology perfectly, given its complexity and the difficulty in predicting its impact and evolution, yet alone establishing shared cultural values. Regardless, this was an enjoyable read.
Technology is the main thread in his history, but technology does not determine history's course. For better or worse that is left to society. Particularly in relation to the environment, Hughes concedes the century of technological enthusiasm is in the beginning stage of deterioration. The human-built world is now in trouble, but society may respond appropriately and respond with an "ecotechnological" answer. According to Hughes "using technology to recover the Edonic state is a message entirely appropriate for our ecologically concerned times."(43) Society has to take on the responsibility, but whether technology's ecological legacy can be redressed, remains an open question.
In Human-Built World Hughes observes that enthusiasm toward a technologically based world diminished between World War I and II. Hughes theorizes that the human-built world did not become a paradise is due more to "negative political and social values and structures, than to a failure in rational cooperation."(37) At a time when "artists and the concerned public have begun to doubt the completely human-built world can respond to human needs and aspirations," managing the systems-age is a "major societal challenge."(12) This tension Hughes hopes may be resolved in the "ecotechnological world."(152) Hughes is optimistic that technology can solve the problem; he is just not sure that society is technically literate enough to do it.
Therefore one of Hughes' objectives is to increase the "technological literacy of Americans"(15); to inform and motivate people toward greater public participation to counter what he sees as the "the Burden" of technology.(168) Hughes is optimistic that a socio-technical systems answer may be the key to surmounting technology's negative legacy. With a clarity of purpose, Hughes frequently explains what he is doing, enabling the reader to follow his logic. His tone and style of writing fits his audience and his purpose. Hughes' effort to make history more appealing to a wider audience is admirable.
While Hughes wants "to move...[technology] from the periphery to toward the center stage of history,"(181) a technologically based future is uncertain. If society fails to rise to the challenge, the role of technology will remain at the periphery rather than on center stage.