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on October 19, 2012
Thomas P. Hughes looks at technology "as a creative process involving human ingenuity" and "as a means to shape the landscape" by "craftsmen, mechanics, inventors, engineers, designers and scientists using tools, machines and knowledge to create and control a human-built world" (p.3.) Emphasizing creativity and control, Hughes examines this symbiotic relationship between humans and technology as our creation, and technology's affect on the society and culture.

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.
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on April 14, 2017
Fast delivery and okay book.
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on July 10, 2014
This book give a very broad and brief look at society and technology. I was disappointed because with my previous background in sociology and history of technology it didn't give me anything that I hadn't already known. There wasn't enough detail to give much value. It might be good for someone who has never read about this topic before.
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on October 17, 2013
Had to use this book for a college course, the content was great, but I felt it was let down by its organization. Many sections seemed to jump back and forth from topic to topic and it made me feel that I wasn't getting everything I could have gotten out of the book as a result.
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on November 1, 2014
The author certainly covered the bases with this book, but I was left feeling under informed and impotent. The thoughts of historical figures about technology is a good start, but case studies that delve deeply into the tradeoffs involved in participatory design processes are required for deeper understanding.
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on May 17, 2007
Thomas Parker Hughes, scholar, professor, and author, has dedicated himself "to better [understanding] the complexity of technology and its multiple uses."(1) Hughes believes Americans construe technology too broadly. In "Human-Built World" Hughes defines technology "as a mode of creation"(177) and he expands on the theme that "humans have been engaged in creating a living and working place."(179)

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.
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on December 31, 2009
The Human-Built world is a wonderfully concise rendering, in both theme and prose, of the history and role of technology in the West, particularly the U.S., whilst losing very little explanatory power.

Hughes starts with the philosophic impetus for technology in ancient literature (Cicero) and Christian theology. The first saw in man's nature an urge to develop a "second creation"; the latter sought the recovery of Eden. In Goethe's Faust, a second creation is a manifestation of man's creativity and egotism, a challenge to God. In founding America, the Puritans saw themselves as a moral beacon for the rest of the world, "a Citty upon a Hill".

In Chapters Two to Four, Hughes traces the development of technology from the machine revolution of the 19th century to the systems and control revolution of the 20th century to the current information revolution: each not only created something new but also re-conceptualized things and men.

In the final two chapters, technology's impact, culturally and environmentally, is discussed. The message here is the need to reign in technology; its pervasiveness and power can have a detrimental influence on culture and the environment.

Hughes also indulges in a few quick and incisive comments along the way. The Europeans did not uniquely transform North America, the Indians also controlled their environment (p. 7); on the arms race: "Unfortunately, many Americans today find spectacular energy laden weaponry sublime" (p. 39). Also helpful is the bibliographic essay, which I've used to find further reading.

This little book is a dynamo of information and insight. It's highly recommended.
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on February 24, 2017
Meh...
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on September 29, 2015
Delivered as described and on time. Thank you.
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on September 23, 2012
Hughes certainly covers his topic well. I cannot dispute that. However, I would rather eat a large cardboard box than reread this book. At least the cardboard would be less dry.
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