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Technics and Civilization Paperback – October 30, 2010
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About the Author
Lewis Mumford (1895–1990) was a writer whose scope encompassed literary criticism, architecture, history, urban sociology, and philosophy. The author of over thirty books, he was also the architectural critic for The New Yorker for over thirty years. He was eventually honored with the United States Medal of Freedom and Knight of the Order of the British Empire.
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One can only assume Chicago, which regularly ruins manuscripts that should have more or better images in them than they do, just refused to pay the 500 bucks it would have taken to prep the b&w images in photoshop and print them in the book. The Chicago explanation makes it sound like it's harder to process images now than it was in 1934! Totally ridiculous.
What a tragedy! I'd been so long waiting for this book to come back in print. Still, I think I'll keep my copy as a cautionary tale for authors considering Chicago. Ugh.
I am, to say the least, disappointed by this decision. 1) Given that most of these images are out of copyright and are readily available (if nothing else, one could simply scan them from an earlier edition of the book) what are the practical obstacles to reproduction? 2) The ability to interrupt one's reading to search for and possibly find a particular image on the Internet is hardly a viable substitute for having images embedded in the text.
I suggest that readers find an earlier, complete edition of this work, if possible.
The 2010 Chicago Press edition is weak. There are typos (e.g. "along with a much needed a willingness" in the foreword), and the note from the publisher "It is not practical to reproduce those images here--nor is it necessary, in an age when readers can find the same, or similar images on the Internet" is insultingly clueless. When people pay you money for hard copy books, you're supposed to provide something not easily available on the Internet, if only the assemblage of text and relevant images into a coherent whole. It's called editing. I'm guessing that reproducing the images in the book was not in their budget; they could have provided a web page with links to these image "or similar images" instead of telling the readers who paid for this book to run off and do the publisher's work for them.
In Europe machines became a part of the whole fabric of cultural life. Mumford distinguishes the machine, a mechanism to modify the environment for human benefit, and " `The machine,' ...a shorthand reference to the entire technological complex."(12) Furthermore a tool and machine are distinguished by the skill and dexterity of the operator and, whereas "utensils, apparatus, and utilities" refer to chemical transformations (brewing, for example), machines "transform the environment by changing the shape and location of objects."(11)
Mumford identifies three overlapping and interdependent periods where machines and society interacted to define modern industrial culture. The eotechnic phase began in about the tenth century and was characterized by water and wood; the Paleotechnic phase emerged in the eighteenth century and was characterized by coal and iron; and third, or present Neotechnic phase, is characterized by electricity and alloys. Leading up to each of these periods, society experienced a period of cultural preparation and adaptation.
Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the monastery was a refuge of order. Within the sanctity of its walls, the clock regulated routine and discipline. Thus, according to Mumford, "the clock, not the steam engine, is the key machine of the modern industrial age."(14) Time and the adaptation of space in the middle ages changed people's perspectives toward mechanical improvement which was further stimulated by the potential of profits from emerging capitalism. Eotechnic life refined the senses after the religious asceticism of the preceding era.
Mechanization between the tenth and seventeenth centuries is illuminating. Mumford illustrates this in the context of a civilization emerging within a mountain-and-river valley section. At the tops of mountain, outcroppings of ore led to quarrying and mining. The pick and the hammer were the earliest tools, augmented by machines in later stages. The forest stretching from the mountain top to the valley floor harbored "the hunter who stalks his game: his is possibly the oldest deliberate technical operation of mankind for in their origin the weapon [missile/hammerhead, knife, ax] and the tool are interchangeable."(61) Heading down the valley the river stream served as a transportation route leading to the development of hollowed out wooden canoes. Upstream, pastures fostered spinning and weaving by herders. Downstream, the domain of the peasants, farmers cultivated the lowlands. Here man's tools remained mostly unchanged, but his "utensils and utilities are many: the irrigation ditch, the cellar...[etc.]."(63) Finally, when the stream empties into the ocean, fisherman learned to weave nets and baskets and, with boats, trade and communication become possible.
Mining led to capitalism by requiring investment capital to fund expensive operations and spread the risk. In addition, to buy capital goods, a sound currency was necessary. Wood was the most important component of early technology. It propped up the mines, was used to make machines, and was a source of fuel. The woodman was a technical innovator; "the lathe...his decisive contribution to the development of machines."(80)
Warfare organized human effort and utilized machines in a cohesive manner. Firearms added to technics by the unprecedented need for iron, the development of a power cylinder (the barrel) and piston (the projectile), and the development of heavy fortifications. The ability to make standardized weapons, steel, and uniforms for the military encouraged a consumer market for civilians.
In the paleotechnic phase the Industrial Revolution transformed the way men thought, the manner of production, and the way of life. These ideas are so profound that historians saw them as new, but Mumford shows how they were rooted in the past. What is most striking is that they occurred in England where the eotechnic phase had had the least impact and England, therefore, was susceptible to change. Whereas technical development in the earlier phase was not a complete breach with the past, "paleotechnical industry, on the other hand, arose out of the breakdown of European society and carried the process of disruption to the finish."(153) The machine thrust society into an era of "barbarism." This had as its basis the shift to coal as the new energy source, and iron as the medium of construction which gave us the steam engine. The cost of steam power was expensive and this encouraged concentration and monopoly, in contrast to water and wind power, which were free. Military demands for steel influenced the Darby process for cast iron and made it more affordable. Mumford says the paleotechnical period was characterized by warfare, environmental pollution, the degradation of the worker as a machine tender, diseases, and from a rising population. The net result was a lowered quality of life. Mumford sees the paleotechnic phase as a period of transition.(211)
To Mumford, the neotechnic phase is more like the eotechnic phase, except in degree. Fifteenth century ideas have become reality, but class and national struggles persist. Since the neotechnic phase is ongoing, its full implication cannot be measured. It began with the Fourneyron's water-turbine which increased water power output nine fold, but electrical power characterizes the period. Electricity can be transported efficiently and used in many ways. In the Neotechnic phase, the use of the scientific method is widened to include the humanities. This awareness promots social order and clarity.
"In the neotechnic phase, the main initiative comes, not from the ingenious inventor, but from the scientist who establishes the general law: the invention is the derivative product."(217) Improvements in the internal combustion engine provide a new source of power which changes the social order. Rapid transportation is possible by the automobile and the airplane. Communication is further enhanced by the telegraph and the telephone. But, "whereas the growth and multiplication of machines was a definite characteristic of the paleotechnic period, [Mumford says] one may already say pretty confidently that the refinement, the diminution, and the partial elimination of the machine is characteristic of the emerging neotechnic economy."(258)