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This collection of essays purportedly addresses the philosophical theory of technological determinism - the belief that human behavior and culture is driven by technology and its unintended (or intended) consequences. Of course, the theory has many nuances and permutations, which are explored in depth by the various writers here. The book starts off with fine introductions to the topic, particularly the opening essay by Merritt Roe Smith and the seminal "Do Machines Make History?" by Robert Heilbroner. Unfortunately the book then descends into standard turgid theoretical obfuscations of dubious usefulness to anyone other than each professor's immediate colleagues. Examples include the standard academic exercise of reinterpreting the ideas of earlier thinkers and calling the results a new theory (Bruce Bimber, Thomas Mina), or forcing existing theories together and taking credit for the resulting "breakthrough" (Rosalind Williams, Leo Marx). Another running issue in this book is a lack of distinction among technology, progress, and modernity, as can be seen in the otherwise fascinating historical report by Michael L. Smith. And as usual for academic books that collect essays by various professors, everybody repeats the basic tenets of the theory at issue before embarking on their particular interpretation or example of interest. One benefit of this book is that the editors (both in their introduction and through the essay selection process) do not try to nail down a particular position on the many nuances of technological determinism, which is healthy for purposes of discussion. Regardless, little is accomplished by the writers except esoteric reinterpretations and feeble grasps for significance. [~doomsdayer520~]
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