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Culture and Technology

A Primer

Jennifer Daryl Slack and J. Macgregor Wise

From mobile phones to surveillance cameras, from fracking to genetically modified food, we live in an age of intense debate about technology’s place in our culture. Culture and Technology is an essential guide to that debate and its fascinating history. It is a primer for beginners and an invaluable resource for those deeply committed to understanding the new digital culture. The award-winning first edition (2005) has been comprehensively updated to incorporate new technologies and contemporary theories about them. Slack and Wise untangle and expose cultural assumptions that underlie our thinking about technology, stories so deeply held we often don’t recognize their influence. The book considers the perceived inevitability of technological progress, the role of control and convenience, and the very sense of what technology is. It considers resistance to dominant stories by Luddites, the Unabomber, and the alternative technology movement. Most important, it builds an alternative, cultural studies approach for engaging technological culture, one that considers politics, economics, space, time, identity, and change. After all, what we think and what we do make a difference.
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1. The Power and Problem of Culture, The Power and Problem of Technology

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CHAPTER ONE

The Power and Problem of Culture, The Power and Problem of Technology

WHAT YOU KNOW TO BE TRUE MATTERS. When you know something, you act in accordance: your beliefs and actions support what you know to be true, correct, and good; your beliefs and actions resist what you know to be false, wrong, and bad. Once you really know something, it is difficult to shake loose from the power of those convictions that guide thinking and behavior to learn something new or different. What is true for the individual is even more pronounced at the broader cultural level. When a culture accepts that something is true, its political structure, economic structure, institutions, laws, beliefs, everyday practices, and systems of reward and punishment will be shaped in that knowledge.

Unfortunately, what is widely accepted as true does not always serve us well. When everyone knew that the universe was geocentric, it made good sense to arrest Galileo Galilei and repress his heliocentric cosmology. It took generations to achieve general cultural acceptance of the knowledge that the earth revolves around the sun. But before heliocentrism became widely accepted, certain religious institutions maintained power over thought and practice, and scientific enterprise was marginalized and discredited. Sometimes, in spite of broad cultural consensus, it pays to struggle with complacent knowing and “worry” your way to better stories about how the world works.

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