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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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4. Determinism

Extract

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CHAPTER FOUR

Determinism

IN HIS COMEDY ROUTINES, British comedian Eddie Izzard carries on a running gag about the National Rifle Association’s attacks on gun control. In response to the NRA’s claim that “guns don’t kill people, people do,” Izzard quips, “but I think…the gun helps, you know? I think it helps…. Just standing there going ‘bang!’…. That’s not going to kill too many people, is it?”1 Izzard takes the ribbing even further when he asks, what if you gave a gun to a monkey? What would happen then? The NRA would have to amend the argument to say that “guns don’t kill people, people and monkeys kill people.”2 In yet another flight of Izzard antics, he points to the fact that it isn’t really even guns, or people, or monkeys presumably, that kill people, but bullets ripping through flesh!3 Izzard has a point: The gun makes a particular kind of killing possible; and it is a lot easier to kill someone with a gun than with an icy glare or even with your bare hands. But so too does the NRA have a point: Guns don’t go roaming around the world on their own killing people. People use them. They pick them up, aim them, pull their triggers, and, if their aim is good or if they are just lucky (or unlucky), they kill someone. On the other hand, Izzard has yet another valid point: Guns are often...

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