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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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5. Control

Extract

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CHAPTER FIVE

Control

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN HAS A PROBLEM—several problems actually. He is being shunned at school, his health is failing, his fiancée of many years wants him to come home, and then there’s his work. Frankenstein has created a monster, literally, out of pieced-together corpses, and he has managed to breathe life into it. The creature, however, is not what he expected, and he has fled in horror, leaving the creature to perish. It hasn’t perished. Rather, it has survived and thrived, and now it promises to wreak vengeance on its creator, to be there on Frankenstein’s wedding night and destroy his family.

It’s a familiar story, told again and again through films and popular culture over the last two centuries. We often mistakenly think that Frankenstein is the name of the monster; but in this perhaps we are not far off. The Frankenstein story, written by Mary Shelley and published in 1818, has become emblematic of a particular problem: the belief that we have no control over the things we create.1 We learn this lesson first with children, of course, who refuse to obey us (“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” complained King Lear). But this analogy is carried further to other creations of humankind. Frankenstein was not the first such story. Fables about magically conjured creatures, such as golems, stretch back into mythology. The Frankenstein story has stuck with us...

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