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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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6. Luddism


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IN PART I, WE INTRODUCED WHAT WE CALL the received view of technological culture: the beliefs, practices, and experiences that constitute the dominant cultural sense of culture and technology. It is the commonsense version that most of us have been exposed to, within which we negotiate a relationship with technology. That commonsense version, we have argued, posits technology as the source of inevitable progress, as the vehicle for making life better by making it more convenient, as the driving causative force of “civilized” Western culture, and as the mechanism for exercising control in and over the world. Even those who critique technology often launch their theories from within the commonsense version of the story. In such cases, the “problem” concerning technology is the fear that technology controls us, rather than the other way around, or that progress has undesirable “side effects” that we have to deal with. However, in the received view, these problems are seen as playing the role of minor nuisance in an overall endorsement of the storyline.

We have offered criticisms of the received view as we introduced it and have begun to introduce our theoretical alternative to it; but we have not yet laid out for you the components of our proposed alternative, which we do in Part III. Here, in Part II, we take you through what we think of as an intermezzo: in musical terms, a short movement between the major sections...

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