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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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7. Appropriate Technology

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CHAPTER SEVEN

Appropriate Technology

APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY IS A DIRECT RESPONSE to the perceived failures of the widespread allegiance to and application of the received view of culture and technology on a global scale. Appropriate Technology rejects the idea and practice of large-scale, industrial megatechnology as indicative of progress; it rejects technological dependence in favor of autonomy; and it recognizes the integral nature of technology in the quality of everyday life. Unlike Luddism, discussed in the previous chapter, and the Unabomber, discussed in the next, the activities of appropriate technologists have the decided advantage of being legal, and the views and strategies of appropriate technologists are readily available for scrutiny.

Appropriate Technology (typically shortened to AT) refers to a particular kind of technology: that considered appropriate to achieving certain goals. It is also refers to a movement, akin in some ways to Luddism, that is concerned with making certain kinds of (appropriate) technological choices. It is, however, an even more diffuse movement than historical Luddism. Like any movement, AT is integrally related to the historical context within which it emerges: in this case at the nexus of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture, and the reactions against international development projects. It is a practice and a sensibility born of a particular era. While there are important lessons and strategies to be learned from it, its significant limitations necessitate the development of theory and practice beyond its confines.

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