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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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9. Meaning


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WHEN YOU PAY ATTENTION to what people talk about—in casual conversations, in class, on radio and television, in books, online, and in films—you note that they are often talking about, writing about, thinking about, reacting to, or responding to technology. Many of these conversations involve life-giving, life-changing, and life-threatening matters; controversial topics include fracking (hydraulic fracturing in natural gas extraction), genetic engineering, media surveillance, the use of unmanned drones in war (or even domestically), the impact of videogames on violent behavior, global climate change, nuclear energy, and weapons of mass destruction. Technology clearly matters, and it matters enormously. In less dramatic ways, the topic of technology also pervades talk about what matters in everyday life: in discussions of social media habits, the development of self-driving cars, or even in discussions about purchasing a tablet computer or the latest smartphone. Sometimes the matters seem relatively trivial: such as expressions of frustration over spotty mobile phone coverage, ATMs that are out of service, and gas-guzzling SUVs. Sometimes we know that these matters are deadly serious: such as debates over which countries can legitimately develop nuclear technologies or “weapons of mass destruction.”

What is amazing about these conversations involving technology is how little agreement there is about what is at stake, that is, about what really matters. Especially when the topic is controversial, there is often little agreement as to what a technology is or what it does. When...

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