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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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Introduction: On the Need for a Primer

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Introduction

On the Need for a Primer

TECHNOLOGICAL CULTURE HAS the power to shape attitudes and practices, but its power often goes unnoticed or is underappreciated. Every day it becomes increasingly important to understand and alter our relationship with technological culture. This is especially true when, as is so often the case, technological culture is shaping attitudes and practices that do not serve the interests of sustainability, equality, and peace. The scramble for non-renewable resources that both constitute and fuel technologies has contributed to strife, and sometimes war, of global proportions. New digital media technologies have enabled surveillance at a scale previously unimaginable. Inequitable delivery of health care is exacerbated, as expensive techniques of biotechnology are made unevenly available. Technological trash salts the earth and skies with pollution and provides toxic work for the most disadvantaged laborers on the planet. Global climate change, the fallout from all this technological madness, is widely denied in practice as the human imagination lives out the fantasy of unstoppable and infinite growth.

The stories that dominate education and the media are those that assert that technology is all good, all about progress, all about becoming superior kinds of human beings. That there is good is undeniable, but we have collectively lost perspective, lost the ability to critique the complexities of the technological culture in which we are immersed. Perhaps we haven’t lost it, because we may never really have had it. But now, with the...

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