Future Imperfect

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The repeated failure of technology to fulfill its utopian promise has in recent years created disillusionment with the very idea of progress. Indeed, if technological optimism has characterized modernity, then technological pessimism may become the hallmark of the future. Nowhere has this crisis of faith been more evident than in the United States, where a series of disasters has challenged the long-standing belief that technological innovation necessarily leads to social improvement. Even the surge of renewed ...
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Overview

The repeated failure of technology to fulfill its utopian promise has in recent years created disillusionment with the very idea of progress. Indeed, if technological optimism has characterized modernity, then technological pessimism may become the hallmark of the future. Nowhere has this crisis of faith been more evident than in the United States, where a series of disasters has challenged the long-standing belief that technological innovation necessarily leads to social improvement. Even the surge of renewed confidence in American technology spurred by the alleged efficacy of high-tech weapons systems during the 1991 Persian Gulf War has proved short-lived. In a series of case studies, Howard P. Segal reconsiders the American ideology of technological progress and its legacy for our contemporary high-tech world. He offers concrete examples - drawn from United States history, literature, and museums - of the role of technology in American life and the complex relationship between technological advances and social developments. In each instance, he finds technology neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but rather a mixed blessing.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this somewhat specialized inquiry into views of technology, Segal ( Technological Utopianism in American Culture ) begins by reexamining the traditional opposition of nature and technology; he explores what Leo Marx called the ``middle landscape''--the fusion of nature and civilization in response to industrialization--positing the suburbs as an example. He also examines the role of the automobile in negotiating that landscape. Then he analyzes the ambivalence towards technology expressed by the ``good old days'' display at the newly reopened Armington and Sims Machine Shop and Foundry (in Dearborn, Mich.), originally founded by Henry Ford. Looking at literature, he explores the technological vision of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward ; the unusual women-only 1890 utopian novel Mizora by Mary E. Bradley Lane; and the anti-utopianism of Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano . The United States, suggests the author, retains a spirit of technological utopianism (as evidenced by the celebration of ``smart bombs'' and Patriot missiles in the Gulf War). He goes on to discuss the ironies of the current push for technological literacy; for example, the democratic rhetoric of its advocates does not match the idea's inherent elitism. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Jan.)
Booknews
In a series of case studies, Segal reconsiders the American ideology of technological progress and its legacy. He offers examples--drawn from US history, literature, and museums--of the role of technology in American life and the complex relationship between technological advances and social developments. In each instance, he finds technology neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but rather a mixed blessing. Paper edition (unseen), $15.95. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Mary Carroll
After briefly reviewing the complex development of "the American ideology of technological progress," Segal offers critiques and case studies of historians (Tocqueville and "modernization," Leo Marx's "middle landscape," and students of the Automobile Age and its prospects), of utopian and dystopian technological visions (from Edward Bellamy, Mary E. Bradley Lane, Kurt Vonnegut, and Lewis Mumford), and of the overt and covert attitudes toward technology and culture manifested in technological museums and museum exhibits. In a final section, Segal examines the ironies of the ways contemporary technological optimism, "misusing and abusing as well as ignoring history, promotes high tech's products and its ideology: prophecies, advertising, world's fairs/theme parks, and the technological literacy crusade." A challenging and nuanced examination of the interplay of man and machine in the nation's past, present, and future.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780870238819
  • Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
  • Publication date: 1/10/1994
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 264
  • Lexile: 1580L (what's this?)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface
Acknowledgments
1 Introduction: The American Ideology of Technological Progress: Historical Perspectives 1
Pt. 1 Technology and American History Rethought 11
2 The "Middle Landscape": A Critique, a Revision, and an Appreciation 13
3 The Automobile and the Prospect of an American Technological Plateau 27
4 Alexis de Tocqueville and the Dilemmas of Modernization 36
Pt. 2 Technological Museums Revisited 49
5 The Machine Shop in American Society and Culture 51
6 On Technological Museums: A Professor's Perspective 62
7 Computers and Museums: Problems and Opportunities of Display and Interpretation 73
Pt. 3 Four Technological Visions Reexamined 99
8 Edward Bellamy and Technology: Reconciling Centralization and Decentralization 101
9 The First Feminist Technological Utopia: Mary E. Bradley Lane's Mizora (1890) 117
10 Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano: An Ambiguous Technological Dystopia 126
11 Lewis Mumford's Alternatives to the Megamachine: Critical Utopianism, Regionalism, and Decentralization 147
Pt. 4 High-Tech Culture Reconsidered 161
12 High Tech and the Burden of History; Or, the Many Ironies of Contemporary Technological Optimism 163
Notes 203
Index 237
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