January 21, 2017
History of American Technology & Culture--Spring 2013
Prof. McClurken's HIST 325
Post your comments/questions about Smith and Clancey, 355-364; Ruth Cowan, A Social History of American Technology, 201-219.
I find it interesting that early physicians were resistant to the use of new technology. Many thought it was more professional than someone who would use a machine. They also claimed that it required more skill to diagnose a patient’s pulse with the use of ones finger. However, the use of technology became widely excepted and a physician using technology was seen as more professional than physicians that did not. I cannot help but think of our own society today and how much we rely on technology. Many have the view that we rely to heavily on computers to do our thinking for us, while others believe computers make our life easier so we do not have to worry about the minuscule things in life. I think this split view of technology will continue as we make further advancements in science. Some will immediately except it while other will reject it and the world will move on without them. Technology has only allowed us to advance further in science and it is arrogant to say we are dumber than the generation before when we continuously discover new sciences and invent new technologies. Lastly technology should not be divided into natural and unnatural , technology in my opinion is anything that truly makes our lives easier whether or not if it is manmade. Forever the study and perception of technology is going to be intriguing to study, but it is not how we perceive technology it is how we use it.
In the Cowan reading, Henry David Thoreau said that “when man worked with machines they became like machines, and to be like a machine was inhuman and unmanly.” This made me think that Thoreau had a problem with masculine identity and machines. Almost as if a man used a machine, he was less of a man. However, Thoreau wasn’t all too big on the idea of using hand tools either. He felt that using tools on nature had to come out of necessity and not profit. I think that “profit” is an indicator of masculine identity too. Thoreau challenges the idea of masculine identity when man uses technology to achieve it.
I really liked the Ruth Cowan reading. It was interesting to see the varying opinions over the years on technology. I thought it was laughable that someone thought modern technology would make the world such a perfect place that the “military would be abandoned.” Clearly, it has had the opposite effect (atomic bombs, machine guns, etc…). The conflict between what is natural and unnatural was also interesting given that it is still going on today. Though industrialization and technology is more readily accepted today, there is still controversy over impact o environment and whether it is better to do things “the natural way.”
I was struck by two things. First, the resistance to medical technology when by 1903, the New York Subway was built and and the electrical grid etc. and second, somehow the electric stove would be considered “woman’s technology”. I would be surprised if a woman invented the stove. I looked it up and it was in fact in 1896 that William Hadaway was issued a patent for the electric oven. So, just because women used it meant it was women’s technology. I also have to say technology would literally be the STUDY of the arts- ology means study of. Anyway, we have been slow until, a certain point to accept new technology, but now we can’t get enough, even if it is horribly destructive-drones, the a- bomb, H-bomb-fracking-etc. All the Orwellian surveillance. I have wondered why there are TVs every where you go. Is it like in Orwell’s book, 1984 where they can see you while its on? I think it is ironic that we have lost so many freedoms from our own government since 911 when they told us we were being attacked because they hate us because they hate our freedoms…i guess i digress…
The Cowan article provided some interesting perspectives that (in retrospect) should come as no surprise with regard to the development of new technology. Or rather, we fail to remember that there are some groups that reject the development of new technology (for whatever reason). Such as with Doctors and the sphygmomanometer. It would be easy for us to look back upon them, and say that they were wrong to do so. However, it is a historical fact that every generation experiences some of the same level of ambivalence towards new technology. Many different forms of technology encounter resistance, even if they are (in the end) widely accepted. Such as with our discussion of the development of plastics. Plastics are widely accepted, but they weren’t always.
It came as no surprise that the radio in 1902 considered useful for military applications. In the first article it appeared that people, at least the writer, thought that the navy/military and exploration parties would be the main applications of this technology. However, by 1909, it appears as though people were finally understanding some of the more social applications of this new technology. The formation of these amateur radio stations is what seemed the most interesting. It was through the experimentation of these amateurs that many of the professionals in the field of radio were selected. I also find it ironic that the best of these amateurs were also the reason the federal government stepped in and made it mandatory to have a license in order to transmit radio. The reason this reading appealed to me was that I grew up listening to the radio, specifically to the shows that NPR played on the weekends. “Car Talk,” “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” and “Prairie Home Companion” were my shows before my family had cable installed in the house. My parents wanted me to experience other forms of media growing up before I got to TV.
It is no surprise that with new technology, especially the mass amount of new technology produced during the industrializaton, that people would have a hard time adjusting. I was wonder how long this arguement of natural v. unnatural goes on for…is it still happening today (I think so but not at such a large scale?) I stupidly assumed industrialization was fairly acceppted by society – but of course with change comes resistance. The invention of plastics was something that I thought would be embaraced with open arms too, but again we see that the arguement of natural v. unnatural comes up again. While i don’t believe God is much a factor in the debate on technology these days, I wonder what legitimizes people concerns today?
The Cowan article gives an interesting insight into the cultural, religious, and professional arguments for and against innovation and invention as a result of the Industrial Revolution; it also gave a good reflection on the various types of technology and the changing definitions of what constitutes “technology.” It was interesting the see the arguments that have prevailed from the 1780’s and 1790’s on through the Industrial Revolution and beyond; the contrast between the natural and the unnatural, as well as the different perceptions of each, had a large impact on the acceptance of or argument against any particular form of technology. Just the same, the arguments transformed over time: in the late 18th century, the main idea was that anything given by God as defined in the bible was considered natural, and therefore acceptable; later, into the 19th century and early 20th century, the definition of natural or unnatural was changed to work done by man vs. work done by a machine (such as the argument between blood pressure taken by a finger or by a blood pressure cuff). Cowan’s article was extremely interesting to me because it gave prominence to these arguments and explored a side of the Industrial Revolution which is not usually seen or talked about.
Like many of my other classmates I had a difficult time making it through the Smith and Clancey reading, but thoroughly enjoyed the Cowan article. I guess what I am still stuck on is how much doctors first rejected the sphygmomanometer. In todays medical world, every new piece of medical technology that is developed is sought after so greatly. Anything that doctors know will help them become more precise and thorough, they are dying to get their hands on. Which is exactly the reaction Cushing and Crile were expecting. But then again, I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised because this does seem to be a reoccurring theme in this class. A great new piece of technology comes out, that could make everyones lives easier, and everyone automatically freaks out.
What I found most interesting about the Cowan reading was how people’s opinions of what was men’s work and what was women’s work changed with the changing of technology. Originally, women’s work was in the home and men’s work was in the “natural” pastoral land. With the rise of factories and Taylor’s system of scientific management came a change in the work place for women. While men continued to work in the fields and farms doing manual labor, women were moved from the home (for the most part) and sent to do factory work. Although I had previously known that women were some of the first people to work in factories, I had never really considered that men thought that factory work was not manly enough for them. Interestingly enough, as technology continued to develop some men began to infiltrate the previously women only factories and push the women back to their “natural” positions as housewives. I found this switch and ways in which the history of technology and American Romanticism really interesting.
I personally found the Smith and Clancey reading interesting as well, but it was a little technical. I understood the reading a little better than some people because I am currently taking a class on the history of the 1920s and 1930s and we had to read a book all about the invention and uses of the radio. I found it fascinating that one of our most popular technologies was not invented by scientists in a lab, but by many hobbyists experimenting in their homes or home-made labs.
I was somewhat lost while plowing through the Smith and Clancey reading. It seemed somewhat discombobulated and not coherent. I liked the Cowan reading and her thoughts on how people adapted to the new technological inventions. Some people might have jumped on the bandwagon while others feared change. Cowan described the premise of this class in some form. As history majors, we see the greater affect that an invention or event has had on modern times instead of the feelings that those during the time. I find primary sources more helpful in understanding that aspect of history.
I thought the Cowan reading showed just how difficult it was for people in the nineteenth and early twentieth century to incorporate not only new technologies but all of industrialization into their lives. From medical doctors to painters who refused to incorporate new devices and sceneries into their work, it really seemed like they were just afraid of change. I think the thing about technology is that people think it is going to impose some drastic change on society, when in reality, that doesn’t usually happen. As we see in the Cowan reading, and a little in the Smith and Clancey reading, some of public rejects new technology (prestigious medical schools, early romantics), some of the public embraces it full on (utopians, young researchers), and some try it out and then decide (amateurs with the radio). A lot of the new technology during this time frame was also hard for people to understand since there had been nothing like it before and seemed like magic (wireless telegraphy, electricity) to the untrained eye. In addition, it was clear in the Cowan reading that technology was really a new realm for society, and that the people were just trying to make connections to technology with what they already knew; hence why engineers became celebrities, people used religion to justify “subduing” nature and the processing of inventing was like poem or a dream.
I was not a fan of the Smith and Clancey reading. While informative, I was not interested by it. I really enjoyed the Cowan reading. The portion on the sphygmomanometer was especially interesting. It is easy for us as modern readers removed from the time period to pass judgement on those doctors who were rejecting the technology but if you think about it, this happens everyday with new technology. To put it into context, there were people who did not support iPads, iPhones, electric cars, etc. There will always be people who are wary of new technology or question it’s effectiveness but that is part of mankind to be skeptical about the future because the reality is we just don’t know what will actually happen. That being said, obviously those doctors were wrong and the invention is still used today but I thought Cowan really hit on the core of technological inventions in mankind. While we all relish new technology and cant wait to get the new it thing, there are always those people on the other side with a million questions on will the technology actually work.
As far as her distinction between natural and unnatural technology, I thought this was accurate. As Carrie stated, our class does examine artifacts from both the natural and unnatural worlds. The distinction I think allows us as students of technology to further break down how inventions have worked and better understand the different sects within technology.
I found the Ruth Cowan reading very interesting and I think that it reflects the true spirit of our class. There are so many different types of technology that it should not all be bunched into one category. For example, Barbie is a great technological success. While many do not think or see Barbie as a technology she did impact the culture in a very different way. It was hard to believe that the term “technology” was not used until Bigelow’s book when America has taken the essence of always evolving or improving. The idea to “make it better” has always been the attitude of Americans. I also found it interesting how in the Cowan reading when she discussed the relationship between God and technology. Americans felt that they had a God-given power to keep creating because everything on the earth was ordained by God for humans to use. Even one of the greatest thinkers ever to live, Thomas Jefferson, had his beliefs on types of work and technology. He focussed on who should be making and working the techonology as far as male or female.
The one thing that struck me most about this week’s reading was the difference Cowan emphasized between natural or agrarian technology, and unnatural or industrialized technology, as well as the rather strict definition she used for “technology” in general. Throughout this class, we’ve looked at artifacts that fall all over Cowan’s spectrum of natural/unnatural technology, from the axe and cotton gin and reaper, and the atom bomb and the Brooklyn Bridge, but we’ve looked at them as all fundamentally related. Cowan really highlighted the differences between the natural and unnatural and kept to a very narrow meaning for “technology”, like it could only be applied to post-industrial artifacts instead of any artifact. That really rubbed me the wrong way, since I felt like that gave a false impression of the scope of technology and its impact on history
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