Notes for Thomas J. Misa Leonard to the Internet: Technology and Culture from the Renaissance to the Present
Establishes history and demonstrates methodology more so than offers theory.
(x) The Renaissance court system was the conceptual key. . . . The technical projects they commissioned from the Florence cathedral to the mechanical robots for courtly entertainment, as well as the printed works on science, history, philosophy, religion, and technology, created and themselves constituted Renaissance culture.
(x-xi) There are good reasons to see the industrial revolution as a watershed in world history, but our time-worn inclination to seize on industrial technologies as the only ones that really matter has confounded a proper understanding of the great commercial expansion that followed the Renaissance. . . . I began not only to think of technologies as located historically and spatially in a particular society and shaped by that society's ideas of what was possible or desirable, but also to see how these technologies evolved to shape the society's social and cultural developments. To capture this two-way influence, I look up the notion of distinct “eras” of technology and culture as a way of organizing the material for this book.
Compare to Kittler whom Hayles criticizes for emphasizing military technologies. We are in the age where electronic technologies are now central to interpretation.
(xi) If technologies come from outside, the only critical agency open to us is slowing down their inevitable triumph – a rearguard action at best. By contrast, if technologies come from within society and are products of on-going social processes, we can, in principle alter them – at least modestly – even as they change us.
The participant culture, in principle, although the default comportment of consumer (spectator) is justified by Zizek.
(xii) Beyond Britain, commentators and technologist sometimes looked to copy British models of industry but more frequently adapted industrial technologies to their own economic and social contexts. The result was a variety of paths through the industrial revolution.
(xii) The legacy of the industrial revolution, it seemed, was not a single “industrial society” with a fixed relationship to technology but rather a multidimensional society with a variety of purposes for technology.
(xii) The first of these technology-intensive activities to fully flower was empire building, the effort by Europeans and North Americans to extend economic and political control over wide stretches of land abroad or at home.
He gives interesting accounts of British empire building in India but little detail about American internal activity.
(xiii) A second impulse in technology gathering force from the 1870s onward lay in the application of science to industry and the building of large systems of technology.
(xiv) The achievement of mass-produced steel, glass, and other “modern materials” around 1900 reshaped the aesthetic experience of working or walking in our cities and living in our homes.
(xiv) Technology has been and can be a potent agent in disciplining and dominating. I also discuss the modernists' troubling embrace of a fixed “method” of creativity.
(xiv) In the Cold War decades, scientists and engineers learned that the military services had the deepest pockets of all potential technology patrons.
(xv) The hardest history to write is that of our own time, and yet I believe that “globalization,” or “global culture,” is a force that oriented technology and society in the final three decades of the twentieth century.
(xvi) My corollary [to Moore's Law] states that the size of computer operating systems and software applications has doubled at the same pace as the operational speed of computer chips, soaking up the presumed power of the hardware and blunting its impact.
Do we have any better use for that power as consumers? Does it just mean we would have had internet based television sooner?
(xvii) It is not so much that our technologies are changing especially quickly but that our sense of what is “normal,” about technology and society, cannot keep pace.
(xvii) These eras appear to be shortening: the Renaissance spanned nearly two centuries, while the twentieth century alone saw the eras of science and systems, modernism, war, and global culture. It is worth mentioning a quickening also in the self-awareness of societies – our capacities to recognize and comprehend change are themselves changing. . . . This self-awareness of major historical change is clearly an instance of “reflexive” modernization in sociologist Ulrich Beck's sense. In this way, then, these eras do capture something real in our historical experience.
Is Beck on the same level as Lacan? McLuhan, Ong, and others recognized this quickening of awareness.
Technologies of the Court
(1) Whether from the Medici family or from his numerous other courtly patrons, Leonardo's career-building commissions were not as a painter, anatomist, or visionary inventor, as he is typically remembered today, but as a military engineer and architect.
Who are Leonardos of our recent era? Technology billionaires?
(3) Even the well-known history of movable-type printing needs to be reexamined in the light of pervasive court sponsorship of technical books and surprisingly wide court demand for religious publications.
We already are clever enough to examine Internet history in light of the triangle. Hayles develops are more nuanced and less deterministic narrative than Kittler whom she criticizes for focusing on war determining technological development.
The Career of a Court Engineer
(4-5) In addition to his work as an architect and sculptor, Brunelleschi was a pioneer in geometrical perspective, especially useful in capturing the three dimensionality of machines in a two-dimensional drawing. From Leonardo's notebooks it is clear that he mastered this crucial representational technique. . . . The multiple-view drawings, done in vivid geometrical perspective, are a signature feature of his notebooks.
(5) His notebooks from Milan are filled with drawings of crossbows, cannons, attack chariots, mobile bridges, firearms, and horses.
(8-9) While certainly not such exciting subjects as muskets or cannon, the varied means for attacking or defending a fortification were at the core of Renaissance-era warfare.
(9) It is often suggested that Leonardo chafed at having to design theatrical costumes, yet scholars have recently found evidence indicating the Leonardo also built moving stage platforms and settings – and perhaps even an articulated mechanical robot for these festivities.
(10) His fascination with self-acting mechanisms is also evident in Leonardo's many sketches of textile machines found in the surroundings of Milan.
Link Leonardo's fascination with autonomous artificial automata to von Neumann. (Here a timestamp operator would reveal a later reading.)
(13) The special character of technological creativity in the Renaissance resulted from one central fact: the city-states and courts that employed Leonardo and his fellow engineers were scarcely interested in the technologies of industry or commerce. Their dreams and desires focused the era's technologists on warfare, city building, courtly entertainments, and dynastic displays. . . . The intellectual resources and social dynamics of this technological community drew on and helped create Renaissance court culture.
(13) Foremost among these intellectual resources was the distinctive three-dimensionality and depth of Renaissance art and engineering.
(14) Leading Florentine artists such as Massaccio were already practicing something like linear perspective a decade or more before Alberti's famous treatise On Painting (1436).
(14) Durer's most famous “object,” illustrating his 1525 treatise on geometry and perspective and reproduced widely ever since, was a naked woman on her back, suggesting that perspective was not merely about accurately representing the world but about giving the (male) artist power over it.
Throwing a bone to feminists and liberal studies?
(16) Leonardo even copied may of Alberti's distinctive phrases. It is Alberti's ideas we are reading when Leonardo writes that the perspective picture should look as thought it were drawn on a glass through which the objects are seen.
(17) Close study of the two men's notebooks has revealed that Francesco was one source of designs for machines and devices that had previously been attributed to Leonardo alone.
(17-18) In a curious way, the presence of Leonardo's voluminous notebooks has helped obscure the breadth and depth of the Renaissance technical community, because researchers overzealously attributed all the designs in them to him. . . . Scholars believe that about one-third (6000 pages) of Leonardo's original corpus has been recovered; these papers constitute the most detailed documentation we have on Renaissance technology. . . . His notebooks record at least four distinct types of technical projects: his specific commissions from courtly patrons; his own technological “dreams,” or devices that were then impossible to build; his empirical and theoretical studies; and devices he had seen while traveling or had heard about from fellow engineers; as well as “quotations” from earlier authors, including Vitruvious.
(18) Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Leonardo's career was hist systematic experimentation, evident in his notebooks especially after 1500. . . . Some objects of Leonardo's systematic investigations were gears, statics, and fluid flow.
(19) The first several generations of printers as well as the best-known early technological authors were, to a surprising extent, dependent on and participants in late-Renaissance court culture.
(19-20) Movable type was also “first” developed in the Far East, centuries before Gutenberg. . . . The first truly movable type is credited to Pi Sheng (1041-48), who engraved individual characters in clay, fired them, and then assembled them on a frame for printing.
(20) Islam permitted handwriting the words of Allah on paper but for many years forbade its mechanical printing. The first Arabic-language book printed in Cairo, Egypt, did not appear until 1825.
(22) Gutenberg's principal inventions were the adjustable mold for casting type and a suitable metal alloy for the type.
(22) Printing traveled quickly.
(22-23) The printing press made a little-known German theology professor named Martin Luther into a best-selling author and helped usher in the Protestant Reformation. . . . Yet printers sensed a huge market for his work and quickly made bootleg copies in Latin, German, and other vernacular languages to fill it. It was said that Luther's theses were known across Germany in two weeks and across Europe in a month. . . . Eventually, Luther himself hailed printing as “God's highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward.”
Compare to Busa's praise of magnetic tape.
(23) The Protestant movement's emphasis on individuals' reading the Bible themselves required a massive printing effort. Whatever their personal believes, printers thus had material reasons to support Protestantism.
(23) Although it is tempting to see printers as proto-capitalists – owing to their strong market orientation and substantial capital needs – their livelihood owed much to the patronage and politics of the court system.
(25) Plantin's massive output suggests the huge scale of book production at the time. In the first fifty years of printing (1450s-1500) eight million books were produced in Europe. . . . This economy of scale sharply reduced the cost of books, which meant that one scholar could have at hand multiple copies from several scholarly traditions, inviting comparison and evaluation. Eisenstein writes, “Not only was confidence in old theories weakened, but an enriched reading matter also encourage the development of new intellectual combinations and permutations.” In this way, the availability of vastly more and radically cheaper information led to fundamental changes in scholarship and learning.
Print humanities were born. Compare to relative scarcity and then proliferation of electronic computing machinery.
Technology and Tradition
(26) Transfer of technology before the Renaissance could be hit-or-miss. Machines invented in one time, or place, might well need to be rediscovered or even reinvented. Indeed, something very much like this occurred, after the great technological advances of Song China (960-1279).
(26) Yet these pioneering Chinese technologies were not reliably recorded with the rigorous geometrical perspective that allowed Renaissance engineers to set down their ideas about the crucial workings of machines.
Importance of having technological tools to reflect upon technology.
(27) Eugene Ferguson, a leading engineer-historian, has brilliantly shown how quickly technical drawings might be corrupted, even in the West.
(28) In these terms a permanent and cumulative tradition in technology, enabled by the invention of printing and perspective, appeared first in central Europe's mining industry.
(29) Each of these three authors [Bringuccio, Agricola, Ercker] praised the values of complete-disclosure, precise description, and openness often associated with the “scientific revolution.” These books detailed the processes of mining, smelting, refining, founding, and assaying. Biringuccio and Agricola used extensive illustrations to convey the best technical practices of their time.
Value of open standards, technologies and licenses.
(31) The scientific revolution was also surprisingly dependent on printing technology and courtly patronage networks.
(32) The desires and dreams of Renaissance courts and city-states defined the character of the era's technology and much of the character of its culture.
Manovich two cultures. Consider microcomputer revolution as desires and dreams of late American capitalism.
Techniques of Commerce
(34) The age of commerce, anticipate in Spain and Portugal as well as in China and India, found its fullest expression during the seventeenth-century Golden Age of the Dutch Republic.
Technology and Trade
(37) The emergence of specialized ship designs in the Netherlands was another early signal that the Dutch understood how to bring technology and trade together in the pursuit of commerce.
(42) Impressed with how multiple-share ownership helped raise money and spread the risk of losses, the Dutch took the practice much further.
Creating Global Capitalism
(43) The Dutch – through their East India Company in the Pacific and West India Company in the Atlantic, coupled with the extensive trading in Europe and Africa – in effect created the first global economy.
(43) The commodity traders' guild began publishing weekly lists of prices in 1585. Within a few years, the Amsterdam commodity exchanges – for grain, salt, silks, sugar, and more – had surpassed their regional rivals and become a set of global exchanges.
(45) More to the point, tulip trading embodied several of the classic Dutch financial techniques, including futures contracts, commodity pricing, and multiple-share owndership.
(48) On the southeast coast of India and on the innumerable islands of what is now Indonesia, each of the trading countries sought to establish trading alliances; and when these alliances were betrayed, they tried unarmed trading “factories” (warehouse-like buildings where “factors” - traders – did business).
Interesting, unexpected etymology of factories.
(49) While the VOC [Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie] dealt with spices and cotton, the West India Company traded in slaves and sugar.
Little mention of the ethics of slave trade. See multimedia The Corporation. He is more interested in the difference between overall technological modes, ways of being, Tart's states, “major alterations in the way the mind functions” (1986, 4).
“The Great Traffic”
(51-52) Dutch preeminence came through the targeted processing and selective reexporting of the traded materials. . . . Indeed, high wages, relatively low volumes, and high-quality production typified the traffics, in sharp contrast with early industrial technologies, which emphasized low wages, high volumes, and low-quality production.
Compare Misa's differentiation between Dutch precision and British sloppy massive scale to McConnell's differentiation between systematic engineering and gold rush programming styles.
(55) Not only had Dutch traders captured commercial control over many key raw materials, including Spanish wool, Turkish mohair yarns, Swedish copper, and South American dyestuffs; the “traffic” system had also erected a superstructure of processing industries that added value to the flow of raw materials. The Dutch conditions of high wages and labor scarcity put a premium on mechanical innovation, the fruits of which were protected by patents. Another economic role taken on by the Dutch state (at the federal, state, and municipal levels) was the close regulation of industry in the form of setting standards for quality and for the packaging of goods.
(57) While choosing, developing, and using technologies with the aim of creating wealth had been an undercurrent before, this era saw the flourishing of an international (if nonindividual) capitalism as a central purpose for technology. It is really a set of wealth-creating technologies and techniques that distinguishes the Dutch commercial era.
Consider alongside his evaluation of Renaissance era technology. Does Misa apply Kuhn's methodology to technology?
Geographies of Industry
(59) Unprecedented growth in the cotton, iron, and coal industries during the decades surrounding 1800, culminating in the steam-powered factory system, powered a self-sustaining “take-off” in the British economy.
The First Industrial City: London
(65) Beer brewing affords a revealing window into industrial London while illustrating the links between industry and sanitation, consumption, and agriculture. . . . Reducing costs and increasing output – rather than enhancing quality, as in Dutch commerce – was the focus of technology in the industrial era.
(66) The competition between brewers to build ever-larger vats waned after 1814, however, when a 7,600-barrel vat at the Horse Shoe Brewery burst open and flooded the neighborhood, killing eight persons “by drowning, injury, poisoning by the porter fumes or drunkenness.”
An amusing fact.
(67) The porter brewers pioneered industrial scales of production and led the country in the capitalization of their enterprises.
(68) Brewers indirectly fixed a key term of measurement born in the industrial era, since Watt had the “strong drayhorses of London breweries” in mind when he defined “horsepower” at 33,000 foot-pounds per minute.
(69) These ancillary industries have not received the attention they deserve, for they are key to understanding how and why industrial changes became self-sustaining and cumulative.
Misa lays out opportunities for future scholarship, part of the value of this work.
(70) By the early nineteenth century perhaps half of all London pubs were tied to brewers through exclusive deliveries, financing, or leasing.
(73) By 1825 Maudslay and Bramah were among the London engineers hailed for their use of specialized machine tools to replace skilled handcraftsmanship.
Shock City: Manchester
(77) Early Arkwright machines were small, handcranked devices with just four spindles. The death blow to home spinning came when Arkwright restricted licenses for his water-frame patent to mills with 1,000 or more spindles. . . . Artkwright's mills – with their low wages and skills, their high-volume production of lower-grade goods, and their extensive mechanization – embodied core features of the industrial era.
In addition to ruthless protection of competitive advantage by restricting licenses: an early Microsoft?
(79) While the first generation of them had built textile machines and managed textile factories, the midcentury machine builders – the generation of London transplants – focused on designing, building, and selling machine tools.
(82) For Engels, Manchester was ground zero for the industrial revolution (he wrote specifically of “industriellen Umwälzung”).
(82) His real object was to shock his readers with visceral portraits of the city's horrible living conditions.
Horrible living conditions.
(83) Marx, with no firsthand industrial experience of his own, took Engels' description of Manchester as the paradigm of capitalist industry. Neither of them noticed a quite different mode of industry forming in Sheffield.
Region for Steel: Sheffield
(84) Sheffield was internationally known as a center for high-quality steel and high-priced steel products. . . . Not Manchester-style factories but networks of skilled workers typified Sheffield's industry.
Like the idealized network of small businesses? But then corrupted by scale. Nice to see remediated in Wired magazine stories.
(86) It is crucial to understand that the factory system so important in Manchester was absent in Sheffield.
(87) Some firms did nothing but coordinate such “hire-work” and market the finished goods, at home or overseas. These firms had the advantages of low capital, quick turnover, and the flexibility to “pick and choose to fit things in with whatever you were doing.”
(87-88) In the latter part of the nineteenth century these large steel mills and oversize forging shops symbolized a second generation of Sheffield's heavy industry.
(91) Steam not only directly killed many grinders, through dangerous working conditions, but also indirectly brought the deaths of many who crammed themselves and their families into the poorest central districts of industrial cities.
The indirect danger of steam technology. Would realization of this kill bourgeois interest in Steampunk?
(91) Sheffield's dire sanitary conditions resembled those of London or Manchester for much the same reason: the city's densely packed population lacked clean water.
(92) The geographies of industry surveyed in this chapter – multidimensional urban networks in London, factory systems in Manchester, and sector-specific regional networks in Sheffield – clinch the argument that there were many “paths” to the industrial revolution.
(93) Workers in steam-driven occupations, whether in London, Manchester, Sheffield, or the surrounding regions, were less likely to be in the country, to eat fresh food, to drink clean water, and (especially if female) to be skilled and have reasonable wages.
Instruments of Empire
(97) To a striking extent, inventors, engineers, traders, financiers, and government officials turned their attention from blast furnaces and textile factories at home to steamships, telegraphs, and railway lines for the colonies.
Steam and Opium
(101) Accurately mapping the Ganges in the latter eighteenth century had been a necessary first step in transforming the vague territorial boundaries assumed by the company into a well-defined colonial state. To this end one could say that the first imperial technology deployed on the Ganges was James Rennell's detailed Map of Hindoostan.
(102-103) The opium war began when China took determined steps to ban the importation of the destructive substance, and the British government, acting on the demand of Britain's sixty trading firms with business in China, insisted on maintaining free trade in opium and dispatched a fleet to China to make good its demands.
Telegraphs and Public Works
(104) In the industrializing countries of Western Europe and North America, telegraph systems grew up alongside railroads. Telegraph lines literally followed railway lines, since telegraph companies typically erected their poles in railroad right-of-ways.
(105) Telegraph lines were so important for imperial communication that in India they were built in advance of railway lines.
(107) Quick use of the telegraph saved not merely the British in Punjab but arguably the rest of British India as well. Most dramatic was that the telegraph made possible a massive troop movement targeted at the most serious sites of rebellion.
(108-109) By the time of the 1857 Mutiny, British rule in India had become dependent on telegraphs, steamships, roads, and irrigation works; soon to come was an expanded campaign of railway building prompted by the Mutiny itself. . . . The colonial government in India had no choice but to begin large-scale educational programs to train native technicians.
(113) (Fig 4.4 World Leaders in Railways, 1899.)
Interesting graph for 1899 almost looks like USA today shaving graph.
(127) Even today one can discern a shadow of the imperialist era in railroad maps of North America (look carefully at Canada, the western United States, and Mexico), in the prestige structure of technical education, and in the policy preferences of the orthodox development agencies in the United States and Europe.
(127) In this respect, we can see that imperialism was not merely a continuation of the eras of commerce and industry; rather, to a significant extent, imperialism competed with and in some circumstances displaced industry as the primary focus of technologists.
Science and Systems
(128) By transforming curiosities of the laboratory into consumer products, through product innovation and energetic marketing schemes, science-based industry helped create a mass consumer society. A related development was the rise of corporate industry and its new relationships with research universities and government bureaus.
(129) In these same decades technology took on its present-day meaning as a set of devices, a complex of industry, and an abstract society-changing force in itself.
Important for our definition of technology.
The Business of Science
(130) The chemical structures of these early dyes were unknown at the time. It was German chemists – based in universities and with close ties to industry – who deciphered their chemical structures and set the stage for a science-based industry.
(133) “Mass production methods which dominate modern economic life have also penetrated experimental science,” the chemist Emil Fischer state in his Nobel Prize lecture in 1902. “Consequently the progress of science today is not so much determined by brilliant achievements of individual workers, but rather by the planned collaboration of many observers.” Duisberg put the same point more succinctly: “Nowhere any trace of a flash of genius.”
(134) In World War I, popularly known as the chemist's war, chemists were directly involved in poison gas manufacture.
(135) The entanglement of the German chemical industry with the Third Reich also has much to do with the system-stabilizing innovation and the corporate and political forms needed for its perpetuation. . . . With all these heavy investments, Farben's executives felt they had little choice but to conform with Hitler's mad agenda after he seized power in 1933. Not Nazis themselves – one-forth of the top-level supervisory board were Jews, until the Aryanization laws of 1938 – they nevertheless became complicit in the murderous regime.
Flashes of Genius
(136) The singular career of Thomas Edison aptly illustrates the subtle but profound difference separating system-originating inventions from system-stabilizing ones.
(139) Edison wanted his electric lighting system to be cost competitive with gas lighting and knew that the direct-current system he envisioned was viable only in a densely populated urban center. Using Ohm's and Joule's laws of electricity allowed Upton and Edison to achieve these techno-economic goals.
(140) When Edison tested his system in January 1881 he used a 16-candlepower bulb at 104 volts, with resistance of 114 ohms and current of 0.9 amps. The U.S. standard of 110 volts thus has its roots in Edison's precedent-setting early systems.
Battle of the Systems
(143) Edison was wary of the energy losses of transformers, the high capital costs of building large AC stations, and the difficulties of finding insulators that could safely handle 1,000 volts.
(143) Arc lighting for streets, AC incandescent systems for smaller towns, AC motors for factories, and the pell-mell world of street railways were among the lucrative fields that Edison's diagnosis overlooked.
(144) In the mid-1880s Thomson turned his inventive efforts on incandescent lighting and AC systems. His other notable inventions include electric welding, street railway components, improved transformers, watt meters, and induction motors. These inventions were among the necessary technical components of the universal system of the 1890s.
Tenders of Technological Systems
(148) Edison fought it, Thomson denied it, and Insull embraced it: a new pattern of technological change focused on stabilizing large-scale systems rather than inventing wholly new ones.
(148) Industrial scientists and science-based engineers stabilized the large systems by striving to fit into them and, most importantly, by solving technical problems deemed crucial to their orderly expansion. Neither of these professions existed in anything like their modern form as recently as 1870.
(150) Industrial research became a source of competitive advantage for the largest firms, including General Electric, AT&T, and General Motors. . . . Independent inventors, formerly the nations leading source of new technology, either were squeezed out of promising market areas targeted by the large science-based firms or went to work for them solving problems of the companies' choosing.
(151) The industrial orientation of electrical engineering at MIT from around 1900 into the 1930s contrasts markedly with its more scientific and military orientation during and after the Second World War.
(155) Hazen's work on the “network analyzer” began with his 1924 bachelor's thesis under Vannevar Bush. Bush, a pioneer in analog computing, was working for [Dugald] Jackson's consulting firm studying the Pennsylvania-based Superpower scheme. . . . By 1929 the measuring problems were solved and GE's Doherty approved the building of a full-scale network analyzer.
(155) Built jointly by GE and MIT and physically located in the third-floor research laboratory in MIT's Building 10, the network analyzer was capable of simulating systems of great complexity.
(156-157) Synthetic dyes, poison gases, DC light bulbs, AC systems, and analog computers such as Hazen's network analyzer constituted distinctive artifacts of the science-and-systems era. . . . The most important pattern was the underlying sociotechnical innovations of research laboratories, patent litigation, and the capital-intensive corporations of science-based industry.
(157) A neat contrast can be made of the British cotton-textile industry that typified the first industrial revolution and the German synthetic dye industry and American electrical industry that together typified the second.
(157) The presence of the financiers, corporations, chemists, and engineers produced a new mode of technical innovation and not coincidentally a new direction in social and cultural innovation. The system-stabilizing mode of technical innovation - “nowhere any trace of a flash of genius” - was actively sought by financiers. . . . The system-stabilizing innovations, with the heavyweights of industry and finance behind them also created new mass-consumer markets for electricity, telephones, automobiles, household appliances, home furnishings radios, and much else.
Materials of Modernism
(158) Modernism in art and architecture during the first half of the twentieth century can be best understood as a wide-ranging aesthetic movement, floated on the deeper currents of social and economic modernization driven by the science-and-systems technologies.
Materials for Modernism
(160) The materials that modernists deemed expressive of the new era – steel, glass, and concrete – were not new.
(163) Glass through most of the nineteenth century was in several ways similar to steel before Bessemer. It was an enormously useful material whose manufacture required much fuel and many hours of skilled labor and whose application was limited by its high cost.
Manifestos of Modernity
(168) Critical to the development of the modern architectural style were the interactions among three groups: the Futurists in Italy, who gave modernism an enthusiastic technology-centered worldview; the members of de Stijl in the Netherlands, who articulated an aesthetic for modern materials; and the synthesis of theory and practice in the Bauhaus in Germany.
(171) Marinetti's provocative avant-garde stance, frank celebration of violence, and crypto-revolutionary polemics landed the Futurists squarely in the middle of postwar fascism.
(173) The task of the artist was to derive a style – or universal collective manner of expression – that took into account the artistic consequences of modern science and technology.
(176) The durable contribution of de Stijl, then, was not merely to assert, as the Futurists had done, that modern materials had artistic consequences, but to identify specific consequences and embed these in an overarching aesthetic theory.
Ironies of Modernism
(184-185) The Stuttgart exposition of 1927 was the first salvo in a wide-ranging campaign to frame a certain interpretation of modernism. It was to be rational, technological, and progressive; historical references and ornamentation were strictly forbidden. In 1932, the Museum of Modern Art in New York gave top billing to its “International Style” show, which displayed and canonized the preponderantly European works representing this strain of modernist architecture. . . . The influential teaching of Bauhaus exiles Gropius, Moholy-Nagy, and Mies van der Rohe in Boston and Chicago raised a generation of U.S.-trained architects and designers who imbibed the modern movement directly from its masters. In the 1950s, in architecture at least, the International Style, or Modern Movement, became a well-entrenched orthodoxy.
(186) The German government agency charged with rationalizing workshops and factories also worked closely with several women's groups to rationalize the household.
(189) In examining how “technology changes culture” we see that social actors, often asserting a technological fundamentalism that resonates deeply in the culture, actively work to create aesthetic theories, exemplary artifacts, pertinent educational ventures, and broader social and political movements that embed their views in the wider society.
Misa focuses on what Manovich calls cultural conventions, saying little even in the final chapters of technological aesthetics that Manovich attributes to the conventions of software.
The Means of Destruction
(190) No force in the twentieth century had a greater influence in defining and shaping technology than the military. . . . Lamenting the decline of classic profit-maximizing capitalism, industrial engineer Seymour Melman termed the new economic arrangement as contract-maximizing “Pentagon capitalism.” During these years of two world wars and the Cold War, the technology priorities of the United States, the Soviet Union, and France, and to a lesser extent England, China, and Germany, were in varied ways oriented to the “means of destruction.”
(191) Such promising technologies as solar power, analog computers, and machinist-controlled computer machine tools languished when (for various reasons) the military back rival technical options – nuclear power, digital computers, and computer controlled devices of many types – that consequently became the dominant designs in their fields.
An interesting position on technological determinism.
A War of Innovation
(192) It may seem odd to distinguish between the two world wars, linked as they were by politics and economics, but in technology the First World War was not so much a war of innovation as one of mass production.
(193) Not merely a military tactic, blitzkrieg was more fundamentally a “strategic synthesis” that played to the strength of Germany's superior mobility technologies, especially aircraft and tanks, while avoiding the economic strain and social turmoil of a sustained mobilization.
(195) Germany had neither the enriched uranium, the atomic physicists, nor the governmental resources to manufacture an atomic bomb.
“Turning the Whole Country into a Factory”
(195-196) If the First World War is known as the chemists' war owing to military use of synthetic explosives and poison gases, it was the Manhattan Project that denominated the Second World War as the physicists' war. . . . In reality, Los Alamos served as the R&D center and assembly site for the bombs. The far greater part of the project was elsewhere, at two mammoth, top-secret factory complexes in Tennessee and Washington State.
(196) After several governmental committees considered its prospects, the project came to rest in the Office of Scientific Research and Development, or OSRD, a new government agency headed by MIT engineer Vannevar Bush.
Bush who get so much attention in digital media studies.
(197) Although the point is not frequently emphasized, it was entirely fitting that Roosevelt assigned the construction phase of the bomb project to the Army Corps of Engineers and that the Army assigned command over the Manhattan Engineering District to Brigadier General Leslie Groves, who had been the officer in charge of building the Pentagon complex.
(198) The crucial task at Oak Ridge was to produce enough enriched uranium, somewhere between 2 and 100 kilograms, no one knew precisely how much, to make a bomb.
(204) Many commentators, even Eisenhower and Churchill, miss the crucial point that the two bombs dropped on Japan were technologically quite distinct: the Hiroshima bomb used Oak Ridge's uranium while the Nagasaki bomb used Hanford's plutonium.
(206-207) One hesitates to put it this way, but the two bombs dropped on Japan appear to have been “aimed” also at the U.S. Congress. After all, there were two hugely expensive factories that needed justification. . . . Bohr's observation that the atomic project would transform “the whole country into a factory,” true enough in the obvious physical and organizational sense, may also be insightful in a moral sense as well.
(208) Nautilus, it turned out, was a precedent for more than just the U.S. Navy, which in time fully matched the other military branches with its nuclear-powered submarines capable of launching nuclear missiles.
(210) The enduring legacy of the Manhattan Project above and beyond its contribution to the atomic power effort was its creation of a nuclear weapons complex that framed years of bitter competition between the United States and the Soviet Union.
(210) The cost from 1940 to 1986 of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is estimated at $5.5 trillion. No one knows the fair dollar cost of the former Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal, but its currently crumbling state – nuclear technicians have in effect been told to find work elsewhere, while security over uranium and plutonium stocks is appallingly lax – constitutes arguably the foremost danger facing the planet today.
Command and Control: Solid-State Electronics
(211) Yet, together, the massive wartime efforts on radar, proximity fuzes, and solid-fuel rockets rivaled the atom bomb in cost. . . . Even as its radar aided the Allied war effort, the Rad Lab [Radiation Laboratory at MIT] sowed the seeds for three classic elements of the Cold War military-industrial-university complex: digital electronic computing, high-performance solid-state electronics, and mission-oriented contract research.
(211-212) Vacuum tubes were sensitive only to lower frequency signals, so when the radar project's leaders decided to concentrate on the microwave frequency (3,000 to 30,000 megahertz), they needed an electronic detector that could work in these very high frequencies. . . . Much of the solid-state physics done during the war, then, focused on understanding these semiconductor materials and devising ways to purify them.
(213) In the transistor story, as in that of the Shippingport nuclear reactor, we see how the tension between military and commercial imperatives shaped the emergence of a technology that today is fundamental to our society.
(214) Indeed, instead of classifying transistors, the armed services assertively publicized military uses for them. . . . Each [Bell System] licensee brought home a two-volume textbook incorporating material from the first symposium. The two volumes, composing Transistor Technology, became known as the bible of the industry. They were originally classified by the government as “restricted” but were declassified in 1953. . . . A third volume in the textbook series Transistor Technology resulted from a Bell symposium held January 1956 to publicize its newly invented diffused base transistor. . . . For several years Bell sold these high-performance diffused transistors only to the military services.
(215) The Army Signal Corps also steered the transistor field through its “engineering development” program, which carried prototypes to the point where they could be manufactured.
(215) Bell Laboratories had not forgotten its telephone system, but its commercial applications of transistors were squeezed out by several large high-priority military projects.
(216) The integrated circuit was also to a large degree a military creation.
(216-217) Across the 1950s and 1960s, then, the military not only accelerated development in solid-state electronics but also gave structure to the industry, in part by encouraging a wide dissemination of (certain types of) transistor technology and also by helping set industrywide standards. . . . These competing demands probably delayed the large-scale application of transistors to the telephone system at least a half-dozen years (from 1955 to the early 1960s).
Command and Control: Digital Computing
(217) Code-breaking, artillery range-finding, nuclear weapons designing, aircraft and missile controlling, and antimissile warning were among the leading military projects that shaped digital computing in its formative years, from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Impact of military agenda on digital computing.
(219) Forrester wanted Whirlwind to become another megaproject like the Radiation Laboratory or Manhattan Project.
(221) At the center of this fantastic scheme was Forrester's Whirlwind, or more precisely fifty-six of his machines. . . . With participation in SAGE, IBM gained a healthy stream of revenues totaling $500 million across the project's duration. Fully half of IBM's domestic electronic data-processing revenues in the 1950s came from just two military projects: SAGE and the “Bomb-Nav” analog computer for the B-52 bomber.
(221) As important as this revenue stream was the unparalleled exposure to state-of-the-art computing concepts and the unconstrained military budgets that permitted the realization of those concepts.
(222) Even though the commercial success of IBM's System 360 made computing a much more mainstream activity, the military retained its pronounced presence in computer science throughout the 1960s and beyond. . . . The IPTO [Pentagon's Advanced Research Project Agency Information Processing Techniques Office] was far and away the nation's largest funder of advanced computer science from its founding in 1962 through the early 1980s. . . . Among the fundamental advances in and applications of computer science funded by the IPTO were time-sharing, interactive computer graphics, and artificial intelligence. J.C.R. Licklider, head of the IPTO program in the early 1960s, also initiated work on computer networking that led, after many twists and turns, to the Internet.
Bush, Licklider, Engelbart.
(223) A 1964 RAND Corporation report, “On Distributed Communications,” proposed the theoretical grounds for a rugged, bombproof network using “message blocks” - later known as “packet switching” - to build a distributed communications system. . . . These concepts became the conceptual core of the Internet.
(223) Through the military-dominated era there was an unsettling tension between the West's individual-centered ideology and its state-centered technologies.
(224) Together, these military endeavors were not so much an “outside influence” on technology as an all-pervading environment that defined what the technical problems were, how they were to be addressed, and who would pay the bills. While closed-world, command-and-control technologies typified the military era, the post-Cold War era of globalization has generated more open-ended, consumer-oriented, and networked technologies.
Toward Global Culture
(227) Whatever the economic and political consequences of globalization, the threat of cultural homogenization concerns many observers.
(227) While mindful of the possibilities of convergence, I believe there is greater evidence for a contrary hypothesis.
(229) The “divergence hypothesis” is also consistent with what we have learned from earlier eras.
The Third Global Economy
(229) Our present-day global economy is not the first or second global economy we have examined in this book, but the third. The first was in the era of commerce.
(229) A second global economy developed in the 1860s and lasted until around the First World War, overlapping with the era of imperialism.
(231) Since around 1970 there has been a resurgence of global forces in the economy and in society, but who can say how long it will last.
Fax Machines and Global Governance
(232) One might say that in the United States the military market displaced the consumer market, while in postwar Japan it was the other way around. The structure of the global economy can in part be traced to the different paths taken by each nation's electronics industry.
(234) The CCITT, or Comite Consultatif International Telegraphique et Telephonique, was the leading international standards-setting body for all of telecommunications beginning in the 1950s. Its special strength was an remains standards setting by committee.
(235) It was CCITT's success with the 1980 standards that made facsimile into a global technology – and relocated the industry to Japan. . . . The achievement of worldwide standards, digital compression, and flexible handshaking, in combination with open access to public telephone systems, created a huge potential market for facsimile.
(236) This network of students and teachers, along with some journalists and government officials, is notable not only for creatively using fax technology but also for explicitly theorizing about their culture-making use of technology.
(236) The idea of using fax machines for building European identity and youth culture originated with the Education and Media Liaison Center of France's Ministry of Education, which was in the middle of a four-year project to boost public awareness of telematics and videotext. (France's famous Minitel system came out of this same context of state support for information technology.)
McWorld or McCurry?
(238) “McWorld” epitomizes the cultural homogenization and rampant Americanization denounced by many critics of globalization. “McDonaldization” refers to a broader process of the spread of predictability, calculability, and control – with the fast-food restaurant as the present-day paradigm of Max Weber's famous theory of rationalization.
(240) The presence of McDonald's in the conflict-torn Middle East is good news to Tom Friedman, the author of The Lexus and the Olive Tree (1999). In his spirited brief on behalf of globalization, Friedman frames the “golden arches theory of conflict prevention.”
(245) McDonald's corporate strategy of localization not only accommodates local initiatives and sensibilities but also, as the company is well aware, blunts the arguments of its critics.
(249) Overall, we can discern three phases in the Internet story: the early origins, from the 1960s to mid-1980s, when the military services were prominent; a transitional decade beginning in the 1980s, when the National Science Foundation became the principal government agency supporting the Internet; and the commercialization of the Internet in the 1990s, when the network itself was privatized and the World Wide Web came into being.
(250) The internet conception resulted from an intense collaboration between Vinton Cerf, a Stanford computer scientist who had helped devise the ARPANET protocols, and Robert Kahn, a program manager at ARPA. In 1973 they hit upon the key concepts – common host protocols within a network, special gateways between networks, and a common address space across the whole – and the following year published a now-classic paper, “A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication.” Although this paper is sometimes held up as embodying a singular Edisonian “eureka moment,” Cerf and Kahn worked very closely for years with an international networking group to test and refine their ideas.
(254) A good example of how the Internet gained its seemingly effortless “global” character is the so-called domain-name system, or DNS. . . . With the spread of the domain-name system, any single user can be addressed with on simple address. More important, the DNS established an address space that is massively expandable and yet can be effectively managed without any single center.
(255) The Web is, at least conceptually, nothing more than a sophisticated way of sending and receiving data files (text, image, sound, or video).
(257) From the start, Berners-Lee built in to the Web a set of global and universal values. These values were incorporated into the design at a very deep level.
(257) The second goal, dependent on achieving the first goal of human communication through shared knowledge, is that of machine-understandable information.
(258) These examples – worldwide financial flows, fax machines, McDonald's, and the Internet – taken together indicate that globalization is both a fact of contemporary life and a historical construction that emerged over time.
(259) Indeed, the certainty during the 1990s that globalization would continue and expand, seemingly without borders, ended with the attacks on 11 September 2001. Whatever one makes of the resulting “war on terrorism,” it seems inescapable that the nation-state is, contrary to the globalizers' utopian dreams, alive and thriving as never before. . . . A national security-oriented technological era may be in the offing. It would be strange indeed if the September 11th attackers – acting in the name of antimodern ideologies – because of the Western nations' national security-minded and state-centered reactions, brought an end to this phase of global modernity.
Misa suggests a post-globalization era resulting from the war on terror.
The Question of Technology
Science and Economics
(261) However, the centrality of science to technology is often overstated. Scientific theories had little to do with technological innovation during the eras of industry, commerce, and courts.
(263) Much of the frank resentment today aimed at the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization stems from their conceptual blindness to the negative aspects of technology in social and cultural change.
Variety and Culture
(265) A more subtle and yet more pervasive example of technology's interactions with the goals and aims of society resides in the process of technical change.
(267) Power does flow from the end of a gun; Europeans' deadly machine guns in the colonial wars proved that point. But there is an important dimension of power that resides in things, in the built world, and in the knowledge about that world that people have access to or are excluded from.
(267) The conceptual muddle surrounding these questions of technology transfer can be cleared up with Arnold Pacey's useful notion of “technology dialogue,” an interactive process which he finds is frequently present when technologies successfully cross cultural or social barriers.
Pacey. How about Feenberg?
Displacement and Change
(268) Displacement occurs when a set of technology decisions has the effect of displacing alternatives or precluding open discussion about alternatives in social development, cultural forms, or political arrangements.
(269) For roughly fifty years, a certain technical perspective on modern architecture displaced alternative, more eclectic approaches.
(269) Displacement, then, is how societies, through their decisions about technologies, orient themselves toward the future and, in a general way, direct themselves down certain social and cultural paths rather than other paths.
(270) Can technologies be used by nondominant actors to advance their alternative agendas?
(271) A second reason for looking closely at the technology-power nexus is the possibility that non-dominant groups in society will effectively mobilize technology.
(272) The new diagnosis coming from ecological modernization is that dealing effectively with the environmental crisis will require serious engagement with technology.
Disjunctions and Divisions
(273) Nevertheless, it is a mistake to follow the commonplace conviction that technology by itself “causes” change, because technology is not only a force for but also a product of social and cultural change.
Misa's main point, countering a naïve perspective of technological determinism. Also need to broaden understanding of how modern technology interacts with other cultures.
(274) This internal disjunction is compounded by the external division between the Moslem-Arab worldview and the Western worldview, made evident by the September 11th attacks.
(275) It is an especially pressing concern that scholars and citizens in the West know all too little about the details and dynamics of how modern technologies are interacting with traditional social forms. This is true not only for the Middle East, Asia, and Africa but also for native peoples in North and South America.
Misa, Thomas J. (2004). Leonardo to the internet: Technology & culture from the Renaissance to the present. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Misa, Thomas J. Leonardo to the Internet: Technology & Culture from the Renaissance to the Present. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. Print.