[techbooks] REVIEW: "Meaning in Technology", Arnold Pacey
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"Meaning in Technology", Arnold Pacey, 1999, 0-262-16182-6, U$27.50
%A Arnold Pacey
%C 55 Hayward Street, Cambridge, MA 02142-1399
%I MIT Press
%O U$27.50 +1-800-356-0343 fax: +1-617-625-6660 www-mitpress.mit.edu
%P 264 p.
%T "Meaning in Technology"
In the introduction, under a section entitled "Aim," Pacey states that
the book is intended to affirm that personal experience of technology
is significant, and that such experience should be discussed without
denigrating it as "merely subjective." Unfortunately, aside from
pointing out that people do react to technology on a personal level,
he does not make clear what the benefit of such a discussion might be.
Another part of the introduction, and one that I can fully agree with,
points out the futility of studies bent on proving some causative
model that led to, for example, the industrial revolution. For a
number of years I have kept a quotation from "Constantine the Great
and the Christian Church" by Norman H. Baynes:
"To take a man's past and demonstrate its inherent logic is a
fascinating pursuit--to prove to one's own satisfaction that the
past could not have been otherwise than it was, being a necessary
development from that which had gone before, this is gratifying to
man, for he can thus look back upon human history and regard it as
in a sense his own creation and can then praise its creator."
Therefore, it is rather ironic to find that the title of the first
chapter postulates that music may somehow cause technology. This is
the more interesting in light of the fact that a number of Pacey's
examples show some effect of technology on music (in one case stopping
the music), but nowhere is evidence presented for an effect in the
other direction. The author also expands on his assertion of the
inadequacy of purely objective studies by noting that people believe
life is only meaningful if it has a purpose, whereas a strictly
"scientific" account is only descriptive, and can say nothing about
Chapter two presents some ideas on visual thinking. It is difficult
to say what chapter three is about: the phenomenon of ideas being
generated from the unconscious plays a part, as does the value of
manual work in the thinking process, but most of the anecdotes seem to
relate to observation somehow. The assertion that inventors often
don't understand the real usefulness of their inventions is mixed up
with observations of marketability in chapter four.
Chapter five contains tidbits of travel trivia, some of which might
possibly connect to specific technologies suitable to those
geographical environments. Exploration and "improvement" upon nature
are the matter of chapter six. The examination of gender, in chapter
seven, is marked by the recent "narrow Mars/inclusive-but-restricted
Venus" stereotype. Chapter eight is concerned with the idea that
"some things man was not meant to know," but, with the emphasis on
weapons and military technology, the concept of evil technology, as
opposed to evil use, is not examined.
People-centred technology is reviewed in chapter nine, but the lack of
analysis limits the points that can be made.
As a work of poetry (or perhaps poesy), and personal reaction, the
book is rather lovely. Read uncritically, the collection of essays is
enjoyable and even vaguely thought-provoking. Oddly though, this
value comes at the expense of significance. As long as you are
looking for some kind of purpose to the book, you are going to be
frustrated. You can only find merit if you abandon meaning.
copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999 BKMEATCH.RVW 990924
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