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[techbooks] REVIEW: "Meaning in Technology", Arnold Pacey

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  • Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Tr
    BKMEATCH.RVW 990924 Meaning in Technology , Arnold Pacey, 1999, 0-262-16182-6, U$27.50 %A Arnold Pacey %C 55 Hayward Street, Cambridge, MA 02142-1399
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 7, 1999
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      BKMEATCH.RVW 990924

      "Meaning in Technology", Arnold Pacey, 1999, 0-262-16182-6, U$27.50
      %A Arnold Pacey
      %C 55 Hayward Street, Cambridge, MA 02142-1399
      %D 1999
      %G 0-262-16182-6
      %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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