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The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global…

The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (2007)

by David Edgerton

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Having read the author's critique of the British military-industrial state, I knew pretty much what to expect; a polemical dismissal of the inventor as a Promethean figure and of the academy as being overrated as a contributor to technological change. Most important in this extended essay is that Edgerton calls for a history of technology based on an examination of what specific tools and processes that societies make use of, as opposed to notions of supposed progress. ( )
  Shrike58 | Aug 21, 2013 |
Amazon received
  romsfuulynn | Apr 28, 2013 |
An interesting book--the author makes a lot of really valid points, but the writing made some of them pretty hard to grasp. ( )
1 vote savoirfaire | Apr 6, 2013 |
I was very disappointed in this book for a number of reasons. The introduction promised a history of technology based on use rather than invention, a bottom-up, non-western and, in its own word, feminised view of its history. However, the book takes what I feel to be a very traditional, and perhaps macho, approach of introducing favourite myths and rebutting them. And it is not always consistent. Sometimes the argument is that, in use terms, technology changes little, for example the prevalence of small arms and horses in the second world war (although here I think he also conflates usage with efficacy, particularly when comparing the killing power of traditional bombs and the atom bomb). At others, it is that technological change is usually led by military needs rather than from the academy. Of course both can be true, but I felt that his approach of myth-busting meant adjacent chapters appeared to contradict each other. There is much in here that is worth reading and the myths of technological determinism do indeed need to be busted. But I am not convinced that either Edgerton's approach nor his use of statistics succeeds in doing so. ( )
  Schopflin | Dec 2, 2011 |
The main thesis of the book is that we do not understand what the important technologies of the twentieth century are. The book proposes an alternate (controversial) view to the current textbooks on histories of technology. It argues that the most significant innovations and inventions are often the ones built on old / traditional ways of doing things rather than the linear progression of hyped new technologies.

I was surprised that I did not find much to disagree on in the book. As an engineer, geek, partial neophiliac and foresighter I have all the credentials to be the stereotype targeted in this book, but I could not find an argument that made me uncomfortable. In the discussion around the question of *what is the author arguing for?* I was unclear as to what the next steps need to be. Whilst the argument that current policy strategy can lead to the funding of white elephants I wasn't clear what the proposition for how it could be done differently was - I think it was the need to focus on the here and now innovation in addition to the long term invention.

My take away from the book was the unknown truth of history - for example the argument that world war II was won by horses, big guns and small arms, not fighter planes and atomic bombs. If this is true then why do we invest so much in the development of these red herrings?

Things to change: when assessing innovation a common assumption made is that there is no comparable alternative, to understand the significance of an innovation it is essential to understand the implications of use - how the innovation will change things that people do. Some comparison to the alternatives (even if the alternative is that it does not get done) is useful to understand potential benefit. Could this be applied to assessment of internal investments?

Interesting tidbit: the second biggest global killer of people (after malaria) is the automobile (around 1 million people per year - pg 27 - would love to find stats reference to support that). ( )
  ArupForesight | Sep 12, 2008 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
"Edgerton notes that, 'The historical study of things in use, and the uses of things, matters.' (p. 212). After reading this fascinating book, we have to agree, and I would urge anyone with an interest in the history of technology to get this book. Your view of the world will never be the same."
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I stood on a hill and I saw the Old approaching, but it came as the New.
It hobbled up on new crutches which no one had ever seen before and stank new smells of decay which no one had ever smelt before.
-Bertolt Brecht (1939) from 'Parade of the New', in Bertolt Brect: Poems 1913-1956, John Willett and Raph Manheim (eds.) (London: Methuen, 1987), p. 323
For Andrew
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Much of what is written on the history of technology is for boys of all ages.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195322835, Hardcover)

From the books of H.G. Wells to the press releases of NASA, we are awash in clichéd claims about high technology's ability to change the course of history. Now, in The Shock of the Old, David Edgerton offers a startling new and fresh way of thinking about the history of technology, radically revising our ideas about the interaction of technology and society in the past and in the present. He challenges us to view the history of technology in terms of what everyday people have actually used-and continue to use-rather than just sophisticated inventions. Indeed, many highly touted technologies, from the V-2 rocket to the Concorde jet, have been costly failures, while many mundane discoveries, like corrugated iron, become hugely important around the world. Edgerton reassesses the significance of such acclaimed inventions as the Pill and information technology, and underscores the continued importance of unheralded technology, debunking many notions about the implications of the "information age." A provocative history, The Shock of the Old provides an entirely new way of looking historically at the relationship between invention and innovation.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:34 -0400)

Offers a global account of the place of technology in twentieth century history.

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