The Shock of the Old
The Shock of the Old

The Shock of the Old

For many decades now the term ‘technology’ has been closely linked with invention (the creation of a new idea) and innovation (the first use of a new idea). (Location 54)

knowledge of the present and past is supposedly ever less relevant. (Location 60)

By thinking about the history of technology-in-use a radically different picture of technology, and indeed of invention and innovation, becomes possible.4 (Location 87)

Even the key novel technology of the late twentieth century, the electronic computer, has been around for many decades. (Location 98)

Use-centred history is not simply a matter of moving technological time forward. As Bruno Latour has aptly noted, modern time, where this behaved as moderns believed, has never existed. (Location 102)

The supposedly obsolete battleship saw more action in the Second World War than in the First. Furthermore, the twentieth century has seen cases of technological regression. (Location 107)

It includes all places that use technology, not just the small number of places where invention and innovation is concentrated. In the innovation-centric account, most places have no history of technology. (Location 121)

A use-perspective points to the significance of novel technological worlds which have emerged in the twentieth century and which have hitherto had no place in histories of technology. (Location 124)

‘creole’ technologies, technologies transplanted from their place of origin finding uses on a greater scale elsewhere. (Location 129)

History reveals that technological futurism is largely unchanging over time. (Location 151)

These questions become much easier to answer if we stop thinking about ‘technology’, but instead think of ‘things’. Thinking about the use of things, rather than of technology, connects us directly with the world we know rather than the strange world in which ‘technology’ lives. (Location 174)

this. They argue that the significance of a technology for an economy is the difference between the cost or benefit of using a technology and that of the best alternative. (Location 251)

Rockets and atomic power, so beloved in the 1950s and 1960s as world-transforming technologies, are as likely to have made the world poorer rather than richer once all the costs and benefits have been computed. (Location 259)

Yet, these alternatives are often difficult to imagine, even when they exist. I remember asking engineering students in the mid-1980s what alternatives there were to satellites for long-distance telecommunication but they could find none. (Location 287)

But to become widely used, a thing does not have to be massively better than what preceded it; it need only be marginally better than alternatives (assuming for the moment that better technologies will replace worse ones). (Location 293)

The assumption that the new is much superior to older methods is widespread. Thus alternating current (AC) electrical systems were assumed to be superior to direct current (DC) systems in the so-called battle of the electrical systems in the late nineteenth century. (Location 302)

But the idea of ‘resistance’ makes sense only if there are no alternatives. (Location 312)

In choosing one technology, society was necessarily resisting many ‘old’ and ‘new’ alternative technologies. In that sense, many, perhaps most, technologies fail. (Location 314)

What drove the shift from wood to metal was the belief that metal was the material of the future and thus inherently more suitable for aircraft, an ideology later subscribed to by historians of aviation. (Location 336)

to be used if the technology of choice breaks down. (Location 341)

This reversion in time of crisis to an earlier, more robust and perhaps lower stage is an interesting reflection perhaps of an evolutionary pattern of thinking about technology. (Location 345)

What the report was suggesting was that an atomic raid did the same sort of damage as a standard large conventional one, a few per cent at most of the destruction meted out to Japan from the air. (Location 422)

told that ‘one atomic bomb on an arsenal would not be much different from the effect caused by any Air Corps strike of present dimensions (Location 424)

Atomic bombs showed their destructive capabilities only because alternatives were kept out of play. We should not, however, underestimate the point that they were weapons of mass terror as well as mass destruction. (Location 429)

The V-2 ‘was a unique weapon’, says its historian, Michael Neufeld, in that ‘more people died producing it than died from being hit by it’: at least 10,000 slave labourers perished in the course of production and around 5,000 from it.39 (Location 452)

Interestingly the origin of Teflon, or PTFE, had nothing to do with the space programme. It had been known and used for decades before the 1960s, and was even used for coating frying pans. The DuPont company invented it in 1938; it was given its name and first sold in 1945.41 (Location 488)

condom production was 1.4 million daily in 1931 and increased rapidly, so that in postwar America they were widely used. After the Second World War, helped doubtless by the issuing of condoms to troops, contraceptive condom usage went up strongly. For example, annual British sales increased steadily from around 43 million in 1949, to 150 million in the late 1960s.46 Clearly condoms were not used in the majority of sexual encounters. (Location 538)

Many of the most important technologies of the twentieth century were invented and innovated long before 1900. (Location 632)

took to arrive in the first place. New technologies appeared in every corner of the world very soon after innovation. Cars appeared in Barcelona by 1898. The famous (Location 645)

This was not a matter of time but of money. Crudely speaking the uptake of new technologies was determined by income. In the United States there was a profusion of consumer goods such as cars and washing machines in the 1920s at levels which were some thirty years in advance of even the richest European countries. (Location 658)