Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Monday, September 27, 2010

adding to the tech canon

The Atlantic Tech Canon is fab, but rather skewed towards the present day. I'd like to suggest a few items from most distant eras. (This list is by no means exhaustive or even especially well-considered.)

1) Hugh St. Victor, Didascalion (ca. 1120): Hugh did more than anyone else in the West to organize the knowledge of his time, develop methods of reading, and improve technologies of the book. See Ivan Illich’s brilliant In the Vineyard of the Text for more.
2) Abū al-'Iz Ibn Ismā'īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī, The Book of Knowledge of Ingenius Mechanical Devices (1206): an extraordinary and extraordinarily influential compendium of engineering achievements.
3) The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (late 15th and early 16th centuries). Enough said.
4) Robert Hooke, Micrographia (1665): demonstrated to all Europe the power of the microscope to reveal an extraordinarily vibrant world otherwise invisible to us.
5) Joseph Priestley, A New Chart of History (1765): the enormous influence of this chart in shaping Western thinking about historical sequence is explained in Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton’s Cartographies of Time: a History of the Timeline, my review of which will appear in a forthcoming issue of The New Atlantis. Here is Priestley’s book explaining his chart.

Among more recent contributions to the tech canon, I would like to commend Lewis Mumford’s 1934 book Technics and Civilization and Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society.

3 comments:

  • +1 for the Didascalion. What about Albert Borgmann? And where’s the love for We Can Build You, a P K Dick novel without the benefit of an epoch-making film behind it? (BTW, Atlantic, Do Androids Dream...?is a novel, not a short story.)

  • Ellul's Technological Society is blowing my mind. He makes a powerful argument. I see it played out everywhere now.

  • I'll second the recommendation of Ellul and Mumford. Add to that both of Albert Borgmann's Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life and Holding On to Reality. And you have to add Joseph Weizenbaum's Computer Power and Human Reason. I'd also be inclined to include Forster's The Machine Stops.

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