Scientific and technical instruments at home

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Waterbury Cloks advertisement from Ladies Home Journal, 1942

The first known references to mechanical timekeepers in Spain and other European countries date back to the 14th century, corresponding to expensive and uncommon objects purchased for cathedrals –paid by the church or by the city hall– and aimed at regulating religious ceremonies and services. In the late 14th century to the 17th century, public clocks were set up in monasteries, castles and palaces, and after that (in Spain mostly in the 16th, but sooner in other countries), they were also present in churches and city halls (Montañés, 1954, 61-80).

Their purpose was regulating the life of important villages and towns; and such it was for centuries, as it is shown in the following reference, a letter sent in 1836 to a clockmaker by the major of Escoussans, a commune in southern France (Tarn department):

Il y a environ quatre mois que vous avez chez vous l’horloge d’Escoussens. Vous aviez promis de la réparer de suite et de nous la renvoyer. Je suis fort étonné, Monsieur, que vous vous permettiez de retenir si longtemps un objet aussi utile et aussi nécessaire à la population d’Escoussens et dont la privation excite tous les jours son mécontentement. Vous devez concevoir que cette privation est d’autant plus sensible que, depuis un temps immémorial, les habitants de cette commune étaient habitués à avoir dans cette horloge une règle et un guide dans leur manière d’agir. Aussi ont-ils manifesté publiquement leur mécontentement. J’en ai été touché sensiblement et c’est ce qui m’a déterminé à vous écrire officiellement pour vous prévenir que si, d’ici à huit jours, l’horloge n’est pas réintégrée à sa place ou, si vous ne me faites connaître, par une prompte réponse, les motifs qui vous empêchent de nous en faire le renvoi immédiatement, je vais prendre des mesures pour vous actionner en justice. (Escande, 2010)

The first domestic clocks were also made in the 14th century, but these early devices, made mainly for kings and princes, had a different purpose. They were unusual objects which throughout the 15th and early 16th centuries were only accessible for the very wealthy. The first watches were made around 1500, but they were also extremely expensive and extraordinarily rare throughout the century. They were more valued as curiosities and for their decoration than for its usefulness as timekeepers (Ward, 1958).

In the case of domestic items then, its purpose was more symbolic than practical, and its economic value more important than its accuracy. Time-keepers, made using luxurious materials, represented its owner’s wealth, status and taste. In fact, up until the middle of the seventeenth century –with the exception of some German examples–, most of these pieces only had the hour hand, and an error of a quarter of an hour a day was not unusual. In fact it was customary to employ a sundial to check a watch when opportunity offered.

As F. A. B. Ward points out:

Throughout the sixteenth century watches must hav

e been great rarities, and were possessed only by the very wealthy. Their timekeeping was very poor and they were valued as curiosities and for their decoration rather than as timekeepers (Ward, 1958, 25).

Mens’ models were kept in the “fob” pocket, attached to a chain hanging outside it, while the womens’, similar in size or ornament, were designed to be hanged as necklaces on her waist. They were showy fashion accessories indicating their owner’s wealth.

The addition of the pendulum to the clock and of the balance-spring to the watch at themid 17th century transformed these devices into instruments of real utility (Ward, 1958, v y 17). These played an important role in the case of both astronomy and navigation –especially around the end of the 16th century, when long sea voyages started to be common– and astronomy. Around the 1730’s, the first timekeepers accurate enough for navigation were constructed, and in about 1800, observatory clocks were accurate to a few tenths of a second per day.

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Advertisement, Waterbury watches (1880s-1890s)

In the case of domestic items, great accuracy was not needed, but it became another symbolic value added to the richness and social position that both clocks and watches represented.

Throughout the nineteenth century, sooner or later depending on the countries –for example in the early decades in the case of England, and in the final ones in the case of Spain–, products resulting from the technological and industrial development started to be present in European homes. This growing presence was not only due to the new production and fabrication methods, but also to the faster means of transport of the materials, and to the new communication media which contributed to increase sales thanks to advertisements (Garvan, 1981, 620).

Apart from the new devices purposed for making existence more comfortable and simplifying housework, previously expensive objects, requiring many craftsmen’ working hours, were now produced in large numbers at a lower cost. Yet still expensive, some of these items were at least accessible for a sector of the middle class whose houses started to become enriched and filled with material goods (Garvan, 1981, 610).

In the specific case of watches and clocks, in the 1800s these previously inaccessible timepieces started to become cheaper and available to a growing middle class who purchased them in large numbers, seeking new symbols of status. This was thanks mainly to the use of machine tools in their manufacture, mass production techniques, and the substitution of expensive brass movements for wood ones.

But these devices would not be equally accessible in all the European countries. For example, during the early decades of the nineteenth century, the only clocks that could be seen advertised in Spanish newspapers were those sold at second hand objects auctions:

ANUNCIOS

VENTA PÚBLICA. Calle de la Concepción Jerónima número 9. = Mañana jueves 24 del corriente desde las once se subastan los efectos siguientes:

Un anteojo de larga vista. =  Uno idem Ingles de idem. = Una silla ungara para montar. = Unos pendientes de diamantes y perlas. = Una berlina. = Un caballo castaño. = Una mesa de juego de caoba. = Un tremol con su luna. = Un reloj de comedor. – Un piano de caoba, […]

Apart from timekeepers, other technological objects entered bourgeois and rich households. It was not only those related to leisure time that entered, like magic lanterns, stereoscopes or optical devices, but also some scientific instruments, such as the barometer or the thermometer, whose presence had been frequent in palaces and aristocratic houses in the previous century. There were several reasons for the introduction of such scientific devices. First of all, barometers and thermometers makers usually had been trained as opticians and watchmakers’, so these items were usually found amongst the objects sold in their workshops.

Secondly, these devices represented progress, modernity and prosperity. Possessing them was a sign of power, prestige and distinction, values that were transmitted to society through different ways, like international exhibitions, public lectures, or leisure clubhouses (Zozaya, 2008, 769-770). In the 19th century, technology represented man mastering nature (Guijarro y González, 2015, 126-129), and these types of measurement instruments allowed man to quantify it. They offered the possibility of looking at nature through science; they mediated nature, and represented the power of man over it. Therefore, a man with a barometer was like a magician able to predict nature’s behaviour.

1931 Taylor Stormguide Barometer original vintage advertisement. A rare gift for men

1931 advertisement of the Taylor Stormoguide Barometer

Finally, in the late 19th century these items would acquire an added significance in the context of a growing interest in health, wellness and the introduction of hygienic doctrine. Obviously, publicity had a lot of say in this situation, and instrument makers knew how to take advantage of it, as reflected the following text by from the catalogye published by the instrument makers Negretti and Zambra:

To the invalid, the importance of predicting with tolerable accuracy the changes that are likely to occur in the weather, cannot be over-rated. Many colds would be prevented, if we could know that the morning so balmy and bright, would subside into a cold and cheerless afternoon. Even to the robust, much inconvenience may be prevented by a due respect to the indications of the hygrometer and the barometer, and the delicate in health will do well to regard its warnings. (Negretti & Zambra, 1864, 23-24)

In sum, the presence of all these devices in the past was aimed at covering nothing but “superfluous” needs of human beings, which indeed constitute the most important needs. In the words of José Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher:

“La técnica es la producción de lo superfluo: hoy y en la época paleolítica” (Ortega, 2014, 72); because “el bienestar y no el estar es la necesidad fundamental para el hombre, la necesidad de las necesidades” (Ortega, 2014, 70). According to him, “Actos técnicos –decíamos- no son aquéllos en que el hombre procura satisfacer directamente las necesidades que la circunstancia o naturaleza le hace sentir, sino precisamente aquellos que llevan a reformar esa circunstancia eliminando en lo posible de ella esas necesidades, suprimiendo o menguando el azar y el esfuerzo que exige satisfacerlas. […] La técnica es lo contrario de la adaptación del sujeto al medio, puesto que es la adaptación del medio al sujeto” (Ortega, 2014, 67).

Technology is not simple meant to satisfy biological needs, the necessary conditions for life – “técnica no se reduce a facilitar la satisfacción de necesidades de ese género” –, but to  “proporcionar al hombre cosas y situaciones innecesarias en ese sentido” (Ortega, 2014, 68).

 

References and further readings

ANDREWES, J. H. (2006), « A chronicle of timekeeping », Scientific American, february, vol. 16, n.º 1s, pp. 46-55.

ESCANDE, Jean N. D. (2010), Escoussens sous la royauté; suivi de Les bourgeois du château, Escoussans, Château d’Escoussens Editions.

GARVAN, Anthony N. B. (1981), “Efectos de la tecnología en la vida doméstica, 1830-1880”, en Melvin Kranzberg y Carroll W. Pursell, Jr. (eds.), Historia de la Tecnología. La técnica en Occidente, de la Prehistoria a 1900, vol. II, Barcelona, Gustavo Gili.

GUIJARRO, Víctor, and GONZÁLEZ, Leonor (2015), La comprensión cultural de la Tecnología, Madrid, Universitas.

El indicador de las novedades, de los espectáculos y de las artes, 23 octubre 1822, p. 4.

MONTAÑÉS Fontenla, Luis (1954), Biblioteca literaria del relojero. II. Capítulos de la relojería en España, Madrid, Roberto Carbonell Blasco.

MORRISON, Allison (2007), Making Scientific Instruments in the Industrial Revolution, Aldershot: Ashgate.

NEGRETTI & ZAMBRA, (1864), A treatise on Meteorological Instruments, London (reprinted in 1996 by Baros Books, Wiltshire, England)

ORTEGA y GASSET, José, (2014, 1ª ed. 1939), Ensimismamiento y alteración. Meditación de la técnica y otros ensayos, Madrid, Alianza editorial

WARD, F. A. B. (1958), Handbook of the Collection illustrating Time Measurement, Part I: Historical review, Londres, Science Museum, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

ZOZAYA MONTES, María (2008), El Casino de Madrid: ocio, sociabilidad, identidad y representación social (PhD Thesis), and the published version: ZOZAYA MONTES, María (2016), Identidades en juego: Formas de representación social del poder de la élite en un espacio de sociabilidad masculino, 1836-1936, Madrid, Siglo XXI.

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Recreational technology in 19th century

peppersposterroyalpolyinstAdvertisement from a representation of the illusion called “Pepper’s Ghost” at the Royal Polytechnic Institution, London.

At the very beginning of the 18th century, lecture demonstrations in “experimental philosophy” (what today we would call practical physics) started to develop in England, soon extending to other European countries. This event was inspired by the interest for experiments and demonstrations which had emerged in some 17th century institutions such as the Royal Society of London, Cimento’s Academy in Florence, or Leiden University.

A large amount of these activities would take place in both public and private places to amuse the public and to promote the dissemination of scientific and technical knowledge among all kinds of people. In cities like London they used to take place in the coffee houses or in the shops of instrument makers; in the provinces, they were given by itinerant lecturers; in private houses, lectures were initially associated with men of wealth and position, owners of large cabinets of antiquities and curiosities which were aimed, beyond delighting illustrious and literate visitors, at bearing witness to the wealth, prestige and reputation of its holder.

Soon the collecting vogue spread well down the social scale, giving place to an expansion of interest in scientific knowledge to all sorts of people (Turner, 1987, 380).

As Robert John Thornton wrote in 1813:

[…] the age in which we live, seems to me, of all the periods in history, the most distinguished for the sudden and extensive impulse which the human mind has received, and which has extended its active influence to every object of human pursuit. The diffusion of a general knowledge, and of a taste for science, over all classes of men, in every nation of Europe, or of European origin, seems to be the characteristic feature of the present age. The study of the sciences principally has expanded the mind, and laid it open for the reception of every kind of truth. […] in no former age, was ever the light of knowledge so extended, and so generally diffused. Knowledge is not now confined to public schools, or to particular classes of men (Thornton, 1813, 53).

Lecturers thus popularized science, to the point that, for example, in Britain the movement became institutionalized by the founding of the Royal Institution in 1799 or by the lecture-demonstration in Mechanics’ Institutes (Turner, 1987, 381, 383).

These events continued taking place well into the 19th century, also in other countries. An Spanish example is provided by this advertisement:

Nueva Pitonisa. Dentro de pocos dias llegará á esta corte, acompañado de su hija la jóven sibila Elena, el célebre doctor Nicolay, físico de las cortes de Europa y del Brasil. La prensa de Francia, Rusia y América, háse ocupado con justos elogios en distintas ocasiones de aquel notable doctor y de su bella hija, que han causado la admiración por sus extraordinarios experimentos de física y de magnetismo. Como suponemos que el público de Madrid tendrá en breve ocasión de aplaudir á las dos personas que hemos mencionado, no apuntamos ninguno de los ejercicios y juegos de prestidigitacion y de magnetismo que han obtenido el aplauso general, causando extrañeza hasta á los mismos maestros del arte.

La iberia, 7/9/1877

At that time, audiences were prone to visit different types of exhibits which sometimes combined illusions, magic or spiritism with science, automatons or other mechanisms. Scientific shows became part of the public culture: they usually came into play in or near other places socially and culturally interesting, so that audiences could relate them to the activities already existent in those spaces (Morus, 2006, 10 5-107). Natural philosophy thus became part of consumer culture through its visual product. Scientific lectures and shows provided a chance to teach consumers how to see science, how to look at the scientific and technical artefacts and displays in an appropriate way. The lectures helped configure a specific idea about science and technology, and contributed to the rise of a visual scientific culture.

These sorts of encounters were primarily visual, and this, therefore, was how such audiences understood natural philosophy. Natural philosophy was a way of producing spectacular effects that demonstrated both the workings of nature and the power of the showman to control that nature (Morus, 2006, 1 10).

For some Art historians (Jonathan Crary (1999), Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press), optical illusions provide interesting information about how industrial society and modernity brought about new ways of seeing as an active and cultural process.

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Illustration of a recreational scientific lecture showing how the “Pepper’s Ghost” illusion was carried out. Image from “The Richard Balzer Collection. (dickbalzer.blogspot.com.es/2012/01/peppers-ghost.html?m=1)

Indeed, vision was the main sense in the process of learning science in the 18th and 19th centuries, so the scientific shows performing projections and optical illusions developed an important role. For Brewster the eye was “the sentinel which guards the pass between the worlds of matter and spirit, and through which all their communications are interchanged”, it helped to establish “the relationship between the inner mind and outer reality” (Morus, 2006, 102). Optical illusions were the result of the interpretation made by our minds of the external world, but projection apparatus highlighted the fallibility of human judgement; in this case, the greater the knowledge, the bigger the illusion’s effect.

Some of the exhibits employed dazzling experiments and effects aimed at producing in the public feelings of both surprise and admiration. Trying to find a balance between, on the one hand, what was shown to produce admiration and meet audience’s expectations and, on the other hand, what was hidden to keep alive the mystery, many lecturers were deeply interested in offering to the audiences truthful information. Not only they wanted to transmit scientific knowledge in an amusing way, they also sought to educate the eyes and the minds of the audiences and to inform the public, so that they could prevent them from being deceived by charlatans (Morus, 2006, 105). A good example of this is provided by the following text from a 1803 leaflet of a Philipstahal show:

This SPECTROLOGY, which professes to expose the Practices of artful Impostors and pretended Exorcists, and to open the Eyes of those who still foster an absurd Belief in GHOSTS or DISEMBODIED SPIRITS, will, it is presumed, afford also to the Spectator an interesting and pleasing Entertainment; and in order to render these Apparations more interesting, they will be introduced during the Progress of a tremendous Thunder Storm, accompanied with vivid Lightning, Hail, Wind, &c.

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Leaflet from a 1807 Philipsthal representation at the Theater-Royal, in Norwich

Over the years, a large part of the knowledge and objects associated to these types of spectacles were introduced in the houses and, as we will see later, in the schools. As Gerard L’E pointed out,

The scientific lecture-demonstrations to literate audiences from about 1700 set a pattern for the demonstration of the fundamentals of science that is still with us. Some of the set pieces used by the early lecturers passed into recreational use during the Victorian period, and became toys in the twentieth century (Turner, 1987, 377).

As a matter of fact, many of the instruments used in the lectures were sold (and are still sold today) as entertainment devices, some of them intended for adults, and some others, known as “scientific toys”, for kids to play at home (Turner, 397).

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The “Bowl-About”, a toy “founded on the principle of placing the centre of gravity very near the lower part of the figure”, in this case with the appearance of a Chinese fat man. From the trade catalogue of John J. Griffin and Sons (Scientific handicraft, a descriptive, illustrated and priced catalogue of apparatus suitable for the performance of elementary experiments in physics, Londres, 1873, p.15) 

Also an endless number of books on the subject with a ludic appearance were published in the 19th and 20th century (for recreational science for kids in the 20th century in America see Rebecca Onion, Innocent experiments: childhood and the Culture of Popular Science in the United States, The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

Tom Tit Fr

Several covers form french editions of books on recreational science written by Tom Tit (Arthur Good’s pen name), 1891-1893

But, whilst some of the experiments remained the same (most of them belonged to the 18th century), the cultural and social meaning of these events suffered slight changes as time went by. For example, the presence of these scientific devices outside the research and educational environment, especially at the end of the 19th century, was closely related to the idea of a “profitable” or “fruitful” leisure (purposeful use of the time). Behind this idea there were Institutions and individuals interested in promoting hygiene and worker welfare. They considered education as more important than recreation and thus proposed to the people cultural activities to make the best of their leisure time (Poser, 3). These scientific devices had special characteristics which made them attractive to the public:

Technology that is suitable as a model for toys needs to have an “excitement factor” – or at least a certain level of familiarity – and be accessible and intuitive at the same time. It should engage the user on an emotional level, for a sense of wonder about technology inspires interest in playing with its replica. Furthermore, simulated technology used for play probably facilitates the technology’s acceptance, as the playful interaction directs the user’s attention back to the original. Such simulations can further promote important technological skills and know-how. Technology plays an important role regarding such toys as steam engines and model trains, which came on the market towards the end of 19th century (Poser, 2011, 7).

The effect of scientific shows in the transmission of a scientific culture and the deep impression and emotions which provoked in the audience was well reflected in the testimony of several scientists. Some remember in its biographies the impact which these events made on them as children. Such is the case of Charles Babbage (born in 1791), who recalls in his biography, Passages from the life of a Philosopher:

During my boyhood, my mother took me to several exhibitions of machinery. I well remember one of them in Hanover Square, by a man who called himself Merlin. I was so greatly interested in it, that the Exhibitor remarked the circumstance, and after explaining some of the objects to which the public had access, proposed to my mother to take me up to his workshop, where I should see still more wonderful automata. We accordingly ascended to the attic. There were two uncovered female figures of silver, about twelve inches high (Babbage, 1864, 17).

The attraction provoked by scientific shows, together with the central role occupied by visual thinking in the transmission of knowledge and the old Horacio’s idea of teaching with delight, had an influence on the fact that some of the patterns associated to lectures were generally adopted in the 19th century in European educational institutions. Therefore we find certain elements common to both contexts: the type of scientific instrument; the prestige associated to the possession of large collections of scientific instruments (González, 2015), which on occasion prompted some educational institutions to the acquisition of some pieces whose pedagogical role could be considered secondary; the use of scientific and technological instruments in the diffusion of knowledge as supposedly compelling evidences of the science truthfulness (see the entry “Educational Technology” on this blog); the idea of teaching with delight, specially through visual thinking (see the entries “Visual thinking” and “Images of technology as mediators of reality” on this blog); or the use of the term “scientific” to refer to both science and technology, which was thus subordinated to science.

Nevertheless, not all lecture’s patterns were easy to reproduce in a formal educational context. Apart from the fact that attending a school or a high school was not considered a leisure time activity by the students, the reproduction of experiments was frequently, if not always, a hard task. To carry out a scientific show required a difficult training, preparation, rehearsal and knowledge (Morus, 2006, 108), that the teacher could not always easily accomplish. Leaving aside the fact that reproducing experiments or using scientific or technological instruments in the educational process was not a compulsory activity (the system was based on rote learning) and that most of the teachers preferred the master class, reproducing the lecture or science show pattern in the classroom required preparing not one experiment, but one for each lesson. Most of the scientific and technical instruments were on display in showcases, but, were they put into operation?

Bibliography and further reading

BABBAGE, Charles (1864), Passages from the life of a Philosopher; COPPOLA, Al (2016), The Theater of Experiment: Staging Natural Philosophy in Eighteenth Century Britain, Oxford University Press; GONZÁLEZ, Leonor, “El lenguaje tácito de la tecnología” in Leonor González and Vicente Fernández (editors), El Instituto de San Isidro, saber y patrimonio. Apuntes para una historia, CSIC, 2013; MORUS, Iwan Rhys (2006), “Seeing and believing science”, Isis, Vol. 97, No. 1: 101-110; ONION, Rebecca, Innocent experiments: childhood and the Culture of Popular Science in the United States, The University of North Carolina Press, 2016; POSER, Stefan (2011), “Leisure time and Technology”, en European History Online (EGO), published by the Institute of European History (IEG), Mainz 2011-09-26. http://www.ieg-ego.eu/posers-2010-en ; SCHAFFER, Simon (1983), “Natural Philosophy and Public Spectacle in the Eighteenth Century”, History of Science, 21: 1-43; THORNTON, Robert John (1813, 5ª ed.), “The progress of Chemistry”, in The Philosophy of Medicine: being medical extracts on the nature and preservation of health, on the nature and removal of disease, 2 vol., vol. I, London, in https://archive.org/details/b21514185_0001 ; TURNER, Gerard L’E (1987), “Scientific Toys”, in British Journal of the History of Science, 20: 377-398.

Social nudism

Clothing was presented in western cultures as an achievement of civilized beings in their process of differentiation from beasts and animals. In Plato´s version of the Prometheus myth, the author describes how humans were transformed by the intervention of one of the Titans. Prometheus stole fire from the workshop of Athena and Hephaistos, and gave it to mankind,

and in this way man was supplied with the means of life […]  He was not long in inventing articulate speech and names; and he also constructed houses and clothes and shoes and beds, and drew sustenance from the earth. (Protagoras, 322 a-b).

Nevertheless, Cynic philosophers (from the 6th to the 3rd Century B.C.) rejected conventional social values and the polis lifestyle; they were in favour of simple habits and living in agreement with nature. Clothing was a symbol of these ideals, so everyone can recognize followers of this school of thought by their apparel: an old cloak and a staff. Their hero was Heracles, not Prometheus.

In the 18th Century, opposition between nature and civilization was a regular topic for discussion in philosophical circles. For enligthened reformers, civilization and progress were intertwined with science and technology innovations. Two texts stand out as representative examples of one of the perspectives adopted in these matters. One is Lettres persanes, by Montesquieu, written in 1721, particularly the part devoted to the Troglodyte fable, a description of a society which lives according to natural impulses but that ends replacing former habits by the impositions of a government and education. The other is Supplément au voyage de Bougainville, by Diderot, published in 1772, where an elder Tahitian reveals the true order of nature, which has nothing to do with Western rules. Obviously, Tahitian moral, following pure instincts of nature, is superior to Western social behaviour in every aspect (later the myth of Tahiti grew, expressed in P. Gauguin’s paintings and other manifestations).

From the Renaissance on, some depictions of humans resting and having fun in a garden (the representation of nature domesticated) transmit the image of an eternal state of innocence. A remarkable example is Lucas Cranach, the elder, “The Golden Age” (c. 1530), an idealistic period of time when people lived in eternal peace, as nature provided all what is needed. Technology in this age was superfluous. The figures in Cranach`s painting –nude- were arranged in animated poses. Note that men and women are differentiated by their flesh tone (women are paler).

Lucas_Cranach_the_Elder_-_The_Golden_Age_-_Google_Art_Project

Lucas Cranach, the elder, “The Golden Age”, c. 1530. Wikipedia.

Idyllic retirement to nature, in response to industrial society demands and effects on living conditions, was common among writers, artists and philosophers. A well-known case is H. David Thoreau, but there are many others. In Walden (1854), he wrote inspiring words for the pro-naturalist doctrines (according to the version provided by www.gutenberg.org):

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. I got up early and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did.

For similar reasons, at the end of the 19th century naturism movements emerged, advocating from a political and cultural perspective social nudity. In Paris there was an anarchist colony formed by approximately hundred individuals around the figure of Emile Gravelle. As a contribution to the expression of the ideals of the movement they published the journal L’Etat Naturel, from 1894 to 1898. According to this and other publications we know their positions on scientific and technological matters. These can be summarized saying that science is an invention to repair what was devastated by human actions and by a technological way of thinking. Other assertions of the Gravelle’s circle were that material progress is the result of slavery; epidemic diseases are a consequence of civilization, and science is nothing but presumptuous knowledge (Roselló, 2008, 25). These ideas crossed the borders and reached other countries, among them Spain, whose history is fully reported in the book edited by the sociologist José María Roselló  ¡Viva la naturaleza! (Virus Editorial, 2008). In the early 1900´s a group of people from Germany established an anarcho-naturalist colony next to Ascona (Switzerland), where strict vegetarianism and nudism was practised, and conventions on dress codes and marriage were also rejected. The initial promoters came from a Munich neighbourhood called Schwabing, and it was known as Monte Veritá. The venue attracted many artists, writers, and intellectuals such as Sigmund Freud, Hermann Hesse, Carl Gustav Jung, D. H. Lawrence, Franz Kafka, Franz Werfel, and Max Weber. The history of this cultural movement is the subject matter of Freie Liebe und Anarchie (Allitera, 2009), written by Ulrike Voswinckel, whose Spanish version (Contra la vida establecida, El Paseo Editorial) will come out in the next few days (see http://elpaseoeditorial.com/ps16/prestashop/es/inicio/24-contra-la-vida-establecida.html).

In the 1960s anarcho-naturist movements kept the commitments in a context formed by new elements: the influences of oriental spiritual religions, anti-war protests, counter-culture expressions, the scale of military technology spending, the cold war, psychedelia… Many communes were created across the United States (a phenomena studied in the book by Timothy Millers The 60s communes: Hippies and Beyond, Syracuse UP, 1999). Micah L. Issitt says in Hippies: A Guide to an American Subulture (Greenwood Press, 2009) that

Another major facet of hip [Hippie] sexuality was the acceptance of nudity, a crucial step toward addressing the issues of `body image’ in American culture. Hippies reveled in the simple pleasure of being nude in public and in private, which contrasted sharply with mainstream attitudes about nudity. Though nudist communities existed before hippies, hip nudist challenged societal norms by flaunting their nudity in public, despite objections and laws prohibiting ‘indicency’(Issitt, 2009, 21-22).

We must remember that counterculture movements were also responsible for ideas and practices that led to the information technology society, which was considered a liberating tool, not an “authoritarian technology” in the terms used by Lewis Mumford. Nevertheless, present uses of the web do not follow these early expectations.

At present, every year the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) takes place, where participants use human-powered transport and ride in public nudity to contribute to a cleaner and body-positive world image.

Naked_Bike_Ride_-_Holborn_-_12_June_2016

WNBR passing Holborn underground station 11 June 2016. Wikipedia

References and further readings

Micah L. Issitt (2009), Hippies: A Guide to an American Subulture, Greenwood Press; Timothy Millers (1999), The 60s communes: Hippies and Beyond, Syracuse UP; José María Roselló (2008), ¡Viva la naturaleza!, Virus Editorial; Ulrike Voswinckel (2009), Freie Liebe und Anarchie, ed Allitera, (Spanish version (2017), Contra la vida establecida, El Paseo Editorial).

Images of technology as mediators of reality

If we think about the first objects exposed to the public in science museums, very likely what comes to mind is either a huge clock (as in the Museo de las Ciencias de Castilla La Mancha, Cuenca, Spain), a huge steam engine in motion beating your ears with the repetitive piston sound (for example the one in the Science Museum, London, Great Britain) or a real plane hanging from the ceiling (for instance the one in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry). Designers and curators are aware of the power those images and sounds have to transmit values, feelings or information (see the entry Transmission of knowledge on this blog).

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Corliss Steam Engine in motion at the London Science Museum (Great Britain)

Technology is a human creation, it’s the result of transforming the reality surrounding us. But once a technological device has been brought up and has been introduced in society  (see the entries Innovation and Diffusion of innovations on this blog), it transforms our vision of that reality. Then, technology and the images representing it and resulting from it become mediators of our world view. As a result, those images convey values, give rise to archetypes and feelings that substitute rationality, or become symbols and metaphors of reality.

Technology manages to convey specific values such as progress, effectiveness or precision (see the entry Progress on this blog). Technology and technological methods represent efficacy, so they lead us to think that their use of will result in better outcomes. This idea has driven us, for example, to introduce factory methods or technological devices in activities like teaching (see the entries Culture of technology in secondary education and Educational technology on this blog) -something very well reflected in overoptimistic images foreseing a wonderful future thanks to technology, like the future School with a “Robot Teacher” we reproduce here, by Shigeru Komatsuzak. Or to the use of scientific and technological methods to measure individual characteristics in order to improve both professional orientation and performance (Guijarro y González, 2015, 249).

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A vision of the future, entitled “The Rise of the Computerized School”, illustrated by Shigeru Komatsuzaki for an 1969 article of the japanese magazine Shōnen Sunday (週刊少年サンデー, Shūkan Shōnen Sandē).

But the attitude towards technology is not universal. Whereas some people reject or mistrust an excessive technology presence (technophobia and techno-scepticism) (the Amish represent an extreme example), for others technological objects are no longer mere objects with a specific utility, but models and basic elements in their way of life (technophilia).

When the images resulting from the action of technology on a reality provide a model to understand that reality -without becoming a real explanation of it but merely an interpretation- they drive to the emergence of an archetype. Such is the case of the internet, which has become an archetype of communication (Stefik, 1996) or the human archetypes emerged from XIX century studies on physical anthropology, which led to the concept of human races and to a human archetypes hierarchy where the use of technology played an important role: it was associated to civilization and progress and hence to (moral, intellectual and material) superiority (Guijarro and González, 2015, 99-105). The latter is an example of how archetypes can introduce prejudices beyond reason that prevent us from seeing reality the way it is.

Sometimes technology, in the form of large buildings and constructions representing the triumph of engineering skill (of men over nature), provokes feelings of attraction and admiration that substitute rationality. This phenomenon, studied by David Nye in his book American Technological Sublime, takes place when “an object strikes people dumb with amazement” (Nye, 1994, 16) and it’s reflected in public’s affection for spectacular technologies.

The sublime underlies this enthusiasm for technology. One of the most powerful human emotions, when experienced by large groups the sublime can weld society together. In moments of sublimity, human beings temporarily disregard divisions among elements of the community. The sublime taps into fundamental hopes and fears. It is not a social residue, created by economic and political forces, though both can inflect its meaning. Rather, it is essentially religious feeling, aroused by the confrontation with impressive objects, such as Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, the New York skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, or the earth-shaking launch of a space shuttle. (Nye, 1994, xiii).

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People gathered to watch the starting of the massive Corliss engine, which powered a myriad of other machines at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition (The International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine), in 1876. The event celebrated the 100th anniversary of American independence announcing the ascendancy of the United States of America as a leading industrial power.

Yet the mediation of technology can change the way we look at the reality it has either acted upon or been associated to in such a way that it completely reshapes our vision of that reality. Then, technological images become metaphors (this entry complements the entry Metaphors on this blog). This is the case, for example, of the human mind, seen itself as a computer after both the invention of computers and the use of these devices to imitate some mind processes. Other examples would be thinking of humans as robots or of schools as factories.

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Evocation of steam and smoke, symbols of progress, in a train station. Claude Monet, The Gare Saint-Lazare: Arrival of a Train, 1877 (Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums).

In other situations, technology displaces in our minds a reality it’s associated to so that the technological object get to represent that reality. It has happened, for example: with the Eiffel tower, which has become a symbol of Paris; with the steam and the smoke, symbols of progress mainly in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and present in many paintings of the time (such is the case in the series of works by Claude Monet representing Saint-Lazare train station in Paris, paradigm of modern Paris and a subject favoured by many impressionist painters); or with the garden, which represents a domesticated nature.

“The progress of the century”. Lithograph featuring new technologies associated with America’s emerging industrial greatness: the telegraph, the railroad, the locomotive steamboat, and the steam-engine powered printing press, by Currier and Ives, 1876.

Like most symbols, technological symbols are cultural and can vary from one period to another. The garden provides a good example of it:

Los jardines formales del siglo XVII son expresión del poder humano y de la disconformidad que se sentía ante la irregularidad original que presentaba la naturaleza. Durante este periodo el diseño geométrico aplicado a estos espacios obedecía a un intento por rememorar los planes divinos en un mundo que había degenerado y caído en el caos. En el siglo XVIII se relajó levemente el apremio por el orden y la artificiosidad y se acogieron formas más naturales. En la siguiente centuria se pretendió en los encargos realizados a los naturalistas por las sociedades de agricultura, destinados al diseño de jardines de aclimatación, ensayo de plantas y cultivos, aunar lo bello y lo útil. Por tanto, la idea de jardín es un concepto ambiguo, que evoca, por un lado, una parte de la naturaleza y, por el otro, la intervención humana. Es una representación de la naturaleza, una naturaleza, en definitiva, producida y controlada.

Más tarde, el ideal del ensamblaje de la naturaleza y la civilización se intentó promover en los proyectos urbanísticos de la ciudad-jardín. En estos propósitos, concebidos por Ebenezer Howard (1850-1927) a finales del siglo XIX, se trataba de equilibrar lo mejor de la vida urbana y la rural; se trataba de disponer cinturones verdes en la ciudad y fusionar las necesidades de la industria y de la ecología.

El alto valor simbólico del jardín en nuestra cultura explica que esté presente en creaciones que cuestionan los logros de la civilización occidental. En este caso se trata de dos obras cinematográficas, Metrópolis, de Fritz Lang (1927) y Mi tío, de Jacques Tati (1958). En ambos casos se pretende crear un particular desasosiego en el espectador mostrando jardines donde la intervención humana ha creado realidades artificiales que aparentemente han anulado los vestigios de naturaleza y, por tanto, reducido la calidad de las relaciones humanas (Guijarro y González, 2015, 97)

Artists have a special ability to identify those images of reality mediated by technology that prevail in society and make them explicit in their works, frequently through parody or dystopia. Their vision is mainly techno-sceptical, that is, they accept some aspects of technology while rejecting others, specially those affecting environment, privacy, freedom or health. Apart from the movies mentioned in the quote, Metropolis and Mon oncle, and the too well known example of Modern times (Charles Chaplin, 1935) there are also other remarkable examples of film directors criticizing technology like Woody Allen (Sleeper, 1973), François Truffaut (Fahrenheit 451, 1966 -film based on the book of the same name by Ray Bradbury, 1953), or Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, 1982, based upon the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep)

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The automatized and dehumanized Garden of Villa Arpel, Jaques Tati, Mon oncle (1958)

Tati’s film, Mon oncle (1958), proposes a way to dehumanize gardens through a vision of the modern and automatized Villa Arpel:

La casa y el jardín son «máquinas para vivir» mucho más que lugares de vida. Todo en ellos es frío y mecánico. La fuente de aluminio en forma de pez que hay en medio del jardín aparece como la encarnación de los falsos valores de una burguesía que se adorna superfluamente de modernidad. […] su reflexión está relacionada con las contradicciones y las promesas incumplidas de la modernidad” (Jakob, 2010, 48-49).

Sleeper is a movie which takes place in the year 2173, when Miles (Woody Allen) wakes up after a long sleep induced in 1973. It pays tribute to the work of H.G. Wells When the Sleeper Awakes (1910), and represents a satirical look to a future where technology intervenes in every aspect of human relationships (including sex) and communications.

Blade Runner presents an apocalyptic image of the city of Los Angeles in 2019, where cyborgs genetically engineered -the replicants, with greater strength and intelligence than humans- have been created to serve humans. In the movie technology is presented as inefficient but omnipresent and oppressive.

Fahrenheit 451 presents a technocratic society where books are forbidden and where order is maintained through oppression. Individual free will has been completely overridden through a technology that rules every day life, specially through an omnipresent TV set which broadcast commercials used for the mental control of the people.

Similar examples can be found in visual arts, where we can find opposing positions. While certain trends such as futurist or constructivist praised for technology -the former glorified the machine age, the latter expressed the technological society-, other movements were more critical. After the enthusiasm of futurism, Dadaism had an ambiguous position towards the progressive mechanisation of life, showing mixed feelings (of attraction and refusal), always ironic: they humanised machines, as in the works by Picabia, Duchamp or Man Ray, and mechanised humans, as in the works by Grosz, Hausmann or Switchers (María Santos García Felguera, 2000, “Las vanguardias históricas (II)”, Historia del Arte, vol. 34, Historia 16, p. 66).

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George Grosz, Daum marries her pedantic automaton George in May 1920, John Heartfield is very glad of it, 1920, Berlinische Galerie

References and further readings

María Santos García Felguera (2000), “Las vanguardias históricas (II)”, Historia del Arte, vol. 34, Historia 16; Víctor Guijarro and Leonor González (2015), La comprensión cultural de la tecnología, Madrid, Universitas; Michael Jacob (2010), El jardín y su representación, Madrid, Siruela; David Nye (1994), American Technological Sublime, Cambridge, Mass., The MIT Press; Mark Stefik (1996), Internet Dreams: Archetypes, Myths and Metaphors, The MIT Press; Sarah M. Watson, “Toward a Constructive Technology Criticism” (for a general and complete review on technology criticism).

Visual thinking

This concept refers to the capacity or ability to combine images, representations, models or structures in different ways in order to achieve a solution in a technological system. An historical well known figure who exemplifies in a memorable way the possibilities of the visual thinking is the artist and engineer Leonardo da Vinci. His drawings and comments reflect the peculiarities of the results he produced by analogical procedures. An example of this cognitive process can be found when Leonardo compares muscles with levers, or the flight of a bird in particular moments with the turn of a screw. Consequently some contributions were made by him and others in the Renaissance to the creation of a visual language, which has a remarkable influence in the following years. The different techniques intended to the mechanization of drawing produced since the 16th Century prove the interest in establishing rules and routines in this sort of knowledge.

perspectographPerspectograph, Ludovico Cigoli, c.1610 (drawingmachines.org)

The meaning of visual thinking in history and in the transmission of knowledge was compared with other similar mental skills and experiences not codified. Karl Polanyi attributed to these cognitive dimensions a central role in his book Personal Knowledge (1958). Later on he published the book Tacit Dimension (1966); so concepts such as “tacit knowledge” and “know-how” acquired a particular significance in the epistemological approaches to human activities and practices. The relevance of this type of experiences in the domain of technology was noted by Eugene S. Ferguson in the 1970s. Particular interest had his seminal paper untitled “The Mind’s Eye: Nonverbal Thought in Technology” (Science, 197, 1977) which covered the main historical, cultural and psychological issues involved in the process of thinking with pictures. There he examined topics such as the role that nonverbal thought had played in technologists practices since the Renaissance; the traditions of illustrated books; the emergence of new trends in education that paid special attention to artisan work and trades; the techniques aimed at the reproduction of images, and last but not least, the use of objects in teaching. A great part of these activities are not the result of the simple application of analytical geometry mental tools.

In a later publication, Engineering and the Mind’s Eye (1992), Ferguson extended the issues above mentioned to other observations and evidences. There is for instance a reference worth mentioning to visual patterns that defines the “personal style” of inventors. In the case of Thomas A. Edison -the example attended in the book- it was identified a “visual thread” that connects his different creations. As Ferguson puts it, taking into consideration Reese Jenkins historical studies, “Edison used again and again an array of mechanical combinations that he adapted to such diverse machines as the phonograph, the printing telegraph, the mechanical teleautograph […] the kinetoscope […] One combination of elements of style that appeared in Edison’s designs was a rotating drum or cylinder” (26-28).

Along the course of history there have been numerous efforts made to transmit visual knowledge (drawing techniques, perspective machines, cameras obscura, projection devices, printing processes…) and to systematize the principles of mechanisms (see the “mechanical alphabet” by Christopher Polhem or the Essai sur la composition des Machines by José María de Lanz and Agustín de Betancourt, 1808). Nevertheless, as Dennis R. Herschbach states, this type of knowledge “cannot be easily expressed formally. Descriptions, diagrams, and pictures help to explain tacit knowledge, but it largely results from individual practice and experience” (Herschbach, 1995, 35-36). And this is common not only in mechanical arts but in the so-called high-tech industries, electronics and telecommunications.

References and further reading

Rudolf Arnheim, Visual Thinking, University of California Press, 1969; Dennis R. Herschbach (1995), “Technology as knowledge: implications for instruction”, Journal of Technology Education, 7, 1, 31-42; Eugene S. Ferguson (1977). “The Mind’s Eye: Nonverbal Thought in Technology”, Science, 197, 827-836; Eugene S. Ferguson (1992). Engineering and the Mind’s Eye. Massachusetts, The MIT Press; Klaus Hentschel (2014). Visual Cultures in Science and Technology: A Comparative Study, Oxford University Press; Anthonie Meijers, ed. (2009). Philosophy of Technology and Engineering Sciences, Amsterdam, Elsevier, vol. 9

Culture of technology in secondary education

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Image of the physics textbook by A. Ganot, Cours de Physique purement expérimentale à l’usage des gens du monde… (Paris, 1859, p. 510).

Is a telegraph a scientific instrument? If the answer is no, why then was it included in most physics textbooks in the second half of the 19th century, supposedly to teach physics?
Education is not an isolated element of society. On the contrary, it reflects shared cultural views and has an influence on them. In this process, technological values are no exception: The way they are present or perceived in education depends on the role society -and more specifically legislators and its associated governments- attributes to technology.
Although each country had its peculiarities, during almost all the second half of the 19th century, in most European countries secondary education was mainly focused on the middle class and mainly intended to provide general culture and as a preparation for the university.
As the century went on, several general changes were introduced under the influence of different factors related mainly to technological changes (such as the Industrial Revolution or the factory system -see the post on this blog) and to both social and economic transformations. As stated some years ago by Carlo M. Cipolla in his work Literacy and Development in the West, where he raised issues that still remain open (p. 103):

The Industrial Revolution created a break with the past. In an industrial society people have to operate on a totally new and different plane, and the educational sector obviously does not escape the common fate. Advanced technology and the pace at which it makes further advances create new and unique problems of training and education. It is true that more and more machines simplify man’s work. But as our mastery over our environment increases, more knowledge becomes the prerequisite to our action. Some common sense and the skills of reading and writing were great assets until not long ago; and they were more than enough to place a man high upon the social ladder.

Although many are the circumstances conditioning these changes, we will only make reference to some of them (leaving aside, among others, influences coming from Thinkers of the French Enlightenment such as Rousseau).
In the first place, education goals and target groups started to widen. During the second half of the 19th century, it grew strong the belief in the power of education to shape the future of nations and individuals. Legislators in some European countries, such as Spain, also attributed to it the duties of educating for life and enabling students to enter into medium level professions. This last goal gave secondary education an important role because of its middle possition between superior education and the labour market and because it reached those students who didn’t attend either university or technical schools. Later on, some attempts were made to include vocational training in secondary schools and to combine both studies, although, at least in Spain, these initiatives were not very succesful (González y Guijarro, 78).
In the second place, the rise of industrialism and capitalism, together with other circumstances such as the efficiency and high degree of development reached by science and technology, or the showcasing of these advances in exhibits like London’s Great Exposition in 1851, contributed to give these fields a greater prestige. Education was expected to take account of these new challenges and, as a consequence of these and other factors, some proposals for change were introduced in education organization and curricula. Concerning the first changes, the “factory model of education” was adopted (http://hackeducation.com/2015/04/25/factory-model), a model that continues to be in use to this day (see the post “factory system” on this blog). Concerning the second ones, the curricula also started to change very slowly, resulting in the introduction of newer kinds of knowledge outside the traditional humanities. As the German Emperor WillIam II put it “It is our duty to educate young men to become young Germans and not young Greeks or Romans” (https://global.britannica.com/topic/education/Western-education-in-the-19th-century).
Then, and although conditioned by the interests of the government in power, secondary education started to pursue the introduction of both scientific and technological contents, but in very different ways. Science, unlike technology, was explicitly included in the secondary schools: that’s the case regarding physics. Technology, on the contrary, was apparently outside the sphere of this level of education because hardly any subject related to industry, such as industrial arts (the term used at the time to refer to techniques) or agriculture was included; and, if they were, they didn’t last long. However, a closer look reveals the abundant presence both of technological contents in physics textbooks and programs, and of technological items in physics cabinets. Why then if technology was considered convenient content was it introduced under the cover of the concept of science?
At the time, two main views of science co-existed: on the one hand scientific scholarship pursued science for its own sake and tried to safeguard this perspective from the pressure of being useful, giving rise to the idea of pure science. On the other side, politicians both defended and helped to consolidate an utilitarian view influenced by the belief of the contribution of science and technology to progress and wellbeing, and thus, in order to contribute to the country development, pursued the inclusion of this type of contents in this educational level (see the post “Progress” on this blog).
This belief, consolidated in the 19th century, continues to exist, although several current studies question the idea of the direct contribution of education to economy and progress. Good examples are the following words by G. S. Drori and Fritz Ringer:

Whereas science and education are commonly regarded as intrinsically being linked with social benefits and, thus, by definition carrying a teleological tone, I argue that such definition evolved in the cultural environment of nineteenth century Europe.
Science and education are regarded as being beneficial to society and the definition of their social role rests on this justification. In other words, the social understanding of science and education is essentially teleological, and modern science and education are regarded as being linked to, and defined by, their utility. […]

The definition of the social role, or the designated value of this social role, is exemplified in the “science education for development” model. This model is, however, a general and widespread article of collective faith, rather than an observable reality. In other words, the science education component in national development is a myth, rather than a proven agent for national progress. (“A Critical Appraisal of Science Education for Economic Development”, en W. W. Cobern (ed),Socio-Cultural Perspectives on Science Education: An International Dialogue, Springer-Science + Bussines Media, 1990, pp. 49-74, pp. 68-69)

… the economic funcionalist approach to educational change is seriously flawed in several respects. To begin with, no one has ever succeeded in specifying the functionalist case by demonstrating the usefulness of particular curricula for particular technical or business positions. […] To raise such issues is just to indicate that the economic functionalist account of educational change (and the educationalist account of economic growth) must be questioned in detail, even though it seems initially plausible when stated at a very high level of generality. (Fritz Ringer, D. K. Müller, and B. Simon (eds.), The rise of the modern educational system, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, and Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris, 1989, p. 2)

In any case, as we have said, it was this economicistic and utilitarian rethoric (prevailing today in certain sectors) the one that conditioned the introduction of scientific and technological knowledge in secondary schools. Hence the emphasis was placed in applied science. Science then, being more attractive, was the general term used to refer to both topics bluring the distinction between them.
This ideal of a scientific knowledge that comprises technology, shown explicitly in decrees and educational laws, can be illustrated analysing the terms used (even in the title) in a largely used physics textbook, Elementary Treatise on Physics Experimental and Applied, by A. Ganot, that was translated into several languages in more than half a century. While the terms “science” and “arts” appear in it about fifteen times, the term “applications” appears twenty five times –forty nine in the 1859 french version–.
As a consequence of this view, technological contents were introduced in both physics textbooks and programs, and technological objects were purchased for the physics cabinets, but all of them classified always as scientific, and considered as the result of scientific work (to see other equipment used in education see the post “Educational technology” on this blog).

References and further reading
Carlo M. Cipolla (1969), Literacy and Development in the West, Penguin; W. W. Cobern (ed) (1990), Socio-Cultural Perspectives on Science Education: An International Dialogue, Springer-Science + Bussines Media, pp. 49-74; Víctor Guijarro and Leonor González (2015), La comprensión cultural de la tecnología, Madrid, Universitas;  Fritz Ringer, D. K. Müller and B. Simon (eds.) (1989), The rise of the modern educational system, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, and Paris, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris;  Federico Sanz Díaz (1985), La segunda enseñanza oficial en el siglo XIX (1834-1874), Madrid;  Ulrich Wengenroth (2000), “Science, Technology, and Industry in the 19th Century”, Munich Center for The History of Science and Technology, Working Paper.

Knowledge society

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Idyllic mage from OLE Nepal (One Laptop Per Child), an ambitious but somewhat controversial project. Nepal, 2009.Courtesy of Flickr: OLE Nepal cover

In 1896 there were 50,000 scientific researchers in the world; in 2011 there were around 1000 researchers per million inhabitants (http://chartsbin.com/view/1124). According to Derek de Solla Price, these changes are associated to a concept, that of “big science”, which encompasses the increasingly complex frameworks were science and technology practices take place in the second half of the 20th and the first decades of the 21st century. In this period a culture of innovation has become omnipresent, affecting the way technology is understood. All these transformations are associated to a complex phenomenon implying changes in both the values and the central role of science and technology in society, as well as in the relationship between them. The meaning of the so-called “Knowledge society” derives directly from these changes.

So what does this term refers to? Previous societies have not been knowledge societies? Weren’t they based on knowledge? According to Manuel Castells (Castells, 2003, 7) the term “knowledge society”, in some cases “Information society”, refers to a society where the conditions both to produce knowledge and manage information have been substantially altered due to a technological revolution focused on the processing of information, the generation of knowledge and on information technologies. This does not suggest a technological determinism –yet technology develops hand in hand with social elements, receiving influences from market demands, state policies and a world view–, but a real paradigm shift has occurred where all social, political, cultural and economic processes are affected. This revolution is characterized not by the central role of knowledge or information, but rather by its application to apparatus for generating and processing knowledge; new information technologies are then not only tools that can be applied, but also processes to be developed. Good examples of this are the two interacting technological expressions this paradigm has: internet and genetic engineering. On the one hand, internet is not only, or chiefly, a technology, but a cultural production. On the other hand, apart from the fact that the discovery of DNA has driven to consider information as the organizing principle in itself, we are having the possibility of processing and manipulating not only information, but also life. The revolution in the processing of information affects then both electronic and genetic information.

Some of the first approaches to the concept of Knowledge Society were suggested by Peter Drucker, Marc Porat, and Daniel Bell. Drucker “forecasted” the emergency of knowledge workers (Druker, 1959), and the tendency towards a knowledge society (Druker, 1969) where knowledge substitute work, row materials and capital as the main source of productivity, growth and social inequalities. Porat published in 1977 the first version of “Global implications of the Information Society”, which fully expressed the idea of ‘information economy’ and ‘information society’. Bell described in 1973 (Bell, 1999) a society based in service production, the “post-industrial society”, whose central feature was “the codification of theoretical knowledge and the new relation of science to technology”. According to him,

 Every society has existed on the basis of knowledge and the role of language in the transmission of knowledge. But only in the twentieth century have we seen the codification of theoretical knowledge and the development of self-conscious research programs in the unfolding of new knowledge. One sees this change in the new relation of science to technology. Almost all the industries of the nineteenth century –steel, electricity, telephone, automobile, aviation, the wireless– were created by talented thinkers (a Bessemer, a Thomas Alva Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright brothers, Marconi) who were indifferent to or worked independently of the developments in science. But the major developments of the twentieth century –in telecommunications, computers, semi-conductors and transistors, materials science, optics, biotechnology– derive from the revolutions in twentieth century physics and biology […]. Research and development are the handmaidens of invention and innovation, and these are integral to the developments in science” (Bell, 1999, xiv-xv)

Bell’s view –reflected also in other assertions– corresponds to a linear model of innovation. This model, that subordinates technology to science, has proved insufficient to explain technological change. Nevertheless, his idea of a post-industrial society where the technical component of knowledge occupies a central role was an interesting approach to the upcoming changes.

In the 1990’s the model of society suggested by Bell, Drucker and others, with the presence of an important economic component, was described using different concepts: “Knowledge society” (KS), “Information society” (IS), “Network society” (NS). But there is not universal definition for these terms because their meaning emerges from the uses it has in a specific social context and it can differ from one society to another. These concepts then should not be regarded in purely static terms: being these changes something that keep taking place, they encompass experiences from countries having different, and sometimes opposing, political and social systems.

Taking into account the lack of a clear definition, we can say that IS is more generally used in the framework of the development of Internet and the ICT’s, making reference both to technological aspects and to its effects on economic growth and employment, whereas KS, emerged as an evolution of IS, and for some authors even as a substitute for it, is a more comprehensive concept which also considers both the central role of knowledge –mainly scientific knowledge– in the organization of society and its importance for the changes taking place in aspects such as economic structure, labor or education. This concept comprises the massive participation of science and technology on social and economic development as well as the knowledge easily accessible due to technological novelties. In between we find the concept of network society, defined by Manuel Castells as “a society where the key social structures and activities are organized around electronically processed information networks” (Castells, 2001).

The two major symbols for the KS are the hacker culture and Silicon Valley. The first one represents a real subculture primarily concern with curiosity, openness, sharing, cooperation and playful cleverness that enjoys the intellectual challenge of overcoming software systems’ limitations in a creative way. The second one is a geographical area where many of the world’s largest high-tech corporations and startup companies are placed, and whose social and business mentality encourages innovation and entrepreneurship. They are somehow opposed in its purpose, yet the first is associated with improving or creating software and sharing it –being free and open source software one of its outcomes–, whereas the second is aimed at creating products to commercialize them.

The fact that the use of the concept KS is previous to the development of ICT’s shows that it is not a consequence of these technologies but the other way round:

Ce n’est pas le développement des TIC qui a permis de passer de la société industrielle à la société de l’information. Les technologies ne sont venues qu’après, pour faciliter et multiplier les effets du passage à la société de l’information (Courrier, 2000).

Many are the changes associated to these new technologies. Some of them, as well as its consequences, can be found in Bell’s 1999 foreword to his book The Coming Of Post-industrial Society. We shall here point out only a few ones reflecting the relationship between technology, society and culture.

In the first place, the concept of technology has changed. In pre-industrial and industrial societies the term technology made reference mainly to physical objects, material things. In this new KS, we have a greater presence of intangible technology:

For most people, technology still means machines or mechanical modes –mecanisms that still exist, of course. But the newer technology of telecommunications and computers –which is the basis of post-industrial society–, is an intellectual technology with very different roots and patterns of learning than the mechanical technology that created the industrial world (Bell, 1999, xxxviii).

These changes have a reflection, for example, in some companies based on virtual entities which, with a few workers, reach a high economic value.

And even though some old calculating machines could be considered as intellectual technologies (Guijarro and González, 2010), its meaning has been broadened. On the one hand, technology contributes to specify how to do things in a reproducible way, and it allows us to manage reality and complex systems replacing intuition and decision making with algorithms in processes ranging from playing chess to the analysis of big data. On the other hand, technology –in particular computers– has become essential to process large amounts of information.

In the second place, new technologies make also possible the existence of a collective intelligence: individuals worldwide sharing knowledge in virtual spaces and having free access to it, being wikis –user-editable websites created by Ward Cunningham (WikiWikiWeb) and based on the collaborative modification of its content and structure directly from the web browser– a very good example of this idea.

All of this has contributed to consider the internet, one of the KS’ technological expressions, as a means of improving our society. For his advocates, KS can be considered more an ideal than a fact, something we are approaching and that will improve our society. Its proponents

have put a greater emphasis on the public engagement in science, and on debate and discussion. Involving people in the scientific enterprise and a widening participation in higher education among all groups and strata of society has been among their goals (Sörlin and Vessuri, 11-12).

But the values and meanings associated to the KS and its technologies are sometimes opposing, as reflects the variety of metaphors emerged around them (see the post “Metaphors” on this blog). His supporters consider that it offers people the possibility to emancipate, to become active society members, able to associate in order to get more power or representativeness. This new paradigm of KS drives to an apparent decentralization of power, a situation in which the individual gains power both over state and other economic powers. KS is then considered as a primary resource to create wealth, prosperity and well-being for the people. An example of this view can be seen in the following words from an interview to Abdul Waheed Khan, the UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information:

Actually, the two concepts are complementary. Information society is the building block for knowledge societies. Whereas I see the concept of ‘information society’ as linked to the idea of ‘technological innovation’, the concept of ‘knowledge societies’ includes a dimension of social, cultural, economical, political and institutional transformation, and a more pluralistic and developmental perspective. In my view, the concept of ‘knowledge societies’ is preferable to that of the ‘information society’ because it better captures the complexity and dynamism of the changes taking place. As I said before, the knowledge in question is important not only for economic growth but also for empowering and developing all sectors of society. Thus, the role of ICTs extends to human development more generally – and, therefore, to such matters as intellectual cooperation, lifelong learning and basic human values and rights (Kahn, 2003).

Nevertheless, the central role adopted by ICT’s & internet in our society has led, perhaps, to an overestimation of its possibilities and to the idea that this model should be extended to any society, no matter its necessities and social conditions.

This idea is on the basis of some utopic and presumably philanthropic projects originated in this environment, aimed at both promoting development and improving the non-developed countries’ quality of life. Thus, projects such as OLPC (One Laptop Per Child, a program launched in 2005 by Nicholas Negroponte aimed at transforming education in the developing world by creating and distributing specific computers, hardware and contents, http://one.laptop.org/) or internet.org (“a Facebook-led initiative with the goal of bringing internet access and the benefits of connectivity to the two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have them” https://info.internet.org/en/mission/) may reflect an ethnocentric point of view which tries to export a specific model of society. This view corresponds to a technologically deterministic idea (see the post “Technological determinism” on this blog) ignoring that the cause and consequence of a technology depends on social, cultural and economic factors. As Daniel Bell states:

I am not a technological determinist, for all technology operates in a context not always of its making (such as politics and culture); yet technology is the major instrument of change (and instruments can be used well or badly) (Bell, 1999, xviii).

Technology does not determine social change; technology provides instrumentalities and potentialities. The ways that these are used involve social choices (Bell, 1999, xxxviii).

The criticism to the KS takes place at different levels. Some critics come from within. Such is the case, among others, of Mike Steep, Senior Vice President for the PARC innovation center in Palo Alto and who worked previously at Microsoft. In an interview he stated:

This town [Silicon Valley] used to think big—the integrated circuit, personal computers, the Internet. Are we really leveraging all that intellectual power and creativity creating Instagram and dating apps? Is this truly going to change the world? (Malone, 2015).

But other critics go further: For its detractors, KS is all about economy and social control; thus, the powerful media offered by the new technologies are considered to provide an effective tool to big economical institutions to “suggest” trends and global thinking in these changes (Crovi, 2002, 13), as well as to internet companies to have access to a huge amount of personal data available both to enrich these companies and to control individuals, something not always easily accepted within knowledge-sharing communities.

Still, for certain authors the consequences of all these changes are difficult to accept. For José Carlos Bermejo, the economic theory’ mathematical formalism has created

nociones ilusorias de economía y sociedad del conocimiento, que no solo están consiguiendo arruinar la economía real, sino también destruir los sistemas educativos en todos y cada uno de sus niveles (Bermejo, 2015, 7).

The point made here concerning education refers to the fact that, from the two main purposes associated to technical education since the eighteenth century (which can be applied to education in general), i.e., the moral purpose –aimed at both the complete development of the individual and his social integration–, and the economistic one –focused on the acquisition of skills– (Guijarro & González, 2015, Chapter 6), it seems to the author that the second option is the prevailing one.

Carlo Maria Cipolla wrote in his book Literacy and Development in the West, in the language of the late 1960`s, that “Instructing a savage in advanced techniques does not change him into a civilized person; it just makes him an efficient savage” (Cipolla, 1969, 110). It may be appropriate to recall his words in the present context.

References and further reading

Daniel Bell (1999), The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society, New York, Basic Books (first ed. 1973); José Carlos Bermejo (2015), La tentación del Rey Midas, Siglo XXI; Manuel Castells (2001), The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, business, and society, Oxford University Press, and “La dimensión cultural de internet”, Andalucía educativa, april 2003, n. 36, pp. 7-10; Carlo M. Cipolla (1969), Literacy and Development in the West, Penguin; Yves Courrier (2000), “Société de l’information et technologies ”, Points of View, UNESCO) ( http://www.unesco.org/webworld/points_of_views/courrier_1.shtml; Delia Crovi Druetta (2002), “Sociedad de la información y el conocimiento. Entre el optimismo y la desesperanza”, en Revista mexicana de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales, n.º 185; Druker, Peter (1959), Landmarks of Tomorrow, New York, Harper, and (1969), The Age of Discontinuity, New York, Harper & Row; Víctor Guijarro and Leonor González (2010), La quimera del autómata matemático, Madrid, Cátedra and (2015), La comprensión cultural de la tecnología, Madrid, Universitas; Abdul Waheed Khan, (2003), A World of Science (UNESCO’s Natural Sciences Quarterly Newsletter), vol. 1, n.º 4, pp. 8-9, http://www.unesco.org/science/world_sc_july03.pdf; Michael S. Malone (2015), “The purpose of Silicon Valley”, MIT Technology Review, January, 30; S. Sörlin, and ‎H. Vessuri (eds.) (2007), Knowledge Society vs. Knowledge Economy, New York and Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan.

Diffusion of innovations

Recently we happened to run into an article published in a Spanish leading newspaper titled “The enemies of innovation” (El País, “Los enemigos de la innovación”, 24/07/2016). Although the text echoes some of the inspiring conclusions present in the book written by Calestous Juma Innovation and its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies (Oxford University Press, 2016), it misses in our opinion central arguments of this publication, namely: how resistance shapes technologies, the tension between the need for innovation and the pressure to maintain social order, and policy strategies to manage public debate over the introduction of new technologies.

Calestous. Innovation enemies

A departing point in the studies carried out in the past four decades is the statement that “innovations do not sell themselves”, which puts under question the promethean and deterministic vision of technology that contemplates opposition to new devices as an external and accidental force. In this sense, an author worth mentioning is Everett M. Rogers, professor of communication studies, who explored the complexity of these phenomena by considering that innovations are in many cases alternatives that present an individual or an organization with new means of solving problems (Rogers, 1983, Preface, xviii). New resources generate concern, and as this author puts it “the probability of the new alternatives being superior to previous practice are not exactly known by the individual problem solvers. Thus, they are motivated to seek further information about the innovation in order to cope with the uncertainty that it creates” (Rogers, 1983, Preface, xviii-xix). An example described by Rogers will illustrate properly that the consequences of a new technology, despite good intentions, are not completely predictable, and therefore its value and meaning has to be reconsidered in order to incorporate subjective perceptions and social factors. The episode highlights the effects of the introduction of the steel axe by the missionaries in an Australian aborigine tribe:

The change agents intended that the new tool should raise levels of living and material comfort for the tribe. But the new technology also led to a breakdown of the family structure, the rise of prostitution, and ‘misuse’ of the innovation itself. Change agents can often anticipate and predict the innovations form, the directly observable physical appearance of the innovation, and perhaps its function, the contribution of the idea to the way of life of the systems members. But seldom are change agents able to predict another aspect of an innovations consequences, its meaning, the subjective perception of the innovation by the clients (Rogers, 1983, 32).

In order to analyse the complexity of this type of phenomena and to determine at what rate technology spreads, Rogers contemplates different categories. Firstly, one group is devoted to the key elements in diffusion research: a) innovation; b) communication channels; c) time; d) social system. Secondly, another group is devoted to the stages that make up the adoption process: a) knowledge; b) persuasion; c) decision; d) implementation; e) confirmation. A person is then exposed to the innovation, thereafter seeks information about it, and decides to accept or reject the new practice. If the person decides to adopt it, in the next stage, according to Rogers’ model, he/she proves the usefulness of the innovation and search meanwhile for more information. At the confirmation stage the person seeks reinforcement of the decision already made, and in this context there are still some possibilities of reversing the decision if he or she is exposed to conflicting messages about the innovation.

There are other valuable elements in the Rogers’ approach to the diffusion process, such as the identification of the sources of innovation; the rate of adoption; the adopter distributions over time (that tend to follow an S-shaped curve); the concept of overadoption (“the adoption of an innovation by an individual when experts feel he or she should reject”); the characteristics of the adopter; the influence of opinion leaders and values; the types of innovation-decisions (particularly interesting in this case is the authority innovation-decision, made by individuals in positions of influence or power)…

Everett Rogers’ studies provided consistent theoretical tools with a sound alternative view to the so called “pro-innovation bias”, that is, to the idea that “an innovation should be diffused and adopted by all members of a social system, that it should be diffused more rapidly, and that the innovation should be neither reinvented nor rejected” (Rogers, 1983, 92). Despite this important step, the influence of his perspective (the fifth edition of his book with additions was published in 2003) and the recognition of the influence of the cultural factors in the diffusion process (not contemplated as mere “enemies”), the complexity of the phenomena examined affected significantly the predictive capacity of his model.

Alternative approaches stressed the relevance of one or more aspects present in Rogers’ framework. In the sphere of computer-based information systems, the technology acceptance model (TAM) emphasises the rational oriented decisions made by individuals. In this perspective, the two basic determinants in the acceptance of a technology are the perceived usefulness and the perceived ease of use. But what results particularly problematic in this proposal is the concept of usefulness. By this idea we can refer either to actions intended to obtain immediate practical benefits or to social usefulness, which embraces those decisions made both to satisfy needs for acceptance by others and to meet the expectations placed on somebody by society. We can even add a third category, a cultural one, which accounts for the situations when a person accepts or refuses the use of technologies attending to moral considerations, for example, to protect the wish for solitude. Then the appeal to cost-benefit strategies is not, according to Brett Lunceford (Lunceford, 2009, 29-48), a precise theoretical position to explain the adoption of technologies. In this context, the concept of “resistance” does not have the connotation of an irrational action totally unrespectful with the inherent properties of an artefact.

An alternative view of the diffusion of innovations, in consonance with the actor-network premises, contemplates the participation of a diversity of entities in the redefinition and reinvention of a new technology, without establishing a clear distinction between human and nonhuman contributions. This perspective refuses any essentialist approach to technology (implicit in the “pro-innovation bias”), in which artefacts seem to have an internal force that makes them spread and multiply autonomously over the surface of the planet. The only limitations to this promethean force are local ignorance and eccentric cultural values. As Bruno Latour expresses it in Science in Action,

Society or ‘social factors’ would appear [in the essentialist perspective] only at the end of the trajectory, when something went wrong. This has been called the principle of asymmetry: there is appeal to social factors only when the true path of reason has been ‘distorted’ but not when it goes straight (Latour, 1987, 136).

In contrast, in the actor-network view one of the central concepts is that of “innovation translation”, which comprises the transformations an innovation experiments before it is admitted. So what happens sometimes is that in order to admit a technological innovation some aspects of an artefact are accepted and others are left out. An invention in this case is an entity constructed by the contribution of a variety of heterogeneous resources. As an example, Latour reinterprets in this way the standard history of the Rudolf Diesel engine. In his version things do not follow a linear story path with smooth transitions; a more accurate picture reveals instead twists and turns that reflect the “translation” process and the intervention of multiple factors, human, organizational, inanimate objects, sketches, images…

We saw -says Latour- that Diesel’s engine was a sketch in his patent, then a blueprint, then one prototype, then a few prototypes, then nothing, then again a single new prototype, then no longer a prototype but a type that was reproducible in several copies, then thousand of engines of different sub-types. So there was indeed a proliferation (Latour, 1987, 136).

Pequeño Calculador

Mechanism of “The little accountant”, used as an educational device at the end of the 19th Century (“F. SOENNECKEN’S VERLAG-BONN-BERLIN-LEIPZIG”). Private collection.

Furthermore, studies in this area have to assume as a primary approach to the subject that there are differences in the diffusion of technological innovations that correspond to the sector under examination (healthcare, administration, heavy industry, armed forces, large scale science, education…). With regard to education, there are distinctive features that explain how innovations are admitted in teaching practices, particularly in those affecting the material resources used in the classroom. For instance, one of these previous elements are the peculiarities of the social system involved in the process of assessing which part of the new information available deserves attention. In many cases innovations respond to decisions taken by administrative authorities, and sometimes with the resistance of teachers who have to alter their effective and well established routines in order to accommodate the new practices. It is then convenient in this context to explore how the “translation” process takes place. In Spanish secondary school, for example, the phonograph patented by Edison, the tin-foil model, was introduced in the students’ curricula by considering it a demonstrative apparatus appropriate for illustrating properties and phenomena related to acoustics matters. Beside these factors, values, such as progress, the promotion of practical teaching, antiverbalism… are also basic elements present in the rhetoric of politicians and opinion leaders, who insist in these images to reach the desirable consensus and to make the admission of innovations less problematic.

References and further reading

Lunceford Brett (2009), “Reconsidering Technology Adoption and Resistance: Observations of a Semi-Luddite”, Explorations in Media Ecology, 8, 29-48; Benoit Godin (2015), Innovation contested. The Idea of Innovation Over the Centuries, New York and London, Routledge; Bruno Latour (1987), Science in Action. How to follow scientists and engineers through society, Cambridge, Harvard University Press; Everett M. Rogers (1983, 3rd ed.), Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press of Glencoe; Barbara Wejnert (2002), “Integrating Models of Diffusion of Innovations: A Conceptual Framework”, Annual Review of Sociology, 28, 297-326.

Technology gap

Statistics show that United Kingdom has 60.2 million internet users in a population of 65.1 million (meaning that approximately 92,6% of the population accesses the internet), and in Afghanistan 2.2 million people access the internet in a population of 33.3 million (meaning that approximately 6,8% of the population are considered internet users).*

In order to examine these and other indicators of countries’ development associated to the disposition of technology, scholars have adopted the term technology access gap. According to some of their conclusions, differences in access to technological knowledge due to economic and geographical factors contribute, on the one hand, to deepen divisions between social groups and, on the other hand, to expand the distance between developed and underdeveloped countries. These separations and distances restrict individual or national chances to increase welfare levels and catch-up efforts.

In other situations, especially in developed countries, the technology gap does not depend only on the possibilities of having access to technologies due to technical or economic reasons, but on other factors that involve cultural values and collective shared believes. In these cases, what counts are the shifts in purposes, expectations, and moral premises that people associate to the use of technology and innovations. Then we talk about technology usage gap.

Women_and_technology_poster_colombia

 "If it's not appropriate for women, it's not appropriate. Women and technology", by De todos los Colores http://www.flickr.com/photos/nachoeuropa/5815949513/sizes/z/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26173982

As far as the cultural factors are concerned, in a society or social group where technologies are accessible, we can find ambivalent positions towards them, so we can find actions, ideas and feelings defending opposite stances about the proper extent of technical resources. According to the sociologist A. Touraine (Touraine, 1995) at present, with a few exceptions, we accept the achievements of science but we don’t accept a science controlled society. Two are the aspects of science and technology that generate apprehension: “big science” and technocracy. The reasons are not technical or conceptual; conversely, they involve fundamental issues concerning the defense of personal values and believes as well as national and cultural identities: the ideology associated with progress is thought to contribute, on the contrary, to the destruction of these principles.

In that respect, some sociological studies focused on the Spanish perception of new technologies -whose results do not differ significantly from those obtained in other countries- show that, in general, about 95% of the participants in the survey associated new technologies to progress, life’s comforts and efficacy. Nevertheless, innovations are still associated to job destruction: 59% resolved that they provoke unemployment; 40% of the respondents thought that they generate inequalities, and 56% related them to more control over individuals (Fernández Prados, 2003).

Among the causes of the usage gap, besides the attitudes aforementioned, are the following: individual situations related to the lack of skills or disposition for renovating technological knowledge; factors such as gender diversity, place of residence, educational background, or age as well as personal decisions concerning the defense of traditions or attitudes of mistrust towards the consequences of the use of technologies and the privacy loss.

In the specific case of limitations in access to and usage of ICTs (Information and Communication technologies) we talk about digital gap, and more specifically access digital gap and usage digital gap, so-called by some authors respectively first and second digital gap. This gap constitutes in turn a modern version of what we can name the analogue gap, associated to the use of telephones and measured by the “telephone density” or “teledensity” (number of telephone connections for every hundred individuals living within an area) (number of telephones per 100 inhabitants). Teledensity has a significant correlation with the per capita GDP of the area, but this parameter is not sufficient for measuring the digital gap. In the first place because in several countries wireless and internet penetration rate exceed fixed-line connections; in the second place because the digital gap is much bigger than the analogue one: developed countries, representing a 15 % of the population, account for more than a half of the telephone lines and over 70% of mobile phone users whereas underdeveloped countries, constituting 60% of the global population, account only for 5% of the internet users. Thus, in order to measure the digital gap we need to take into account not only mobile phones, computers and internet sites, but also adequate access costs and access options to internet as well as access to an appropriate training in order to achieve an efficient use of these infrastructures.

As a matter of fact, the rapid growth and penetration of digital telecommunications has taken place before the analogue gap was reduced, so now the question is not only bridging the digital access gap, but also the digital usage gap. One significant task various governments and non- governmental organizations have set themselves has been, in order to promote a sustainable development, the reduction of the differences mentioned. But their actions and strategies, mainly focused on education, have proved to be not sufficiently effective because they have just concentrated on making technological resources more accessible (attending then only the access gap). This approach has given rise to the myth that implementing technological infrastructure to access internet would provide sustainable development. Nevertheless applying technology in the right place and in the adequate dimension is only a necessary condition but not a sufficient one. Transforming the perception of technology demands a balance between this process and a precise attention to values, stereotypes, and role models. Therefore, the reduction of the digital gap is associated to sustainable development only when the target group become actively involved in the process, adopts a learning attitude, and plays a leading role in deciding the steps to take towards a better social, moral and intellectual welfare.

Another specific case of technology gap worth mentioning is the technological gender gap, which refers to the idea that males and females differ significantly in their consideration to technology-related skills, businesses and careers. This type of gap can be contemplated under the perspective of inequalities derived from power relationships. According to some researchers such as Paola Tabet (Tabet, 1979), the control men have over instruments, limiting to females the access to technologies, is a way to exert and maintain power and domination over women. She poses the hypothesis of an

sous-équipement des femmes et d’un gap technologique entre hommes et femmes, qui apparaît dès les sociétés de chasse et cueillette et qui, avec l’evolution technique s’est progressivement creusé et existe toujours dans les sociétés industrialisés (Tabet, 1979, 10).

In fact, the use of tools determinates the inclusion or exclusion of woman in specific activities, being the introduction of complex tools what sometimes determines the “masculinization” even of the most typically feminine activities. As Murdock & Provost stated: “When the invention of a new artifact or process supplants an older and simpler one, both the activity of which it is a part and closely related activities tend more strongly to be assigned to males” (Murdock & Provost, 1973, 212)

The permanence of this bias nowadays, despite the numerous efforts and initiatives underwent to reduce it, is reflected in stereotypes that represent tools and technology in general as male activities. Extended to the case of computers and new technologies, and not only to internet access, these presumed differences gave rise to the digital gender gap. Many publications and documentaries deal with this problem, denouncing it, exploring the causes and trying to offer solutions. For example, the documentary CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap (Robin Houser Reynolds, 2015), offers a perspective of the subject and reveals that in the U.S. the gender gap was not so pronounced in the past as it is today: in the 1960s and 1970s, the number of women studying computer science was growing faster than the number of men, but from the mid-1980 on –when 37% of the computer science graduates were women- the percentage of women held up and then started to decrease, reaching 14% in 2014 (Camp, 2001).

The digital gender gap is reflected mainly in three levels. Firstly, at school, boys and girls “interact with technology differently. While girls use the computer for word processing and skill building, boys use them mostly for games. Girls use technology as a way to connect with people and solve real life problems, whereas boys view technology as a way to extend their power”. Secondly, “the gender gap in computer use becomes more evident in advanced classes, as girls tend to have less confidence in their use of computers and both boys and girls perceive computers as in the ‘domain of males’”. Finally, as a consequence of this, girls and young women are showing less interest on computing education in higher levels, and there is a lack of feminine roles associated to technology (Dorman, 1998). The result is that women are underrepresented in the IT workforce.

References and further readings: George P. Murdock and Caterina Provost. “Factors in the Division of Labor by Sex: A Cross-Cultural Analysis”, Ethnology, 1973, 12, 2, pp. 203-225; Paola Tabet “Les mains, les outils, les armes”, L’Homme, 1979, 19, 3, pp. 5-61; Steve Dorman, “Technology and the gender gap”, The Journal of School Health, 1998, 68, 4, pp. 165-166; Tracy Camp, “Women in Computer Science: Reversing the Trend”, Syllabus, 2001, pp. 24-26; http://www.syllabus.com); A. Touraine, “The crisis of ‘progress’”, in Martin Bauer, Resistance to New technology. Nuclear Power, Information, Technology and Biotechnology, Cambridge University Press, 1995; J. Sebastián Fernández Prador, “El valor de la ciencia y de la tecnología en la cultura española contemporánea”, in E. Bericart Alastuey (dir.), El conflicto cultural en España. Acuerdos y desacuerdos entre españoles, Madrid, CIS, Siglo XXI, 2003; Mary Kirk, Gender and Information Technology: Moving Beyond Access to Co-Create Global Partnership. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2008; Joel Cooper and Kimberlee D. Weaver, Gender and Computers: Understanding the Digital Divide, Philadelphia, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003; J. M. Cohoon and W. Aspray (eds.), Women and Information Technology: Research on Underrepresentation, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2006.

* Internet Live Stats (www.InternetLiveStats.com). Elaboration of data by International Telecommunication Union (ITU), United Nations Population Division, Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), World Bank.

Metaphors

Lewis Mumford states in Technics and Civilization that

The clock, not the steam-engine, is the key-machine of the modern industrial age. For every phase of its development the clock is both the outstanding fact and the typical symbol of the machine: even today no other machine is so ubiquitous (Nueva York, 1934, 14).

In this quotation it is assumed that the clock is not only a practical tool with a proper meaning in a technical context but a model for human behavior and experience, and for social organization as well. Then it has, together with many other technological objects, a cultural dimension that plays a significant role in the construction of collective ideals and values. And as such it mediates our perceptions and representations of the world. For instance, both the presence of clocks and the mechanical order of time in ordinary language, art, films and literature reveals how technological metaphors contribute to expand human communication resources and to shape reality. There are many examples of this. To mention just the most well-known, “time is money” (an expression normally credited to Benjamin Franklin –mentioned in Advice to a Young Tradesman, 1748- but surely used before, according to Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs) refers to a philosophy of life focused on profiting time; “like clockwork” is used when someone or something follows an unvarying schedule; “slave to the clock” is normally attributed to business workers. In fictional writings, we find novels like the one composed by Anthony Burgess, Clockwork orange, whose title -an oxymoron- expresses the contrast between the natural and the mechanical and disciplined. In Alice Adventures in Wonderland, time reflected by clocks means among other things the adult world, conventions and the absence of childhood fantasy.

In addition to the particular world of the clock, there are plenty of references proving the extension of technological imaginaries. “Machine” can mean a precise and repetitive process as a consequence of the perfect adjustment of its parts. The French writer Paul Valéry defined the poem as “a sort of machine aimed at producing the poetic state by means of words”, and the Spanish writer Antonio Machado refers to the record player as a “mechanical parrot” and to photography and cinema as “satanic inventions intended to bore human beings” (Cano Ballesta, 1981, 15-16).

In other occasions, metaphors originate from a process of substitution of technology as a whole by a singular entity (although in this case when the part equals the whole it is properly a metonymy). Such is the case, for instance, in the movie Emerald forest (1985), where a dam under construction in the Amazonia, which represents technological progress, provokes a confrontation between the threat of technology and a fragile nature. Thus, the dam represents technology, and the destruction of the forest represents the devastation of a civilization.

Analogies between machines and both the human body and mind have been a powerful and persistent source of metaphors through history (see “artefactual mind” on this blog). In our age the dominant symbol is the computer. Theorists have been using this artifact in cognitive sciences as a source of metaphors to understand and explain mental activity. Firstly, computer components are defined using analogies coming from the human mind (brain, memory, intelligence, etc.); secondly, they are incorporated to the description of several human actions, contributing in turn to look at the human body in a different way, as if it had a computer like organization. Also related to the human body, we can find metaphors which compare it with a machine, a factory or a mechanism: the heart is an engine, the food is the source of energy, muscles are the motors, etc. As a consequence of this, we construct a mechanistic idea of the body (see also, in this dictionary, the term “human automata”). There are also metaphors that originate from instruments aimed at measuring human capabilities or psychophysical factors. The ergograph, an instrument invented at the end of the 19th century to measure human fatigue, is credited to establish the adjustment of the human being to the demands of specific tasks at a factory. The ergograph is then considered an extension of the body, and its design is intended to determine productive capabilities of workers. Therefore both the factory machine and the body, assuming the fact that there is continuity between each other, are represented in a crude mechanistic approach as motors that exchange energy.

We should therefore attend to the technology of each time to account for particular similarities, comparisons and analogies employed in definitions and models present in our language. The classic version of the metaphor of the wax tablet that represents memory as a writing surface is found in Plato’s Theaetetus. In this dialogue, Socrates states “that our minds contain a wax block, which may vary in size, cleanliness and consistency in different individuals” (Draaisma, 2000, 24). At the time of Plato, wax tablets, a recording technology consisting in a board coated with wax, had already been in use for several centuries for taking notes. Later on other metaphors were used with similar purposes, such as the book, the phonograph, the photography, communication networks and, as was already mentioned, the computer (Draaisma, 2000).

Furthermore, power sources, communications, and automatic devices have provided images that are integrated in collective representations of the world. They are sometimes linked to the experience of sublimity, a collective emotion related to technology and the conquest of nature explored by David E. Nye in his book American Technology Sublime. Among the power sources, steam engines, and especially their steam, became a frequent metaphor during the 19th and part of the 20th century. It was associated to the power and strength of technology and to its capacity for mastering nature, at times through the invasion of natural spaces. It was also endowed with negative connotations. On the one hand, it was used to show the dark side of progress under the image of factory fumes. On the other hand, this image represents in social imaginaries the contrast between the healthy life in the country and the unhealthy pollution of industrial towns. Related to this metaphor, and transmitting the idea of speed, efficiency and the rapprochement between cultures through the reduction of the Earth dimensions, is the one associated to communications and transports (steam ships and railroads), which are frequently depicted in literary works and paintings as crossing a wild nature.

At the end of the 19th century, another power source turned up: electricity. Setting aside metaphors associated to its contributions to “illuminate our lives” and the ones regarding the light bulb, proclaimed as the symbol of the coming up with new ideas, there are metaphors related to its mysterious nature that introduced a certain degree of uncertainty on technological inventions. A different way of perceiving electricity is represented in the next illustration, which reflects anthropomorphized technologies conspiring against new born electricity.

Chapter-3-Punch-cartoon-giant-in-germ

Electricity: ‘A Giant in Germ – what will he grow to?’ Punch or the London Charivari, 25 June 1881.

Finally, metaphors related to automatism represent precision, reliability, efficiency and comfort, being clocks, gears, conveyors and assembly lines the objects most frequently used to express these values. In the case of factories, the workers became part of the machine itself, as reflected in Charles Chaplin movie Modern times (1936). Human beings are depicted in these contexts facing repetitive tasks and consequently deprived of creativity. In general, artists have had an ambiguous relationship with technology: at one extreme, we place the emergence of the Italian futurism, which celebrated the outburst of machines; at the other, we have the dystopic tradition exemplified by many novels, movies and plastic expressions (notable examples in this respect are Raoul Haussmann and George Grosz).

The presence of metaphors in human symbolic manifestations is, in sum, a consequence of the ever increasing relevance acquired by technology in the western cultures, or as Jacques Ellul puts it, a result of the new “environment” in which human beings construct their experiences:

Technology constitutes an engulfing universe for man, who finds himself in it as in a cocoon. He cannot have any relationship with the ‘natural’ world except through technological mediation. By the same measure, he can only have relationships with other men through technological mediation, i.e. through material technologies like the telephone, radio and videophone: technology is at the same time immediate to man and the universal mediation between men. On the one hand, technology devalues all other mediations and man seems to have no need of symbolic mediation because he has technological mediation. It even appears to man that technology is more efficacious and permits him a greater domination over what threatens him and a more certain protection against danger than does the symbolic process. On the other hand, one does not perceive the need for the creation of new symbols because man has not become conscious that technology no longer constitutes a means, but is rather his environment. Hence it is now the relationship to technology that man must proceed to symbolize […] (Ellul, 1978, 216).

References and further readings: Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization, New York, Harcourt, Brace & Company, Inc., 1934; Francis D. Klingender, Art and the Industrial Revolution, London, N. Carrington, 1947 (Spanish edition: Arte y Revolución Industrial, Cátedra, 1983); Jacques Ellul, “Symbolic function, technology and society”, Journal of Social and Biological Structure, 1978, 1, 207-218; Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor, New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1978 (Spanish edition: La enfermedad y sus metáforas. El sida y sus metáforas, Random House Mondadori, 2008); Juan Cano Ballesta, Literatura y tecnología. Las letras españolas ante la Revolución Industrial (1900-1930), Madrid, Editorial Orígenes, 1981; David E. Nye, American Technology Sublime, Cambridge (Mass.), The MIT Press, 1994; Douwe Draaisma, Metaphors of Memory: A History of Ideas about the Mind, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000; Patrice Flichy, L’imaginaire d’Internet, Paris, Éditions La Découverte & Syros, 2001 (Spanish edition: Lo imaginario de Internet, Tecnos, 2003); Vasilia Christidou, Kostas Dimopoulos, and Vasilis Koulaidis, “Constructing social representations of science and technology: the role of metaphors in the press and the popular scientific magazines”, Public Understanding of Science, 13 (2004), pp. 347-362, ; Rosa Delgado Leyva, La pantalla futurista, Madrid, Cátedra, 2012.