The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900
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From the books of H.G. Wells to the press releases of NASA, we are awash in clichéd claims about high technology's ability to change the course of history. Now, in The Shock of the Old, David Edgerton offers a startling new and fresh way of thinking about the history of technology, radically revising our ideas about the interaction of technology and society in the past and in the present. He challenges us to view the history of technology in terms of what everyday people have actually used-and continue to use-rather than just sophisticated inventions. Indeed, many highly touted technologies, from the V-2 rocket to the Concorde jet, have been costly failures, while many mundane discoveries, like corrugated iron, become hugely important around the world. Edgerton reassesses the significance of such acclaimed inventions as the Pill and information technology, and underscores the continued importance of unheralded technology, debunking many notions about the implications of the "information age." A provocative history, The Shock of the Old provides an entirely new way of looking historically at the relationship between invention and innovation.
greatest changes was in the cities of the poor world, which grew at extraordinary rates. By the end of the century (in stark contrast to the beginning) most of the largest cities of the world were poor places: where once Paris, London and New York led in scale and opulence, the largest cities of 2000 were places few would seek to emulate: São Paolo, Jakarta, Karachi, Mumbai (Bombay), Dhaka, Lagos and Mexico 39 Shock of Old.indb 39 22/11/07 13:05:26 the shock of the old City. This was a new
works of intellectuals? Or can we detect it even when a technology hardly resonates at all at these levels? The aeroplane is by this measure very culturally significant, the condom insignificant. Once we start thinking seriously about these questions we will open up the history of twentieth-century technology to many fresh insights. Our world abounds with seemingly authoritative stories of which technologies have been most significant, and when. They focus on a small number of cases. For the
the world less, not more dependent on one another for food and manufactured goods.’24 He was thinking about what had been happening since 1918, and particularly since the early 1930s. His was a powerful and defensible argument. The great era of global trade had ended in 1914. In the interwar years trade stagnated and fell, and especially in the 1930s nationstates all over the world became increasingly autarkic. In the middle of the twentieth century the world was much less globalised than it had
GDP, a remarkable proportion for a poor country of the period.32 Another case was coal-rich South Africa where in 1955 the Sasol company started producing petrol using the Fischer-Tropsch process. Following the Arab oil embargo of 1973, Sasol II was built; the cutting off of supplies from Iran after that country’s 1979 revolution led to Sasol III.33 Like the German plants, the Sasol complex was bombed, not by the United Nations, but in June 1980 by Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the
defeated by powers which did indeed stress the economic and technological factors in war.25 After the Second World War the technological way of warfare was central to the armament efforts of the great powers. From nuclear weapons to new anti-personnel weapons, from new communications technology to military psychology and operational research, the military invested huge proportions of their budgets on researching, developing and procuring new weapons and methods of warfare. Strikingly, the