Technology certainly has drawbacks and negative impacts on humans. However, there are many reasons that governments should fear air pumps and electrical machines. First of all, machines give power to the individual, and today more than ever before. A relevant quote from the first part of the reading where Johnson is discussing Priestley’s ability to make discoveries. He argues that leisure time played crucial role. “Thus far, radical increases in energy have led, almost without exception, to two long-term trends; an overall increase in wealth, and an increase in social stratification.” (Johnson 128). This increase in wealth is potentially dangerous and destabilizing for those in power. For example, the internet has given almost everyone the ability to access views that may contradict religion or government. Before computers and phones, people relied more on what their government told them. In some cases such as China where they censor the internet, citizens still rely heavily on trusting the powerful elite.
Johnson’s insight on some the personal views of scientists and politicians sheds new light on the historic figures mentioned throughout the book. While not a specific scientific development, I think it’s just as relevant today, what the personal goals of scientists are that we may never hear about. For a more specific technological example, on page 201 Joseph is fed up with the postal system and it’s sluggishness. This is a problem we have entirely solved with email and we shouldn’t take it for granted. Additionally, on page 207/208, I enjoy how Johnson polarizes the vote between Jefferson and Adams. While not exactly technology, I think politics lends itself to technological advancement because it has encouraged communication to steadily improve. Ultimately, Johnson does a good job creating a cohesive history. He doesn’t cherry pick just scientific, personal, or political topics but instead merges them and shows their interconnectedness.
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I really appreciate the connection you made with the technology that comes with computers, like the internet and governmental power. This open source of information, and practically instantaneous types of communication are immensely powerful for populations of people. Your example of governmental censorship in China is a great one, and also reminded me of the impacts that twitter had on the Arab Spring. Many sources suggest that the Arab Spring would not have been as big of a movement without cell phones and communication apps.
I differ with you in thinking about analyzing what a scientist’s motives are for their work. In today’s age of funding, it seems like it’s less important what the scientist wants to research than what the person/institution funding the research wants to find out. Contrasted with Priestley’s era, where they were started out seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge, today the capitalist agenda has taken over which leads to research being done that is profitable, trade secrets are the norm, and all other kinds of “non-science” influences from society/politics on the research.
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