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Hardcover | Out of Print | 304 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | March 2006 | ISBN: 9780262140935
Paperback | $19.95 Trade | £14.95 | 304 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | August 2007 | ISBN: 9780262640671
eBook | $13.95 Trade | August 2007 | ISBN: 9780262253024
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Technology Matters

Questions to Live With


Technology matters, writes David Nye, because it is inseparable from being human. We have used tools for more than 100,000 years, and their central purpose has not always been to provide necessities. People excel at using old tools to solve new problems and at inventing new tools for more elegant solutions to old tasks. Perhaps this is because we are intimate with devices and machines from an early age—as children, we play with technological toys: trucks, cars, stoves, telephones, model railroads, Playstations. Through these machines we imagine ourselves into a creative relationship with the world. As adults, we retain this technological playfulness with gadgets and appliances—Blackberries, cell phones, GPS navigation systems in our cars.

We use technology to shape our world, yet we think little about the choices we are making. In Technology Matters, Nye tackles ten central questions about our relationship to technology, integrating a half-century of ideas about technology into ten cogent and concise chapters, with wide-ranging historical examples from many societies. He asks: Can we define technology? Does technology shape us, or do we shape it? Is technology inevitable or unpredictable? (Why do experts often fail to get it right?)? How do historians understand it? Are we using modern technology to create cultural uniformity, or diversity? To create abundance, or an ecological crisis? To destroy jobs or create new opportunities? Should "the market" choose our technologies? Do advanced technologies make us more secure, or escalate dangers? Does ubiquitous technology expand our mental horizons, or encapsulate us in artifice?

These large questions may have no final answers yet, but we need to wrestle with them—to live them, so that we may, as Rilke puts it, "live along some distant day into the answers."

About the Author

David E. Nye, who was knighted by the Danish Queen in 2013, is Senior Research Fellow at the Charles Babbage Institute and the History of Science and Technology program at the University of Minnesota and Professor of American Studies at the University of Southern Denmark. His eight other books published by the MIT Press include Electrifying America and When the Lights Went Out: A History of American Blackouts. His awards include the Leonardo da Vinci Medal (2005).


“Provocative...Nye's mission in this anecdote-rich, briskly analytical, and indignation-arousing overview is to make us think more critically about the boons and banes of technology and make our views known.”—Donna Seaman
“Nye's book addresses many of the issues and debates surrounding our highly textured technological society, and these are reflected in the questions he asks. Does technology control us? Does it lead to cultural uniformity or diversity? To sustainable abundance or to ecological crisis? To more security or escalating danger? The book is rich in examples, is easily readable and is short enough to be recommended for a day's read.”—Nature
“The incessant march of technology's evolution is the subject of David Nye's very readable book. It is written in the form of questions and expansive answers, with read like a primer (if not a discursive catechism) on what historians of technology have been thinking about over the half-century or so since their field was formalized. One of the striking effects of Nye's treatment is that it leads the reader to the incontrovertible conclusion that the answers to questions about technology evolve no less than technology itself. This is hardly surprising: thinking and writing about technology can be as creative a pursuit as inventing.”—New Scientist


“Applying the lessons of history to modern-day dilemmas, Nye defies much common wisdom about the power of technology in society. With irony and wit, he exhorts us not to succumb to defeatist notions of technological determinism but to take charge of our own human destinies.”
Arthur Molella, Director, Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Institution
“A deeply informed historian who writes with impressive clarity, David Nye persuades us in Technology Matters that we should ask the kind of life-shaping questions about technology that we customarily pose about politics and economics. He does not finally answer the timely questions that he explicates, but provokes us to search for our own answers.”
Thomas P. Hughes, author of Human-Built World: How to Think about Technology and Culture
Technology Matters provides a scintillating and sweeping assessment of how technology and culture have shaped one another over time and how humanity's future will be shaped by the choices we make today. Nye's latest analysis of the reciprocal interplay of technology and culture extends his more academic work to a broader audience and does so in a clear and engaging manner.”
Jeffrey K. Stine, National Museum of American History


Winner, 2009 Sally Hacker Prize given by the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT)