Journal of Technology Education


JTE Editor: Mark Sanders

Volume 3, Number 1
Fall 1991


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BOOK REVIEW
 
          STROSS, R. E.  (1989).  TECHNOLOGY AND SOCI-
          ETY IN TWENTIETH CENTURY AMERICA:  AN ANTHOL-
          OGY.  BLEMONT, CA: WADSWORTH, $21.95
          (PAPERBACK), 273 PP.  (ISBN 0-534-10927-6)
 
                    Reviewed by Karen F. Zuga
 
               This collection of readings could pro-
          vide technology teachers and teacher educa-
          tors with another opportunity to look at the
          relationship between our use of technology
          and our formal and informal political proc-
          esses.  In this book Stross has been able to
          assemble a collection of readings which inte-
          grates the study of technology and society.
          Stross' book could serve to supplement the
          too often technically slanted books we tend
          to write and use in technology education.
               Stross has dealt with several important
          ways in which we advanced our use of technol-
          ogy in the twentieth century by selecting
          passages from published texts.  Each author
          and topic is introduced by Stross in order to
          provide the reader with background informa-
          tion.  Topics are arranged in a chronological
          order based upon the order in which we began
          to develop and pay attention to each kind of
          technology.  Some of the topics are:  the in-
          dustrial organization of agriculture, corpo-
          rate capitalism, the industrial state, birth
          control, the car culture, suburbanization,
          space age politics, household technologies,
          show business and public discourse, and com-
          puters and the human spirit.
               One of the advantages of the anthology
          format is that each topic is treated by spe-
          cialists who are able to lend their own ex-
          pertise to the topic.  Some of those authors
          are: Harry Braverman, David Noble, John
          Kenneth Galbraith, Ivan Illich, Neil Postman,
          Ruth Schwartz Cowan, and Sherry Turkle.
          Moreover, their best work is featured--
          providing the reader with the cream and sav-
          ing the time of reading through all of the
          texts.  In one text a reader can survey se-
          veral authors and, perhaps, find a few to
          pursue in greater depth.  Not all of the top-
          ics or authors will strike a responsive chord
          with all readers.  An anthology provides a
          variety which can please most of the readers
          most of the time.
               The treatment of the topics is not al-
          ways one which we would like to hear, but of-
          ten, it is one we must hear and we should be
          addressing in our own courses.  For example,
          as we teach about construction we need to ad-
          dress the role that contractors play in shap-
          ing public policy by reinforcing the status
          quo.  The section on suburbanization includes
          a discussion of the growth of the suburbs in
          the late 1940s and the way in which William
          Levitt conformed to common practice and main-
          tained segregation in the new suburbs.
 
             The Levitt organization, which was no
             more culpable in this regard than any
             other urban or suburban firm, publicly
             and officially refused to sell to
             blacks for two decades after the war.
             Nor did resellers deal with minorities.
             As William Levitt explained, "We can
             solve a housing problem, or we can try
             to solve a racial problem.  But we can-
             not combine the two."  Not surpris-
             ingly, in 1960 not a single one of the
             Long Island Levittown's 82,000 resi-
             dents was black. (p. 158)
 
          The way in which Levitt built suburban hous-
          ing was a technological innovation, but this
          text helps us to understand that it was not
          used as a value free innovation.  In the dis-
          cussion about television, communication
          teachers are presented with a wealth of in-
          formation and insight about the medium.
          Again, the message is related to the value
          orientation of the medium.
 
             Entertainment is the supraideology of
             all discourse on television.  No matter
             what is depicted or from what point of
             view, the overarching presumption is
             that it is there for our amusement and
             pleasure...A news show...is a format
             for entertainment, not for education,
             reflection or catharsis...There is no
             conspiracy here, no lack of intelli-
             gence, only a straightforward recogni-
             tion that "good television" has little
             to do with what is "good" about exposi-
             tion or other forms of verbal communi-
             cation but everything to do with what
             pictorial images look like.  (p. 246)
 
          Discussions such as the one above help all of
          us to look at our use of technology again and
          to see the way in which our seemingly neutral
          technology becomes tied up with values and
          biases as we interpret a purpose and make
          choices about how to use an artifact, tool,
          or process.
               Stross' anthology leaves the reader with
          a message about how we make decisions about
          the use of technology and, through his se-
          lections of readings, he leaves the reader a
          strong message about how we make those
          choices from our own ideology and values.
          The anthology is a good counter to the tech-
          nological determinist view.  Moreover, the
          variety of selections makes it easy to read
          and to glean a variety of insights into the
          choices we make collectively about technol-
          ogy.
               TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY IN TWENTIETH CEN-
          TURY AMERICA should be of interest to all
          technology educators.  It would be a good ad-
          dition to the professional reading list of
          teacher educators and practicing teachers.
          It could serve as either the foundation of a
          general technology course or a source of
          readings for courses in communication, con-
          struction, manufacturing, etc.  We need to
          think about using texts such as this one in
          order to balance the lopsided technical ap-
          proach we take when teaching about technol-
          ogy.  
 
 
 
          ----------------
          Karen Zuga is Associate Professor, Industrial
          Technology Education Department, The Ohio
          State University, Columbus, Ohio.
 
 
          Permission is given to copy any
          article or graphic provided credit is given and
          the copies are not intended for sale.
 
Journal of Technology Education   Volume 3, Number 1       Fall 1991

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