Journal of Technology Education

Journal of Technology Education

Current Editor: Chris Merrill, cpmerri@ilstu.edu
Previous Editors: Mark Sanders 1989-1997; James LaPorte: 1997-2010

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Volume 3, Number 1
Fall 1991

              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