China, Technology, and Prosperity

I have written a number of overlapping pieces prompted by the current attention that China, and its technology have been receiving from the White House.  The point of these pieces have all been to try to highlight what is being talked about less.  In my most recent LinkedIn article, I hope to get people thinking more broadly about what prosperity means.  It shouldn’t just mean corporate profits.

The thing that got me thinking about this subject was an NPR article in which a technology analyst derided China’s efforts to acquire technology as resorting to illegal tactics because they couldn’t catch up by “normal” methods of developing technology.  Without suggesting in anyway that China isn’t a danger (quite the opposite), I take issue with the nationalistic characterization that China is doing something out of the norm when it comes to acquiring technology from outside their country.  In fact, they are doing the same kind of thing that American’s did early on in illegally acquiring British technology.

Other posts will follow that explain the similarities, but I worry that overly simplistic understanding that ignores history, is not really understanding at all.  And it leads to beliefs that are unhelpful and even dangerous.  This is particularly true when the subject is technology.

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Coopting the Cops

There is a determinist strain in the philosophy of technology. That thinking translates to some thinking about mapping in the works of people like J. Brian Harley.  The idea is that technology, in this case specifically, digital mapping determines societal norms and trends. The opposite question can also be asked: How does society shape technology.

In an article published in Cartographica this week, I explore the both of these deterministic attributes of mapping in police technology. Previously, an article I wrote for The Activist History Review discussed the same subject from within the context of the risks associated with technology’s deployment.

The NYPD’s introduction of GIS in the 1990s presents a good case study for the interaction between technology and society.  In it, we can clearly recognize that technology is not neutral. It also provides evidence about how to consider its influence when introducing new technology. The lesson that is more important than all others is that we should be mindful about how technology is deployed.

What we witness in this case is an effect of technological momentum. Technological momentum, as coined by Thomas Hughes and explained by David Nye is a sort of “soft” determinism. One in which society creates the initial application of a technology and then, once established, the technology begins to become the driving force.

Productive of Unnecessary Expense

“Productive of unnecessary expense.”  I love the way George Washington phrased it.  So eighteenth century.  It would produce something, it’s just that what it would produce would be unnecessary.  When our first president said these words he was referring to what would happen if in planning the construction of canals, there was an “error in commencement.”  In other, more modern words, poor planning will produce poor results.  In a paper I presented at the New England Historical Association’s Spring Conference, I discuss the error in commencement of the Farmington Canal, the “longest and feeblest” canal of the canal mania period.  Many lessons can be learned by community planners, if they pay attention to economic development efforts of the past…

An Eclectic Collection

Thanks for joining me!

I pursue varied interests in my personal and professional life.  It is hard for me to contain myself to any one topic or even discipline.  First and foremost, I am an historian, The idea of this blog is to discuss the impact of technology on culture and the impact of culture on technology across history… or at least topics tangentially related to those ideas.  This blog will contain posts that are primarily related to history and American culture, particularly those concerning technology.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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