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ascent of machine aesthetic

updated fri 11 may 07


Kathy Forer on thu 10 may 07

While the entire review is an interesting read on an anti-=20
triumphalist look at technology, the last paragraph of Steven =20
Shapin's New Yorker book review of David Edgerton's "The Shock of the =20=

Old: Technology and Global History Since 1990=94 (Oxford; $26), struck =20=

me as especially related to our recent discussion of narrative:

Knowing about technology is not the same thing as
understanding the scientific theories involved. Just as
innovators commonly understand the fundamentals of a
technology better than subsequent users, so users can
acquire knowledge that would never have occurred to the
innovators. In 1817, Thomas Broadwood, a vastly successful
English piano manufacturer, visited Beethoven in Vienna
and, shortly after, sent the composer a top-of-the-line
instrument. Which of these two men understood the piano
better=97the craftsman-entrepreneur whose product adorned
drawing rooms throughout Europe or the deaf genius whose
works are a glory of piano repertoire? Or, for that
matter, Liszt, who later owned the piano, and could do
things at the keyboard that no performer previously could,
or the curator in the museum where it resides today? The
piano is one thing to a pianist, another to a piano tuner,
another to an interior designer with no interest in music,
and yet another to a child who wants to avoid practicing.
Ultimately, the narrative of what kind of thing a piano is
must be a story of all these users. It=92s a narrative in
which we turn out to know a surprising amount about the
technologies that have infiltrated our lives, and in which
knowing only as much as we want and need to know about
them is, in a sense, to know a lot. =93The Shock of the Old=94
is a necessary reminder of just how important things are
in our lives, and how important we are in the life of things.

Kathy Forer