Technology in the 21st century

Carroll Pursell

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Any attempt to discuss the technology of the 21st century, based on the record of the first five to ten years, demands a caveat. Futurology, so popular 30 years ago, has all but disappeared, perhaps because in so much of the United States fortune telling is illegal. Even the easy prediction that change, however unclear in its details now, will continue, is no doubt true but misleading. Technologies change, but not because they must. Technologies change because people with the power to make it happen want it to. While change will no doubt take place over the remainder of the century, many technologies will not change at all. In his important book The Shock of the Old (2007), David Edgerton asserts that ‘time was always jumbled up, in the pre-modern era, the post-modern era and the modern era.’ In what he calls ‘use-centered history technologies do not only appear, they also disappear and reappear, and mix and match across the centuries.’ He also calls attention to what he terms ‘creole’ technologies, those ‘transplanted from their place of origin finding uses on a greater scale elsewhere.’ As in the past, old technologies and those transplanted will continue to be at least as important as those newly invented and rushed to market. Over the years, those who have yielded to the temptation to predict the future on the basis of those new technologies seem always, as Joseph Corn has pointed out, to make the same mistakes: what he calls ‘the fallacy of total revolution, the fallacy of social continuity, and the fallacy of the technological fix’, all of which contribute to ‘the extravagant and often utopian tone of technological prediction’.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAmerican thought and culture in the 21st century
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780748631322
ISBN (Print)9780748626014
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2008


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