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Focusing on the design and implementation of computer-based automatic machine tools, David F. Noble challenges the idea that technology has a life of its own. Technology has been both a convenient scapegoat and a universal solution, serving to disarm critics, divert attention, depoliticize debate, and dismiss discussion of the fundamental antagonisms and inequalities that continue to beset America. This provocative study of the postwar automation of the American metal-working industry-the heart of a modern industrial economy-explains how dominant institutions like the great corporations, the universities, and the military, along with the ideology of modern engineering shape, the development of technology. Noble shows how the system of "numerical control," perfected at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and put into general industrial use, was chosen over competing systems for reasons other than the technical and economic superiority typically advanced by its promoters. Numerical control took shape at an MIT laboratory rather than in a manufacturing setting, and a market for the new technology was created, not by cost-minded producers, but instead by the U. S. Air Force. Competing methods, equally promising, were rejected because they left control of production in the hands of skilled workers, rather than in those of management or programmers. Noble demonstrates that engineering design is influenced by political, economic, managerial, and sociological considerations, while the deployment of equipment-illustrated by a detailed case history of a large General Electric plant in Massachusetts-can become entangled with such matters as labor classification, shop organization, managerial responsibility, and patterns of authority. In its examination of technology as a human, social process, Forces of Production is a path-breaking contribution to the understanding of this phenomenon in American society.
Arguing against the widely held belief that technology and religion are at war with each other, David F. Noble's groundbreaking book reveals the religious roots and spirit of Western technology. It links the technological enthusiasms of the present day with the ancient and enduring Christian expectation of recovering humankind's lost divinity. Covering a period of a thousand years, Noble traces the evolution of the Western idea of technological development from the ninth century, when the useful arts became connected to the concept of redemption, up to the twentieth, when humans began to exercise God-like knowledge and powers. Noble describes how technological advance accelerated at the very point when it was invested with spiritual significance. By examining the imaginings of monks, explorers, magi, scientists, Freemasons, and engineers, this historical account brings to light an other-worldly inspiration behind the apparently worldly endeavors by which we habitually define Western civilization. Thus we see that Isaac Newton devoted his lifetime to the interpretation of prophecy. Joseph Priestley was the discoverer of oxygen and a founder of Unitarianism. Freemasons were early advocates of industrialization and the fathers of the engineering profession. Wernher von Braun saw spaceflight as a millenarian new beginning for humankind. The narrative moves into our own time through the technological enterprises of the last half of the twentieth century: nuclear weapons, manned space exploration, Artificial Intelligence, and genetic engineering. Here the book suggests that the convergence of technology and religion has outlived its usefulness, that though it once contributed to human well-being, it has now become a threat to our survival. Viewed at the dawn of the new millennium, the technological means upon which we have come to rely for the preservation and enlargement of our lives betray an increasing impatience with life and a disdainful disregard for mortal needs. David F. Noble thus contends that we must collectively strive to disabuse ourselves of the inherited religion of technology and begin rigorously to re-examine our enchantment with unregulated technological advance.
Why is it that Western science evolved as a thoroughly male-dominated enterprise? As philosopher Sandra Harding has noted, "women have been more systematically excluded from doing serious science than performing any other social activity except, perhaps, frontline warfare. " InA WorldWithout Women, David F. Noble provides the first full-scale investigation of the origins and implications of the masculine culture of Western science and technology, and in the process offers some surprising revelations. Noble begins by showing that, contrary to the widely held notion that the culture of learning in the West has always excluded women--an assumption that rests largely upon the supposed legacy of ancient Greece--men did not thoroughly dominate intellectual life until the beginning of the second millennium of the Christian era. At this time science and the practices of higher learning became the exclusive province of the newly celibate Christian clergy, whose ascetic culture denied women a place in any scholarly enterprise. By the twelfth century, papal reform movements had all but swept away the material and ideological supports of future female participation in the world of learning; as never before, women were on the outside looking in. Noble further demonstrates that the clerical legacy of a world without women remained more or less intact through the Reformation, and permeated the emergant culture of science. A World Without Womenfinally points to a dread of women at the core of modern scientific and technological enterprise, as these disciplines work to deprive one-half of humanity of its role in production (as seen in the Industrial Revolution's male appropriation of labor) and reproduction as well (the age-old quest for an artificial womb). It also makes plain the hypocrisy of a community that can honor a female scientist with a bronze bust, as England's Royal Society did for Mary Somerville in the mid-nineteenth century, yet deny her entry to the very meeting hall in which it enjoyed pride of place. An important and often disturbing book,A World Without Womenis essential reading for anyone concerned not only about the world of science, but about the world that science has made.
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