The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture

By John H. Lienhard | Go to book overview

16
Technology and Literature

T echnology is a form of communication. Because it is communication, technology both echoes in our literature and seamlessly continues human discourse into another domain that is wordless. Suppose you want to tell a friend how to go from Houston to Detroit. You might write out the sequence of roads and turns that would get her there. Or you might prepare a map. On the other hand, you might do something more abstract; you might tell her what it feels like to drive to Detroit—about the ride and the sights you see on the way.

The engineers in Detroit have another way to describe the trip. They design the machine we use to make the journey. They create the experience of the trip, give it its form and texture. Those engineers are using the automobile to tell you their own concept of what that experience should be. The feel of it, the sense of motion, the beauty of the auto, the way the car fits into your life and shapes it—these are all things the designer communicates in a remarkably compact and efficient way.

This fact was dramatically impressed on my wife and me the day we found a prefabricated desk that we needed for her computer. Since the box had been damaged by a forklift, the as-is price was next to nothing. It was a big, complicated, three-element item, with ten pages of assembly instructions. Putting it together was no job for the timid. We took the box home, opened it, and only then found that the instructions were gone. There lay thirty precut pieces of wood, hundreds of metal and plastic fittings, and no hint as to how they were supposed to fit together.

At first it was devastating. Then I realized that I could consult the

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The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface vii
  • The Engines of Our Ingenuity *
  • 1 - Mirrored by Our Machines 3
  • 2 - God, the Master Craftsman 20
  • 3 - Looking Inside the Inventive Mind 35
  • 4 - The Common Place 55
  • 5 - Science Marries into the Family 70
  • 6 - Industrial Revolution 86
  • 7 - Inventing America 96
  • 8 - Taking Flight 115
  • 9 - Attitudes and Technological Change 126
  • 10 - War and Other Ways to Kill People 139
  • 11 - Major Landmarks 153
  • 12 - Systems, Design, and Production 167
  • 13 - Heroic Materialism 179
  • 14 - Who Got There First? 193
  • 15 - Ever-Present Dangers 209
  • 16 - Technology and Literature 219
  • 17 - Being There 229
  • Correlation of the Text with the Radio Program 241
  • Notes 243
  • Index 255
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