Rhetoric of Machine Aesthetics

By Barry Brummett | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Electrotech: High Technology Machine Aesthetics

The term high tech is part of the indispensable vocabulary of our civilization. Every era has had its "high technology" machines; the wheel once held that pride of place! Much of the meaning of the term connotes the "newest" or "cutting edge" technology. But every age has had a "newest" technology that was replaced by something newer later on. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Western culture also has its "newest" technologies and its "best" machines. Ask anybody on the street what "high tech" means and they will give you computers, cel phones, and so forth as examples. As Ellen Ullman put it, "We lead machine-centered lives: now everyone's life is full of automated tellers, portable phones, pagers, keyboards, mice" (146).

The "newest and best" technology today is the subject of this chapter, but not only because it is newest and best. Rather, today's high technology machines are qualitatively distinct from the high technology of the past. High tech today is not simply what is new or most valued in technology, it is qualitatively different from previous technology. For related reasons, today's high tech also grounds a particular range of aesthetic reactions.

I shall use "high technology" here to mean something more specific than just that which is new or best during the last hundred years. A high

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