The Shock of the Old
Whereas standard histories of technology give tired old accounts of the usual inventions – planes, bombs – this book is based on a different idea. Its thrust is that for the full picture of the history of technology we need to know not about what a few people invented, but about what everyday people used – and when they actually used things, if it was a long time after invention. It therefore reassesses the significance of, for example, the Pill and IT, and shows the continued importance of technology such as corrugated iron and sewing machines. In taking this approach, David Edgerton challenges the idea that we live in an era of ever increasing change. Interweaving political, economic and cultural history, he shows what it means to think critically about technology and its importance.
‘It’s rare for a book to make you see the world differently, but this … does exactly that on almost every page’ GuardianStandard histories of technology give tired accounts of the usual inventions, inventors, and dates, framing technology as the inevitable march of progress. They split history into ages – electrification, motorisation, and computerisation – and rarely ask whether anyone bothered to use these inventions at the time. Shock of the Old is not one of those histories. I Letters exist alongside emails and outlasted telegrams; we still make physical books and magazines despite the rise of the Internet – a belated rise considering that the technologies that made it possible was invented in 1965, and bookshops thrive despite Amazon. More horses were used in the Second World War than any other war in history and propeller planes continue to take off from the same runways as jets. Shock of the Old forces us to reassess the significance of old inventions such as corrugated iron and sewing machines and rethink the relative importance we place on the invention of something new, its application, and its widespread adoption. It challenges the idea that we live in an era of ever increasing change and, interweaving political, economic and cultural history, teaches us to think critically about technology.