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Our Own Devices: The Past and Future of Body Technology
Synopses & Reviews
From the author of Why Things Bite Back– which introduced us to the revenge antics of technology–Our Own Devices is a wonderfully revealing look at the inventions of everyday things that protect us, position us, or enhance our performance.
In helping and hurting us, these body technologies have produced consequences that their makers never intended:
• In postwar Japan traditional sandals gave way to Western-style shoes because they were considered marks of a higher standard of living, but they seriously increased the rate of fungal foot ailments.
• Reclining chairs, originally promoted for healthful brief relaxation, became symbols of the sedentary life and obesity.
• A keyboard that made the piano easier to learn failed in the marketplace mainly because professional pianists believed difficult passages needed to stay difficult.
• Helmets, reintroduced during the carnage of World War I, saved the lives of countless civilian miners, construction workers, and, more recently, bicyclists.
Once we step on the treadmill of progress, it’s hard to step off. Yet Edward Tenner shows that human ingenuity can be applied in self-preservation as well, and he sheds light on the ways in which the users of commonplace technology surprise designers and engineers, as when early typists developed the touch method still employed on today’s keyboards. And he offers concrete advice for reaping benefits from the devices that we no longer seem able to live without. Although dependent on these objects, we can also use them to liberate ourselves. This delightful and instructive history of invention shows why National Public Radio dubbed Tenner “the philosopher of everyday technology.”
"Tenner's erudite yet approachable style and his way with telling details keep his potentially obscure subject from becoming dry and boring, and those in search of a quirky but cerebral read will be delighted." Publishers Weekly
From the author of Why Things Bite Back?which introduced us to the revenge antics of technology?a wonderfully revealing look at how the artifacts we create in turn help to re-create our bodies and our lives. With wit and authority, Edward Tenner reveals the profound impact on human beings of the most ubiquitous and unassuming innovations. The thong sandal?a gift from the ancient Romans?affects gait and toe shape and, made most often now of plastic, has become an environmental nuisance. Eyeglasses aid the myopic, but why do the more educated seem to need them more? Chairs condition people to be uncomfortable without them, and often with them. Helmets protect, but their invention in classical times pushed the military to adopt more powerful weapons and, effectively, to commence the arms race. Yet Tenner also makes clear that human ingenuity can be used in self-preservation as well, and he sheds light on the ways in which the users of quotidian technology surprise designers and engineers, as when early typists developed the touch method still employed on today's keyboards. And he offers concrete advice for reaping the benefits from the devices that we no longer seem able to live without. Illuminating, ingenious, and a delight to read.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 269-304) and index.
About the Author
Edward Tenner has been a visiting scholar in the Departments of Geosciences and English at Princeton University. Recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, he is currently senior research associate at the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He lives in Plainsboro, New Jersey.
Table of Contents
Technology, technique, and the body — The first technology : bottle-feeding — Slow motion : zori — Double time : athletic shoes — Sitting up straight : posture chairs — Laid back : reclining chairs — Mechanical arts : musical keyboards — Letter perfect? : text keyboards — Second sight : eyeglasses — Hardheaded logic : helmets.
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