10 Great Books on Technology

Posted by matthew on Jul 15, 2013 in technology |

Cross posted from Science Book a Day.

‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’ by Michel Foucault (1975)
This might sound a strange place to start, but stay with me.  I read this as an undergraduate and plainly remember wondering what all the fuss was about at the time.  I now look back on Foucault’s writings as a turning point in my understanding of key concepts to do with the power of technology — illustrated with cogent ideas such as the panopticon, which seems more and more relevant today. Everyone should be forced to read this. That’s a joke. However, I will be watching to check that you do.

‘Learning Spaces’ by Maggi Savin-Baden (2008)
This is a brilliant book which introduced some exciting ideas for me on the ways in which different forms of learning spaces enable ways of thinking, and drew a connection from learning space design to concepts in material semiotics and the study of socio-technical networks. Your mileage may vary, of course!

‘The Nature of Technology’ by Arthur W. Brian (2009)
This excellent work taught me that technologies are ‘self-creating’, consisting of ‘assemblies and sub-assemblies’, meaning that new technologies almost always arise as new combinations of old technologies.  This is a great way to understand the evolution of technologies, and how for example jet aeroplanes came into existence, and helped me understand why Apple so infuriated and confused some people when it came out with the iPad at the end of a decade of tablet device failures and it turned into a raging success.

‘Alone Together’ by Sherry Turkle (2010)
Turkle presents a near future when robots become true companions, challenging us to consider a spectrum of possibilities from love to Frankenstein’s monster. In discussing her favourite topic (and mine) of identity, she even refers to one of the most enduring sci fi classic films, Bladerunner.

‘Digital Difference’ edited by Ray Land and Sian Bayne (2011)
This edited volume presents a lovely combination of chapters presenting a critical view of the idea that there is a ‘net generation’ at odds with other generations, and explores the multitude of ways that technologies transform and destabilise relations and authorities, among many other things.

‘The Whale and the Reactor’ by Langdon Winner (1986)
An absolute classic introduction to the philosophy of technology that introduced me to the notion that technologies are political whether we recognise it or not.

‘Diaspora’ by Greg Egan (1997)
Well written, engaging ‘hard’ sci fi is rare and it is even more rare to find novels as challenging and engaging as this one. This story of a distant future in which being posthuman becomes a necessity is mindbending as well as inspiring, with three alternatives explored: genetic, virtual and robotic. Best treated as a highly speculative extended thought experiment, for the most chilling effect I dare you to get the iBook and get Siri to read the first few pages aloud.

‘e-Shock 2020′ by Michael de Kare-Silver (2011)
Unflinchingly utopic and deterministic though this fairly slim book may be, it’s irresistable in its accessible presentation of interesting ideas such as the transition from ‘point and click’ all the way through to ‘think talk move’ by 2020.

‘Laboratory Life: the Social Construction of Scientific Facts’ by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar (1979)
Another book ahead of its time that forever changed the way I thought about science and technology.  What do scientists do in laboratories, and why is theory so privileged over practice in science? Just how do facts become facts?  What happens if we go back to a time when established facts were controversies?  This beautifully written book helped me see how social studies of science and technology can provide answers to questions like these and set me on the path to using actor-network theory.

‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ by Philip K Dick (1968)
Alright, it’s a novella, but can anything really come close to this?  If you still haven’t read this book, which was adapted for the movie Bladerunner, shame on you.  Worth coming back to time and time again, it’s worth remembering that this dystopic vision of future human/non-human existence dates before the first moon landing. Genius.