Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press (2020)

Sean F. Johnston
University of Glasgow
This is the story of a seductive idea and its sobering consequences. The twentieth century brought a new cultural confidence in the social powers of invention – along with consumerism, world wars, globalisation and human-generated climate change. This book traces how passive optimism and active manipulations were linked to our growing trust in technological innovation. It pursues the evolving idea through engineering hubris, radical utopian movements, science fiction fanzines, policy-maker soundbites, corporate marketing, and consumer culture. It explores how evangelists of technological fixes have proselytised their faith, and critically examines the examples and products of their followers. The new technological confidence mixed together beliefs that were simultaneously compelling and unsettling. As motor vehicles, electricity supplies and radio became part of modern life in the early decades of the century, it was hard to argue against the transformative effects and inevitability of such transitions. Like it or not, social consequences seemed to come inexorably with the Machine Age, the Space Age and the Information Age. This deterministic vision implied an ever more technological future with unavoidable social consequences. For many, innovative technologies promised appealing new lifestyles and powers. But for a narrower band of proponents – the first generation of technological fixers – wise engineering invention was touted as a guaranteed route to positive human benefits and societal progress. Socially-engaged engineers and designers argued that such improvements could be directed, hastened and amplified. These engineering adventurers argued that modern societies could be guided only by rational designers. They contended that adroit technological solutions could solve contemporary problems better than any traditional method, including economic initiatives, citizen education, political ideology, lifestyle changes, legal frameworks and moral guidance. Their seductive claims were tamed by more mainstream American enthusiasts, and eventually boiled down to the concept of the technological fix. Their shared confidence infused policy-makers, broadcasters and science popularisers. Trust in technological fixes shaped a new generation of managers and law-makers, engineers and educators, futurists and citizens – and continues to drive a new generation of techno-fixers today. This cultural wave, its promoters and detractors, have championed the promise and voiced concerns that we have inherited, still unresolved. This book tracks the hubristic influencers and weighs up the confidences and concerns associated with them: the dramatic potential for novel technologies to work alongside longer human traditions to meet our enduring ambitions – or to reshape society for the worse.
Keywords technological fix  technological solutions  technocracy  futurism  optimism  utopianism  futurism  philosophy of technology  ethics of technology
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ISBN(s) 0228001323   9780228001324
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