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The Engines of Our IngenuityAn Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture$
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John H. Lienhard

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780195135831

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195135831.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 27 July 2021

Attitudes and Technological Change

Attitudes and Technological Change

(p.126) 9 Attitudes and Technological Change
The Engines of Our Ingenuity

John H. Lienhard

Oxford University Press

We look into the mirror of our machines, but what do we really see when we look in that mirror? How does change occur in the context of the mirror? The mirror turns out to be a strange reflector. We do not see ourselves when we first look at a new machine because there is a time lag in the reflection. If you are a baby boomer or older, remember the first time you saw a computer. You felt neither need nor empathy for it. We cannot need what we have never experienced; yet that first glimpse initiated a long process. You have friends who still jitter about this new medium, wondering whether to accept the change it will bring into their lives or to keep dodging it. The need for transformation lies at our biological core, but we fear change nonetheless. The first computers I ever used were so large that they filled rooms, and we had to speak to them with punched cards. The simplest conversation could stretch into weeks. We would submit three-inch decks of cards, wait twenty-four hours, and be handed a five-hundred-page sheaf of nonsense output because a do-loop went mad when we misplaced a period. During the 1960s we began to compute things that had been beyond us a few years before; but even as we did we grew desperately frustrated. All we talked about was increasing the speed of calculation, but what we really needed was a more accurate mirror of our human nature. We finally began speaking directly to computers with keyboards during the 1970s. Then we realized we could compose text on the computer and print it out. Since the computer took no responsibility for organizing the text, we began to demand that word-processing logic be built into the computer. With the early 1980s, commercial software came on the market—canned sets of commands we could call up from the keyboard. Software now processed our words and laid our numbers out in spreadsheets. New programming languages removed more and more of the burden of speaking in the language of the machine.

Keywords:   agriculture, bridges, chemistry, farming, horses, naval warfare, patents, screw pump, tunnels, violins

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