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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: 03 August 2021

Technology and Literature

Technology and Literature

(p.219) 16 Technology and Literature
The Engines of Our Ingenuity

John H. Lienhard

Oxford University Press

Technology is a form of communication. Because it is communication, technology both echoes in our literature and seamlessly continues human discourse into another domain that is wordless. Suppose you want to tell a friend how to go from Houston to Detroit. You might write out the sequence of roads and turns that would get her there. Or you might prepare a map. On the other hand, you might do something more abstract; you might tell her what it feels like to drive to Detroit—about the ride and the sights you see on the way. The engineers in Detroit have another way to describe the trip. They design the machine we use to make the journey. They create the experience of the trip, give it its form and texture. Those engineers are using the automobile to tell you their own concept of what that experience should be. The feel of it, the sense of motion, the beauty of the auto, the way the car fits into your life and shapes it—these are all things the designer communicates in a remarkably compact and efficient way. This fact was dramatically impressed on my wife and me the day we found a prefabricated desk that we needed for her computer. Since the box had been damaged by a forklift, the as-is price was next to nothing. It was a big, complicated, three-element item, with ten pages of assembly instructions. Putting it together was no job for the timid. We took the box home, opened it, and only then found that the instructions were gone. There lay thirty precut pieces of wood, hundreds of metal and plastic fittings, and no hint as to how they were supposed to fit together. At first it was devastating. Then I realized that I could consult the designer directly! Why not just look at the parts and listen to the clear logic they represented? Why was this piece notched and drilled the way it was? Why did some fittings have little ribs while others did not? In the end, we had been relieved of the tedious and confusing intermediary of written instructions.

Keywords:   analytical engine, computers, mathematics, poetry, prefabrication, writing

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