“Humanist Reflections on Technology,” or Compiling a Common Reading List for Students at a College of Technology

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In researching the list of readings to be included in the first edition of my FYW reader/textbook Technology: A Reader for Writers (Oxford, 2014), I came across an interesting document written in 2005 by George Smith, a professor at what was then Brooklyn Polytechnic and what is now the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, reporting on his findings from a small , informal survey that he conducted from January to February, 2005, dedicated to gathering responses from faculty members in Philosophy and English Departments across 80 different universities in the United States for their recommended readings–fiction and non-fiction–“that provide a powerful humanist reflection on technology.”  Professor Smith invited respondents to make recommendations in three categories: 1/ works written within the last 500 years, 2/ works written in the last 10 years, and 3/ films.  The results of this survey were fascinating to me for several different reasons: 1/ the overall response rate to the survey (96 of 530); 2/ the specific works recommended in each category; 3/ the apparent lack of consensus regarding recommended works in any category; 4/ the final categorization versus the planned categorization of the responses: after gathering the responses, Professor Smith revised both the first and second categories, deciding to use the date 1980 rather than 1995 as the cut off date distinguishing works in the first category from the second category.  Since I have not yet been able to contact Professor Smith to ask his permission to make the findings from his survey public, I cannot at this time publish the link to his report.  However, I plan to continue my efforts to contact him in order to encourage him to publish the findings from his survey (I don’t know if the results have been published in any form up to this time) and to ask his permission to include the document itself in the next edition of  Technology: A Reader for Writers.  It is a fascinating document both in terms of the works it references as providing “a powerful humanist reflection on technology,” as well as in terms of being an example of a working document dedicated to the design, execution, and reporting of a qualitative survey.

Below are the recommendations that received more than four votes from each of the final 3 categories:

Works from Last 500 Years (to 1980)

Work/Date/Votes

Huxley, Aldous./Brave New World/1932 /15

Heidegger, Martin./The Question Concerning Technology/1977/10  [Professor Zeurn’s Reader’s Guide]

Shelley, Mary./Frankenstein/1818/9

Mumford, Lewis./Technics and Civilization/1934/6

Ellul, Jacques./The Technological Society/1954/5

Marx, Leo./The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in

America/1964/5

McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man 1962 4

Miller, Walter. A Canticle for Leibowitz 1959 4

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden 1854 4

 

Works from 1980 to Present

Work/Date/Votes

Diamond, Jared./Guns, Germs, and Steel/1997/4

Hayles, N. Katherine./How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics,

Literature, and Informatics/1999/4

Kidder, Tracy./The Soul of a New Machine/1981/4

Postman, Neil./Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology/1992/4

 

Film                                      Date             Votes

Metropolis (Lang, F.)       1927              8

Blade Runner (Scott, R.) 1982              7

Matrix, The                         1999               5

(Wachowski, A. & Wachowski, L.)

Modern Times                   1936                5

(Chaplin, C.)

Gattaca (Niccol, A.)          1997               4

Terminator (Cameron, J.)1984              4

Source: Smith, George. “Responders to Informal Survey Concerning ‘Humanist Reflections on Technology.'” Unpublished Mem0: 28 February, 2005.  Accessed via Google.com search engine in 2011.

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