History and Sociology of Science

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Context for Weighing the Impact of Technology

A writer on technology once wrote that “Americans confront a world in which everything changes and nothing moves.” My presentation will defend the counter-intuitive claim that–despite the dramatic technological advances of the past century–the basic social contract of this nation has remained largely stable for the past one hundred years. For it was about one hundred years ago that a new form of technological citizenship took shape redefining the relations between ordinary citizens, the state, and corporate capitalism. I will take as my text an essay entitled “The Dynamo and the Virgin,” which appears in one of the most famous American autobiographies, The Education of Henry Adams, by Henry Adams, scion of the presidential family and brilliant historian. The essay recounts Adams’ visit to the Paris world’s fair of 1900 and his effort to comprehend a world of continual technological innovation and its implications for art and meaning and citizenship. Adams prompts us to ask how we should think about technological change in our own era.


Ken Alder

  • Milton H. Wilson Professor in the Humanities
  • Professor, History, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Paul Leonardi

  • Professor, Kellogg School of Management