Rags to Renewal

The New Yorker published a fascinating article  in its May 4, 2007 edition, by Steven Shapin, which illustrated the relative concepts of technology and how it effects the people using it,”It’s a narrative in which we turn out to know a surprising amount about the technologies that have infiltrated our lives, and in which knowing only as much as we want and need to know about them is, in a sense, to know a lot (Shapin 8).”

The article is bedecked with an illustration by Joost Swarte that almost seems to be a modern twist on an M.C. Escher drawing entitled Relativity, setting the tone for an engaging diatribe of technology past, present, and future. Like an Escher painting, Shapin illustrates to his readers that modern technology is merely chasing its past, present, and future through a maze of stairs seemingly reaching the end to only arrive at the beginning once more. Shapin attempts to open the eyes of end-users by revealing that technology that is dubbed “new” may in fact be a revamped version of science created years prior. Furthermore, Shapin proposes that how we perceive technology also changes how relevent or “new” it may seem. Our relationships with the technology we use daily determines how vital it becomes, and how it effects our society.

In order to illustrate Shapin’s point,I will use several examples of technology and how their roles within the time period evolved. I will then provide an example of how more advanced technology effects various individuals in society, and how that perception changes how the technology is viewed.

During the late 1970’s, the science of cleaning a table would be considered relatively low tech and dated in comparison with a modern cleaning apparatus. We often used a simple wash rage consisting of cotton or terry cloth in a small square to pick up bits of food, clean spills, or as a means of general scrubbing the tabletop. The rags would be rinsed, wrung out, and reused consistently. The process was simple enough with little thought to bacteria or microbial cleanliness.

A decade later brings the replacement of  wash rags with sponges, and Scotch pads which promised an even cleaner tabletop via their new technology. The sponges were of a similar methodology to that of the simplistic wash rag except that after a month or so they were disposed of.

Technology advances, years fly by, and sponges, cleaners, and antimicrobial products are the height of kitchen cleaning. Disposable Lysol wipes, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, and Ocello antimicrobial sponges are all the rage. Not one germ will be left on that kitchen table! Technology is surely at its height, and could not possible evolve any further, until the Environmentalist begin to look at the amount of waste being produced. The use of so many disposable products sends red flags to environmentally concerened agencies everywhere. Consumers become more aware of their effect on the envornment, and decide they must make a change.

The now Eco-friendly consumer has found the most technologically “green” form of kitchen gadgets that could exist. The gadget is reusable, its non-toxic, can be rinsed, washed, and repeatedly used. The product is completely natural, and its ergonomic design can safely be used over and over with ease of storage due to its compact square size. Introducing, the amazingly new 100% cotton “green” wash rag.

Shapin’s ideas can easily be read through the simple life cycle of certain products. The reintroduction of age old technology can be traced if you simply visit the history of that technology’s inception.

In Shapin’s article he introduces the concept of how the relationship we have with technology determines not only its import, but its life cycle and perception. I found the point Shapin makes to be quite profound, and something that I consistently see in my everyday life.

Being an ex- IT professional I know how adversely or intimately people can react to their computers. I personally build my own PCs, and find the experience rewarding and a matter of pride and accomplishment. My mother however, finds the idea of using the Internet and websites like Facebook (even in its simplicity) overly complex and frustrating. I often wonder if this is a generational gap, or if it directly relates to the type of technology being used. I find it to be a mixture of both. I find my mother’s simple mobile phone infuriating, and the action of sending a simple text message beyond my realm of patience. In fact, I have often considered writing an application that will turn my smartphone into a remote control for a “dumbphone- eating” robot.

Delusional tech destroying fantasies aside, how we relate to the devices, technology, or ideas of technological advancement determines not only how we perceive these concepts, but how they evolve for future use.

For Works Cited

Shapin, Steven. “What else is New?,” The New Yorker Online, pp 1-8, May 2007 URL: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2007/05/14/070514crbo_books_shapin

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