[EAS] Summer Reading Recommendation

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Sat Aug 12 03:40:27 EDT 2006

Dear Colleagues -

Summer is also a time for leisurely reading, and maybe for once 
really getting a chance to reflect on what we read, with a view 
toward another year of teaching. So to go with your Ice Cream Sundae 
let me recommend this article:

"Coping with Innovative Technology: Albert Borgmann on How Does 
Technology Change Learning and Teaching in Formal and Informal 
by Arun-Kumar Tripathi
Ubiquity, vol. 7, issue 23, June 20, 2006 - June 26, 2006

Probably not many of you know of Albert Borgmann, one of our foremost 
philosophers of technology. My awareness of his work started with his 
landmark book "Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life" in 

It is important to get perspectives on engineering from outside it. 
Trapped as one is inside engineering by its technical challenges, 
many important considerations at the interface between technology and 
society are taken up by non-engineers instead. It was the cognitive 
psychologist Donald Norman (well, he was an undergraduate EE) who in 
his 1988 "The Psychology of Everyday Things" first laid out the rules 
of sensible design of technological products. We've gotten better at 
that, and the results please customers -- consider the success of the 

But for teaching and critical thinking, we've gotten well beyond 
product design, into the realm of what technology means. It is time 
to reflect of Borgmann's work, and this paper, dedicated to him, is a 
good start. A couple of telling quotes:

"Technology has captured the character of contemporary culture. It 
reminds us of the artefacts and procedures that distinguish out time. 
Computing will become more pervasive, but not to the extent its 
visionaries think. For one thing, as their examples show, the 
benefits are for the most part crashingly banal."

"Our contact with reality has been attenuated to the pushing of 
buttons and the turning of handles. The results are guaranteed by 
machinery that is not of our design and often beyond our 
understanding. Hence the feelings of liberation and enrichment 
quickly fade; the new devices lose their glamour and meld into the 
conspicuous periphery of normalcy; boredom replaces exhilaration."

Let me also ask you to go back to this earlier list mailing 
particularly the questions there posed by Neil Postman.

Don't let your Ice Cream Sundae melt!  --PJK

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