OUR OWN DEVICES: The Past and Future of Body Technology

Edward Tenner, Author . Knopf $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-375-40722-2

Marshall McLuhan once described media as an extension of the central nervous system. Tenner, a Princeton scholar and author (Why Things Bite Back), whose work might best be described as an anthropological history of science, extends the metaphor to even the simplest technologies—any "human modification of the natural world," as he puts it—and examines the impact that technology has had on human technique: the routine ways in which people perform everyday tasks. In-depth chapters track key moments in the development of baby bottles, sandals, athletic shoes, chairs for home and office, music keyboards, typing keyboards, eyeglasses and helmets. If you've ever wondered how QWERTY became the standard layout for typewriters and computer keyboards, or how touch typing became formalized, this is the book for you. It's especially effective in identifying the ways technology shapes the human body; the footwear different societies favor, for example, affects people's stride, while regular use of rubber bottle nipples causes infants to forget how to use their jaws and tongues to breastfeed. The latter is an excellent example of one of the book's persistent themes, the "machine for producing dependency on itself," changing our lives so radically that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to go back to the way things used to be. (Consider the discomfort Westerners accustomed to a lifetime in chairs experience when they try to sit lotus-style.) Tenner's erudite yet approachable style and his way with telling details keep his potentially obscure subject from becoming dry and boring, and those in search of a quirky but cerebral read will be delighted. (June 12)

Reviewed on: 05/19/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-375-70707-0
Open Ebook - 293 pages - 978-0-307-48922-7
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