The repeated failure of technology to fulfill its utopian promise has in recent years created disillusionment with the very idea of progress. Indeed, if technological optimism has characterized modernity, then technological pessimism may become the hallmark of the future. Nowhere has this crisis of faith been more evident than in the United States, where a series of disasters has challenged the long-standing belief that technological innovation necessarily leads to social improvement. Even the surge of renewed confidence in American technology spurred by the alleged efficacy of high-tech weapons systems during the 1991 Persian Gulf War has proved short-lived. In a series of case studies, Howard P. Segal reconsiders the American ideology of technological progress and its legacy for our contemporary high-tech world. He offers concrete examples - drawn from United States history, literature, and museums - of the role of technology in American life and the complex relationship between technological advances and social developments. In each instance, he finds technology neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but rather a mixed blessing.
Howard P. Segal is professor of history and director of the Technology and Society Project at the University of Maine. He is author of Technological Utopianism in American Culture and, with Alan Marcus, of Technology in America: A Brief History. He is coeditor with Yaron Ezrahi and Everett Mendelsohn of Technology, Pessimism, and Post modernism (University of Massachusetts Press, 1995).