“Technology (writing) versus Science (writing)”

by kris bishop on October 24, 2008

by Guest Blogger, author Alex Hutchinson

The historian Paul Forman has argued that, sometime around 1980, the hierarchical relationship between science and technology was turned upside-down – a reversal that marked the transition from modernity to postmodernity. Until then, we valued science as a pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, with technology as a lesser handmaiden. Now, we live for technology, and science is valued primarily for its role in enabling the next generation of gadgets. (And if we happen to be hearing rather a lot these days about the Large Hadron Collider, that only emphasizes how rare such spinoff-free projects have become.)

I can’t speak for pre-1980, but it seems plausible to me that technology has never enjoyed such a central – and honored – place in our lives. Still, it has taken a while for the writing to catch up. There has long been a sense that the development of the theory of evolution makes for better reading than the invention of the steam engine; that the unraveling of DNA’s double-helix structure is a more compelling tale than the invention of the transistor. That’s in keeping with Forman’s thesis. But it’s only in the last decade that we’ve finally started to see compelling writing about technology reach mass audiences. And since 2006, we’ve had the anthology The Best of Technology Writing.

In universities and laboratories around the world, there’s still uneasy jostling between science and technology, as researchers struggle to define exactly what they’re pursuing, and why. The truth is, the two are inextricably linked – and the same is true of writing about them. “Because technology and science have such a symbiotic relationship,” Clive Thompson writes in the introduction to this year’s anthology, “technology writing has always been a sort of stealth form of science journalism.” That’s an important insight, and it’s one that should please those who (like me) worry about the decline of scientific literacy. As Clive’s collection shows, you can’t read good technology writing without imbibing a healthy dose of science. In this postmodern world, we may have changed the labels, but we’re still interested in how the world works, and our place in it.

                                                                        –Alex Hutchinson

Hutchinson’s article entitleed “Breaking D-Wave: has a small business in British Columbia start-up built the world’s first viable quantum computer?” was included in The Best of Technology Writing 2008, edited by Clive Thompson.  To read more about this title, visit our website:   

Other Featured Journalists:

The Best of Technology Writing is part of The Digital Culture Series,
a joint imprint of the University of Michigan Press and the Scholarly
Publishing Office of the University of Michigan Library.  All books are
available for free online and for sale in print.

To read more about past Best of Technology Writing collections, select one of the below title covers:





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