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In this expanded edition of her bestselling 1989 CBC Massey Lectures, renowned scientist and humanitarian Ursula M. Franklin examines the impact of technology upon our lives and addresses the extraordinary changes since The Real World of Technology was first published. In four new chapters, Franklin tackles contentious issues, such as the dilution of privacy and intellectua In this expanded edition of her bestselling 1989 CBC Massey Lectures, renowned scientist and humanitarian Ursula M. Franklin examines the impact of technology upon our lives and addresses the extraordinary changes since The Real World of Technology was first published. In four new chapters, Franklin tackles contentious issues, such as the dilution of privacy and intellectual property rights, the impact of the current technology on government and governance, the shift from consumer capitalism to investment capitalism, and the influence of the Internet upon the craft of writing.


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In this expanded edition of her bestselling 1989 CBC Massey Lectures, renowned scientist and humanitarian Ursula M. Franklin examines the impact of technology upon our lives and addresses the extraordinary changes since The Real World of Technology was first published. In four new chapters, Franklin tackles contentious issues, such as the dilution of privacy and intellectua In this expanded edition of her bestselling 1989 CBC Massey Lectures, renowned scientist and humanitarian Ursula M. Franklin examines the impact of technology upon our lives and addresses the extraordinary changes since The Real World of Technology was first published. In four new chapters, Franklin tackles contentious issues, such as the dilution of privacy and intellectual property rights, the impact of the current technology on government and governance, the shift from consumer capitalism to investment capitalism, and the influence of the Internet upon the craft of writing.

30 review for The Real World of Technology

  1. 5 out of 5

    Wes Hazard

    Every person even remotely responsible for public policy (from the municipal to the international level) should read and learn from this. "To give just one general example of unmet needs: The field of accountancy and bookkeeping is in urgent need of redemptive technologies. In order to make socially responsible decisions, a community requires three sets of books. One is the customary dollars-and-cents book, but with a clear and discernable column for money saved. The second book relates to peopl Every person even remotely responsible for public policy (from the municipal to the international level) should read and learn from this. "To give just one general example of unmet needs: The field of accountancy and bookkeeping is in urgent need of redemptive technologies. In order to make socially responsible decisions, a community requires three sets of books. One is the customary dollars-and-cents book, but with a clear and discernable column for money saved. The second book relates to people and social impacts. It catalogues the human and community gains and losses as faithfully as the ongoing financial gains and losses documented in the first book. In the third book, environmental accounting is recorded. This is the place to give detailed accounts of the gains and losses in the health and viability of nature, as well as the of the built environment."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Ursula Franklin provides an important 'alternative reality' voice to the dominance of what she calls 'technology' today. Even more impressive that the book was written nearly 30 years ago. Unfortunately, her book only looks at one side of the coin. On the opposite end of any sweatshop laborer are potentially hundreds of people clothed. It doesn't exactly work like that, but it's hard to make the case that the sewing machine has caused more harm than good by 'enslaving sweatshop laborers.' She is Ursula Franklin provides an important 'alternative reality' voice to the dominance of what she calls 'technology' today. Even more impressive that the book was written nearly 30 years ago. Unfortunately, her book only looks at one side of the coin. On the opposite end of any sweatshop laborer are potentially hundreds of people clothed. It doesn't exactly work like that, but it's hard to make the case that the sewing machine has caused more harm than good by 'enslaving sweatshop laborers.' She is a thinker, not an economist, and her writing evokes more of the philosophical treaties of the 1950s than a practical guide to change. She highlights in her book the need to consider the environment, the changing social norms (in particular the lack of 'reciprocity' that technology enables). She envisions solutions that don't keep us captive. However, she never does more than rally against these developments. Technology and human society works in permutations and increments on what is currently there. Zipcar was seen as a social revolution in car sharing, but they failed to realize the ultimate 'car sharing' would be Uber, with a decidedly less 'egalitarian' bent towards its riders and drivers. Good technologies inspire awe and then become entrenched in our daily lives because of that awe, not because of some insidious corporate agenda. Here's what Ursula misses: our desires drive our 'enslavement' (via habit) to our machines. We want to do spreadsheets faster and easier, so we rely on our computer and take care of it--not because of some lurking, unthinking presence, but because of our needs and desires. It is useful to question the needs, but invariably email provides more communication than memos and meetings; Facebook and Slack provide more communication still, with generally positive effects (though we'll have to have a more nuanced view there). The economy does not play favorites - it's in many ways a race to the bottom. The reason we don't have telephone operators anymore (another example) is basic cost benefit. There's no doubt having a human touch on the telephone line made it more 'human' and allowed a richer interaction. However, not having telephone operators allowed many more people to afford more minutes on the phone - creating more bridges, saving more lives, etc. She doesn't argue that the costs outweigh the benefits, only that we don't accurately measure or choose the costs. She talks about 'telephone dating' (you could say the same about Tinder) in terms of swiping profiles and sending messages without seeing the other's reaction. But here again, while I agree that it changes the character of dating, it merely leverages human behavior. We aren't 'slaves' to this technology as much as willing participants. Her most extravagant claim comes 2/3rds of the way of the book where she suggests government is 'nothing but a bunch of managers, who run the country to make it safe for technology.' A kind of overstatement that undercuts tens of thousands of people who serve their communities (and themselves, to be fair) everyday. She ultimately proposes a 7 step checklist for any project 1) Does it promote justice? 2) Does it restore reciprocity? 3) Does it confer benefits to all or to some? 4) Does it favor people over machines? 5) Does it maximize gain or minimize disaster? 6) Does it favor conservation over waste? 7) Does it favor the 'reversible' over the 'irreversible'? In the end it's interesting because intellectually she seems to understand: "The world of technology is the sum total of what people do." There's the key.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    This is a rather gentle introduction to a staggeringly anti-establishment and humanist way of thinking about technology, expanding our understanding beyond "the sum of its artifacts" to "a system ...involv[ing] organization, procedures, symbols, new words, equations, and most of all, a mindset. ...it includes activities as well as a body of knowledge, structures as well as the act of structuring" that have cultural, social, and political implications for concepts such as privacy, freedom, power, This is a rather gentle introduction to a staggeringly anti-establishment and humanist way of thinking about technology, expanding our understanding beyond "the sum of its artifacts" to "a system ...involv[ing] organization, procedures, symbols, new words, equations, and most of all, a mindset. ...it includes activities as well as a body of knowledge, structures as well as the act of structuring" that have cultural, social, and political implications for concepts such as privacy, freedom, power, control, war, and justice. Franklin is not against technology; she is against not thinking critically about technology (against not thinking critically in general), and this book (mostly based on lectures delivered in the late-80s) is a master class in doing just that. It is excessively relevant despite being 30 years on. Franklin is cautionary but in more of a "be alert to" than "consider yourself warned" kind of way. In other words, she is advocating for us to be vigilant users of technology, providing essential frames of understanding and equipping us with language and values that clarify its objectives and consequences, or rather those expected by its creators and zealots, and to basically just not settle for being unassuming and unquestioning end-users. After reading this, do yourself a favor and research this fascinating woman's life. Listen to her give the actual lectures. Ursula Franklin has gifted us with a classic of the field. She is someone who endlessly rewards the serious and curious among us. Hers was a towering intellect and she is a towering figure in the history of public intellectuals who deserves to be much better known.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Masatoshi Nishimura

    She excuses herself for not trying to be a philosoper yet she spins up grand categorizations like vernacular reality or extended reality. I couldn't shake up the fact she sounded like an amateur blogger who is so desperate to sound smart. This is rather a criticism for modern pop-humanity people. It's extremely under researched. Franklin, please do some homework. If you want to make a granular narrative about technology, don't act as if you are an outside observer merely touching its bare surfac She excuses herself for not trying to be a philosoper yet she spins up grand categorizations like vernacular reality or extended reality. I couldn't shake up the fact she sounded like an amateur blogger who is so desperate to sound smart. This is rather a criticism for modern pop-humanity people. It's extremely under researched. Franklin, please do some homework. If you want to make a granular narrative about technology, don't act as if you are an outside observer merely touching its bare surface. Instead, at least try to understand how the technology works or what kind of thoughts had been put forward by inventors/implementors (who're usually much more thoughtful and deeper than her shallow "impression"). My last point is my personal claim. Overall she seems to suggest the corporations/technologists to carry more responsibility in questioning the implication. That may be true. Some technology implementations could bring catastrophe. BUT, much more she has a responsibility to understand how technology works at least one or two steps underneath the surface. Our 12 year education system has a long period of humanity. But how often do we learn about how the internet works or water runs underground the city in the history class? There's a minimum due diligence in each of us to understand those surrounding environments. This book is a revolt of the fearful who have grown up in their bubbles. If you want to open the eyes and try to understand what technology is really, the recommendations are what Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly and The Shock of the Old by David Engerton. The latter is rather anti technology, but he actually studied various implications as a technology historian.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alex Stroshine

    3.5/5. This book reminded me a lot of Neil Postman's "Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology," which also came out in the early 1990s. Many of the remarks and warnings that Ursula Franklin makes I had already read in Postman's book, but this was still a good book. I appreciate that Franklin often focused specifically on the Canadian scenario, using Canadian examples to illustrate her point. With technology becoming so much a part of fabric of our everyday lives, I appreciate Franklin' 3.5/5. This book reminded me a lot of Neil Postman's "Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology," which also came out in the early 1990s. Many of the remarks and warnings that Ursula Franklin makes I had already read in Postman's book, but this was still a good book. I appreciate that Franklin often focused specifically on the Canadian scenario, using Canadian examples to illustrate her point. With technology becoming so much a part of fabric of our everyday lives, I appreciate Franklin's cautions about how it can affect us NEGATIVELY and the simple, but profound, observations she makes (e.g. that technology has helped humans overcome constraints in time and space).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    An incredibly lucid and accessible argument for creating community and human centred technology. As relevant now as it was when it was originally published in 1989.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Erhardt Graeff

    This book, especially the first six chapters delivered in lecture in 1989 is simply prophetic. Ursula Franklin's synthesis continues to resonate. This book, especially the first six chapters delivered in lecture in 1989 is simply prophetic. Ursula Franklin's synthesis continues to resonate.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Wall

    The problem of technology is that we don't see technology (ies) as problematic anymore than we see any other tool such as a screwdriver or pliers as being a problem. We know how much of a time sink technology can be for children and adults. While technology can do things for us to make work easier, or calculation both easier and more accurate, or iterative thinking easier, it has been shown that it can and does let us go thoughtless and creationless (?) while using it to pass the time or to colle The problem of technology is that we don't see technology (ies) as problematic anymore than we see any other tool such as a screwdriver or pliers as being a problem. We know how much of a time sink technology can be for children and adults. While technology can do things for us to make work easier, or calculation both easier and more accurate, or iterative thinking easier, it has been shown that it can and does let us go thoughtless and creationless (?) while using it to pass the time or to collect myriads of banal photos or personal entries or minimal or any significance. She says the technological imperative (i.e. what technology commands of us) is that if technology can be used it will be used. If there were no enemy (ies) we would not need our army or military structure. We spend so much developing weapons whose only use is for war that if we diverted this to science, or health, or conveniences even we could make the world a nicer place rather than more intimidating or ominous. instead of a war tax how about a peace tax fund from which to improve our lives. Technology brings about for people a lack of control, a lack of skill (not needed as technology does it, e.g. 3d construction of models, guns, etc.), and a lack of autonomy as we must serve the technology rather than it serving us. Tools structure our responses by its programmed needs . Technology is subject to viruses but it can not get pregnant so less down time. Technology does not acknowledge that nature exists. Technology amounts to external control of us we are slaves (as we respond) to our tech toys. There are non communicative technologies. So now our government has a role in making society safe for technology Technology has a hand in stealing from the commons and from the future with waster of human resources and other resources. Leaves question of whether or how much people matter or are they just in the way of technology. We should continue to ask with technology and of technology who benefits from its machinations and who pays an unexpected or undue cost. We need to have some concern for the demands of ignorance in using technology and set up, for technology, three books -- lst a book of dollars and cents (costs in money, lost jobs, etc.) 2nd. a book of what happens to people with the technology and 3d ecology book or what does technology do to or for nature. government can turn into an instrument to advance technology, to make the world safe for technology and we must consider whether tech is just and fair to people.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    Franklin's lectures synthesize a variety of critiques levied by the humanities and social sciences against a cultural value system that equates "technological progress" with "the good." Her summary is concise, well organized, and useful for reviewing these ideas. However, I found her notion of "the real world of technology" - which is foundational to her analysis - promising in concept but hazy and ill-defined in use. Having said that, I think this book's great value is twofold. First, Franklin s Franklin's lectures synthesize a variety of critiques levied by the humanities and social sciences against a cultural value system that equates "technological progress" with "the good." Her summary is concise, well organized, and useful for reviewing these ideas. However, I found her notion of "the real world of technology" - which is foundational to her analysis - promising in concept but hazy and ill-defined in use. Having said that, I think this book's great value is twofold. First, Franklin shows lucidly the extent to which technologies transform social relationships, which serves to emphasize the importance of a critical examination of the role technology plays in our lives. Second, she she argues persuasively for a participatory model of technological development. If technology is to serve human (and not technological) ends, then its designers must listen to the humans we call "end users" and strive to understand their contexts.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    When I feel very lonely in the world, there's a few little clips on youtube of Ursula Franklin that I turn to. Her voice, raspy and German and carefully pronounced with all the intent of a scientist, is the sound of a friend's love. This person was one of those souls you hope sticks around after death to prevent global catastrophe. If we'd listened to this Ursula (and also the more science fiction Ursula), we'd be living in a brighter world than we now inhabit. When I feel very lonely in the world, there's a few little clips on youtube of Ursula Franklin that I turn to. Her voice, raspy and German and carefully pronounced with all the intent of a scientist, is the sound of a friend's love. This person was one of those souls you hope sticks around after death to prevent global catastrophe. If we'd listened to this Ursula (and also the more science fiction Ursula), we'd be living in a brighter world than we now inhabit.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jeroen Nijs

    If you work in technology, and don’t know much about the humanities (which describes, like me, most people I’ve met in IT), you will find this to be an excellent, insightful read. Although I must say that the original 6 chapters are better than the 4 that were added later; they feel a bit tacked-on.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Canadian 791

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This Massey Lecture series by one of the world's foremost feminist and pacifist scientists changed my thinking about the profound impact technology has in politics, culture, the workplace and personal relationships. This Massey Lecture series by one of the world's foremost feminist and pacifist scientists changed my thinking about the profound impact technology has in politics, culture, the workplace and personal relationships.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Will Fenton

    Read for History 115 - The History of Technology

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sunni C. | vanreads

    In the 80s, Ursula Franklin was already calling out potential issues that arise with advancing technologies (and climate concerns) while giving us advice on how we should approach technological advancement. If only we had listened to her then, but it’s better late than never. Please give this one a read. Franklin is brilliant.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bridget Walsh

    I feel really lucky to have spoken with Ursula and to have attended Ursula Franklin Academy. Although the school has its problems, the values on which it was founded are inspiring tenets. A lot of what is said in this book is salient today. The broad way technological thinking is spoken of is something we need reminding of. Technology is here a system of thought and a mode of being, a more holistic look than the STEM/ Humanities divide engenders.

  16. 4 out of 5

    JC

    I feel like this book should be mandatory reading for all engineering students. I first encountered Ursula Franklin on a sociology course website (which was no longer being taught at the time I discovered it) called "Engineering and Social Justice", taught by a global development professor (Richard Day) who has been involved in 'anarchist'/'post-anarchist' activism. I'm not sure if Franklin has any explicit affinity for anarchist politics, though by virtue of her Quaker faith, I did learn in thi I feel like this book should be mandatory reading for all engineering students. I first encountered Ursula Franklin on a sociology course website (which was no longer being taught at the time I discovered it) called "Engineering and Social Justice", taught by a global development professor (Richard Day) who has been involved in 'anarchist'/'post-anarchist' activism. I'm not sure if Franklin has any explicit affinity for anarchist politics, though by virtue of her Quaker faith, I did learn in this book about 'peace tax funds' (one tax resistance option available for contemporary pacifists or people troubled by their tax dollars going towards military spending). Franklin explains one practice of diverting the proportion of one's tax (that is estimated as going into military spending), into an account designated for non-military expenses and refuse to pay it to the government if no such option is available (this is still not available in Canada). (I believe Chomsky has advocated for tax refusal before on a similar basis.) She explains how conscientious objection to conscription is acknowledged in Canada under a UN Human Rights resolution, but how military technology's effective replacement of soldiers in contemporary society means tax dollars going to the military is not very different than directly participating in the military (hence why she believes 'peace tax funds' should be legalized for those with religious convictions against participating in war, which Mennonites and Quakers explicitly have). If military tax resistance seems interesting to you, and you live in Canada, 'Conscience Canada' has a lot more information about options you have, and repercussions typically faced. Ursula Franklin is one of my favourite speakers to listen to, and I think she has since remained one of the scientists most influential in my life, because she understood that science and the way it is used is never merely 'neutral' -- rather it is always entangled in existing power structures that persist between real human beings (her clear readings of Foucault's work is reason enough to pick up this book). Most engineers and people involved with the development of technology I have encountered believe that the social, political, and moral implications of their work remain outside the domain of their responsibility and concern, which is very troubling to me. I feel like if more people in technology and engineering read Franklin and took her seriously, we would live in a much better world. She just passed away this summer, and I cannot fully express the gratitude I have for the life she lived and her work.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Clinton

    Should be a mandatory read for political leaders and technology developers alike! A book of essays, can get a little academic in verbiage but still superb insight into what we need to be mindful about as we move ahead! The importance of using technology to enhance humanity not profit from human isolation; facebook ads/dating websites = which can never fully replace the time and care needed to helping human relationships flourish. More importantly thus far is how women can be reintroduced in our t Should be a mandatory read for political leaders and technology developers alike! A book of essays, can get a little academic in verbiage but still superb insight into what we need to be mindful about as we move ahead! The importance of using technology to enhance humanity not profit from human isolation; facebook ads/dating websites = which can never fully replace the time and care needed to helping human relationships flourish. More importantly thus far is how women can be reintroduced in our technological world and bring back the holistic importance and focus of where technology should be benefiting humanity. Even the discussion of gov't (with many Canadian specific examples) as being more focused on spending public funds for the benefits that we all gain (justice/peace/clean water/clean air) vs the specific ones that are short minded, nature-damaging, and really selectively benefiting (=> corporate infrastructure). Rated high for the importance of the message this book caries and for those that wish to make bold big picture changes this book shares a great many possibilities to pursue...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Woodward Library

    Elizabeth Croft, Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Associate Dean, Education and Professional Development, Faculty of Applied Science recommends . . . The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner Why is this a favourite book? The Real World of Technology is based on Dr. Franklin’s 1989 Massey Lectures. Her arguments are both profound and prophetic. She recognized the effect of Facebook, smartphones and the web on our communities before they were even invented. Where Elizabeth Croft, Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Associate Dean, Education and Professional Development, Faculty of Applied Science recommends . . . The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner Why is this a favourite book? The Real World of Technology is based on Dr. Franklin’s 1989 Massey Lectures. Her arguments are both profound and prophetic. She recognized the effect of Facebook, smartphones and the web on our communities before they were even invented. Whereas McLuhan predicted the medium, she predicted the impact – and asked questions about the impact of technology on sustainability, community and, fundamentally, on relationships – on what it means to be a person and a society. She asked some hard questions about the ultimate purpose of technology – does it serve us, or do we serve it?

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jaya K

    Not recent, but SO relevant. Ideas on privacy, and the importance of being critical of government priorities, are truly timely and important. Other biggies that come up: holistic vs. prescriptive technology, a growth model vs. a production model, divisible vs. indivisible costs, planners vs. plan-ees, maximizing gain vs. minimizing disaster, the natural environment vs. the built environment. You can listen to the whole thing free online which I did since bébé was not enabling a whole lotta readi Not recent, but SO relevant. Ideas on privacy, and the importance of being critical of government priorities, are truly timely and important. Other biggies that come up: holistic vs. prescriptive technology, a growth model vs. a production model, divisible vs. indivisible costs, planners vs. plan-ees, maximizing gain vs. minimizing disaster, the natural environment vs. the built environment. You can listen to the whole thing free online which I did since bébé was not enabling a whole lotta reading time in those early days

  20. 5 out of 5

    Julia Hendon

    I was more interested in Franklin's discussion of technology as practice then in her social activism so I read this selectively. Her focus on technology as a system, a set of practices, etc. agrees well with current anthropological views. Similarities with Heather Lechtman's cultural approach as well. I was more interested in Franklin's discussion of technology as practice then in her social activism so I read this selectively. Her focus on technology as a system, a set of practices, etc. agrees well with current anthropological views. Similarities with Heather Lechtman's cultural approach as well.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    Eye-opening and deeply insightful treatise on the social implications of technology -- amazing how much is still relevant today despite this being written in the 90s. Everyone working on large-scale consumer technologies should read this.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Broadsnark

    You can skip the additional chapters that she added on to the second publishing (in my opinion). But the first three chapters are essential reading for anyone trying to understand how technology is shaping our lives and creating a culture of compliance.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kareena

    Started reading this for school (for my social science course), but didn't get far at all. I'll probably just stop here. So yes, I did not "read" this, but I'm marking it as "read" because .... Ya. [April 8, 2015] Started reading this for school (for my social science course), but didn't get far at all. I'll probably just stop here. So yes, I did not "read" this, but I'm marking it as "read" because .... Ya. [April 8, 2015]

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nidhi

    This is an authoritative text on the real world of technology and its implications on our everyday life comprising of social and professional relationships but most importantly on our identity and body, mind and soul.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    Amazing elder activist from Canada, her views from the 1960s still strike me as fresh. Major influence in my life.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Krissy

    I agree with some things Ursula Franklin writes (especially how education should be a holistic process) but there's also a lot I don't. I agree with some things Ursula Franklin writes (especially how education should be a holistic process) but there's also a lot I don't.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Al Maki

    This book should be taught in schools. In a series of five one hour talks Franklin laid out how technologies develop in the real world and how they shape the world we live in.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Vaishnavee Suresh

    Terminology was dense for the most part, but a great read if you can plough through it!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    Excellent. A must read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kendra

    It's amazing how a series of lectures from 1989 can provide a useful analytical framework and some thoughts for understanding the problems of now. It's amazing how a series of lectures from 1989 can provide a useful analytical framework and some thoughts for understanding the problems of now.

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