He examines technology from a “use-based” perspective (i.e. How they have been used, adapted and re-adapted) rather than from the typical invention (creation of the new) and innovation (first use of a new idea) perspectives. The book is one big argument of this use-based perspective.
That technology since the 1900s, especially those that have persisted, are often gradual adaptations of existing technologies rather than created from scratch.
The so-call ‘Old Tech’ like horse-drawn transport is more persistent than one thinks, as explained in this book. Compared to newer technologies like DDT, the ironer, airships, supersonic airliner (Concorde). New is not necessarily better or lasting.
P19. Argues against ‘Spin-off’ effect of Aviation, Rocketry and Nuclear technology; that the Spin-off effect is more propaganda than actual assessment. Gives example that Teflon was not solely invented because of the US Space program.
P17. How the German V2 rocket was not a cost-effective way to deliver bombs compared to building more planes and training more pilots.
P31. explains his view why the rate adoption of technology depends on money rather than time per se.
P33. Horse transport also expanded at the same time as steam powered transport (in 1900). Because more goods flowed in/ out from long distances, which also increased the transport of goods over shorter distances, which horse transport was better suited. Though it peaked and usage fell by 1914 (note: this could be the argument why books won’t die out in the face of eBooks, though its use may diminish relative to the cost of eBooks).
P34/35. Impressive numbers on use of horses by British, US and German armies.
P36. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba turned back to animal-drawn technology and systematically increased the numbers and infrastructure. From peak of 500,000 in 1960 to 163,000 in 1990 and by late 1990s, it had 380,000 horses that replaced 40,000 tractors (note: this also shows tractors are more efficient though).
P36. On the world cotton industry from 1910s, and on the subsequent demise of the ‘mule’ spinning machine.
P39 – 43. Corrugated tin (an imported tech that became locally produced) and its impact on housing in Third Worlds.
P66. From 1930s to 19950s, chickens growing larger, faster, faster slaughter; bred for indoors and hybrid strains.
P70. On service industries (including knowledge/ info industry). Argues that the service industry is far from being “weightless” or “dematerialised”, as many services are associated with physical goods. E.g. Use of paper, storage of goods.
P80. Points out how maintenance costs of a thing (e.g. PC, cars) may be more than the initial purchase cost. (what I’m not sure is how these facts and observations gel together, as a book).
P87/ 91. On aviation, bombers, battleships. Interesting statistics on the service life of WWII and even pre-WWI era (Britain’s Queen Elizabeth class battleships built in 1913 and only dismantled in 1940s after WWII).
P113. On “Techno-globalism”.
P115. Citing Orwell who commented on world developments since 1918 and early 1930s that “the effect of modern inventions has been to increase nationalism, to make travel enormously more difficult, to cut down the means of communication between one country and another, and to make various parts of the world less, not more dependent on one another for food and manufactured goods”.
P117. On Autarky.
P138. On War. WWI was a ‘Chemist’s War’ because of gas warfare; WWII was a ‘Physicist’s War’ because of atomic technology; modern war was in the realm of ‘Information Warfare’. But author argues this was not necessarily so, as “war was a matter of rifles, artillery, tanks and aeroplanes, as it was many decades earlier”. That these “technologies of war are surprisingly invisible as technologies”. Presents data to show that inspite of the prominence given to certain weaponary (e.g. Gas and machine guns in WWI), in both World Wars, more soldiers died under artillery fire than other types of weapons combined.
P145. Cites data from Gil Elliot’s “The Twentieth Century Book of the Dead” that “before around (sic) 1970s” six million civilians were killed in massacres and four million in formal executions. That “enforced hunger and disease, and small arms played a critical role in being a key weapon in population control” and barbed wire (a “simple yet deadly material”) had a key role in confining people.
Chapter 7, p160. “Killing”. On killing technologies and “innovation-centric history of twentieth-century killing” of insects, plants, micro-organisms, animals for consumption. How 20th century slaughtering of animals has not changed substantially in terms of technology.
P178. On german gas chambers (which started out as a way to disinfect lice) to the humble machette (1 million were imported by the Huts government to equip 1 in every 3 males, in preparation of the deliberate genocide of the Rwandan Tutsis).
P212. Conclusion: “Technology has not generally been a revolutionary force; it has been responsible for keeping things the same as much as changing them… … History is changed when we put into it the technology that counts: not only the famous spectacular technologies but the low and ubiquitous ones.”