A History of Technology for an Age of Crisis
46th Symposium of ICOHTEC in DIGITAL FORM
15 – 17 July 2020
Politics mirror the paradoxical relation of technology and crisis: although democratic and authoritarian regimes, and political parties of very different stripes, might disagree fundamentally about the causes and nature of crises and the issues at stake, they have often converged in favoring technological solutions to major societal challenges. Attempts to deal with the Environmental Crisis (which is largely technology-made in the sense that anthropogenic climate change, biodiversity loss, and resource depletion followed the expansion of the human-built world) seems to follow a similar path: technological fixes are discussed, ranging from renewable energy, AI-based efficiency, sensor technologies, electric cars, smart homes, and other ‘sustainable’, ‘responsible’ or ‘smart’ innovations. Such approaches often sidelined non-tech solutions such as zero-growth. It remains an open question whether technology will provide solutions.
This raises the question if and how historians of technology should engage with present-day debates on the ambivalent roles of technology in today’s global crisis—the so-called grand challenges to humanity, society, and the environment. The paradox of crisis and technology rises questions such as:
- In which way have crises influenced technological change, and conversely, how have technologies shaped crises?
- What’s the role of technology to predict, avoid, or manage crises?
- How can we study the geography of crisis, taking into account transnational and (post)colonial relationships and global North-South interactions?
- In which way did different societies and societal groups cope with technology-related crises?
- How has the historic pursuit of innovation by technology companies and designers contributed to the creation of technological crises?
- What role(s) did protests and resistance against technology play in avoiding or managing technology-related problems or crises?
- How have media representations shaped narratives of technological crises and/or technological redemption?
- Do crises “reveal” how deeply technology is embedded in society?
- What (and whose) histories do the imaginaries and historiographies of technological crises highlight and obscure?