Acclimatizing pests: Vegetable. This chapter discusses the spread of noxious plants, or weeds. The author notes they are prolific, they quickly germinate, and they can overcome the native plant life. A good example of this is the kudzu, a plant introduced to the United States that is taking over entire areas and choking out the native plant life. (The author discusses kudzu in the text.) Like the animals introduced that quickly spread around the country, the plants have done the same thing, and often with disastrous results. The author notes the difference between weeds and other plants, and notes how modes of transportation, like the railroad, helped spread weeds. He talks about how the government promoted the hemp plant in the 19th century (a relative of marijuana), and notes that marijuana is the biggest cash crop in the country. Other vegetable pests the author mentions are the multiflora rose, cogon grass, tamarind trees, Brazilian pepper, and melaleuca, among others. All of these pests spread quickly, overcome native vegetation, and are extremely difficult to remove once they take hold, which is another reason they are seen as pests. He even talks about how another imported plant, the eucalyptus, helped contribute to the Oakland wildfire in 1991 that destroyed 3400 housing units. The trees are resistant to fire, but when they burn hot, and they helped contribute to the great destruction of the fire. He shows these pests are a worldwide problem, and that it continues today in plant catalogs that do not do justice to the harm these plants can create.
Chapter 8: The computerized office: The revenge of the body. This chapter talks about how our computerized lifestyle is attacking our bodies in many ways. It is making us more sedentary and helping lead to obesity problems around the world. He notes that more and more people are working in offices with computers, and less in jobs that are more active. He talks about some of the machinery computers have replaced, and how this technology has changed our lives. He also talks about how many people saw the future, and how in many ways, we have not lived up to their visions of our use and harnessing of technology. He talks about technology controlling the workplace, and how workplaces (and homes) are much safer than they were in the industrial age. He notes that does not mean there are not health hazards in the modern office. Some cancer and neurological deaths can be blamed on the workplace. Another form of danger is electromagnetic fields (EMFs), that many electronics emit. While there have been studies that show they can be harmful, they are largely ignored, and many people are totally unaware of how prevalent they are in homes and offices. He also talks about cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) that come from numerous repetitive motions over time, which can lead to a variety of physical ailments. One of the most prevalent is back pain, which can linger for years and comes on very slowly, and is extremely common among office workers, as are eye problems from all the computer work. He also talks about carpal tunnel syndrome, even that offices are lonely and can cause emotional pain, as well, and that these problems have financial consequences.
Chapter 9: The computerized office: Productivity puzzles. The author talks about how computerization has changed the way the world communicates, and has made globalization possible. It has made more productivity possible, but it has also led to information and technology overload. He talks about how computers continually lower in price and value, and consistently improve, making them nearly obsolete in only a few years. He shows that computers really have not added that much to business output, but that manufacturing has grown tremendously. He talks about why software is so unreliable, and how backing up data in case of failure is commonplace. He discusses power spikes, viruses, and hackers, and says that no technology is safe from these and other problems. He also says that computers have not replaced people, although it takes fewer people to do jobs on computers. They need tech support, so jobs are created there, even if jobs are lost in other areas. He also talks about complex systems and how much harder they are to maintain, and how quickly software becomes as obsolete as hardware. There are a wide variety of standards, which make computing more difficult, and that colors and symbols do not really make computing easier. He also talks about computers costing a company money, often in lost time due to peer support rather than tech support. He talks about multimedia and computer advertising, which shows how dated the book is, and how they really rely on human input and support, even though they promise efficiency.
Chapter 10: Sport: The risks of intensification. This chapter talks about the popularity of modern sporting events, and how they rely on setting ever-increasing records, and how they are also dependent on technology. He talks about how increased technology has increased the speed of many sports, putting more players and spectators in jeopardy, and that sports-related drugs to bump up proficiency are on the rise. He also talks about how some kinds of technology, like lightweight bike helmets, have improved safety dramatically. Recreational boating is safer too, because of electronic navigation and better safety equipment. He also notes that some improved safety equipment can also encourage rougher play, leading to more injuries. He discusses boxing, football, and recreational athletics and some of the problems with each, such as artificial turf in football, and how these problems are magnified as technology increases. Better football pads have not led to fewer injuries, because players feel they can play harder, and boxing has not gotten any safer even with new developments in gloves and helmets. He also discusses running, skiing, climbing, and avalanches, and talks about how new technologies have dramatically altered these sports. They have often made the sports easier for amateurs, which can lead to dramatic rescue attempts and higher costs for rescue, because some people just should not be participating in these activities. He talks about the advantages of GPS technology, and it helps keep people from getting lost, but it also makes them more complacent and eager for rescue, adding again to rescue cost. He thinks sports technology can magnify or shift a problem, resulting in often increased injuries and other safety issues.
Chapter 11: Sport: The paradoxes of improvement. This chapter continues with the author’s analysis of sport and technology, and talks about how before World War II, most sporting goods were made from plants and animals (like wooden baseball bats and wool baseball uniforms, for example). After the war, a myriad of new technologies added all types of materials to sporting goods, from Dacron and steel to fiberglass and rubber. He talks about rules in sports, and how they manage the sport to make it more interesting, rather than simply a race to the goal. These limitations to technology make spectator sports more appealing, so he maintains that the interest is really partly in the rules the competitors must adhere to, rather than the sport itself. This makes the sports inefficient but more popular. He talks about how cable television has made more sporting events available to viewers around the world, and how certain sports can gain or lose popularity in relation to rivalries, ethnic pride, and different personalities. He talks about how floodlights changed baseball, and artificial turf made it possible for more people in harsh climates to enjoy sports. He also talks about how technology can change a sport dramatically. The inventor of basketball created the game as a casual recreation, never dreaming it would turn into the hotly contested NBA that is such big business today. He talks about how technology has decreased interest in certain sports, like skiing, but has helped gain interest in other sports, like chess. He says technology raises training costs, too, and that it takes more effort to reach the highest levels in sport as technology improves performance. He talks about improvements in the javelin that actually endangered spectators and participants, and larger rackets in tennis transforming the sport, along with improvements in golf clubs drastically changing that sport, as well, and a renewed interest in the game.
Chapter 12: Another look back, and a look ahead. Finally, the author ends with a look backward and forward. He talks about how we seem to worry more, even though we have improved lifestyles, and he looks at three other areas of technology, navigation, motorization, and timekeeping. They have all had a huge effect on society, from making it easier to travel in comfort (and quickly), to monitoring how we work and how we keep records. The author is generally optimistic about improvements outweighing disadvantages as technology advances, and he even maintains disasters can be good experiences. That is because they promote change and creativity for the greater good. For example, he maintains that the defeat of the Spanish Armada ultimately led to Spain’s global exploration, and other disasters have fostered many new innovations. One example is the Titanic incident, which led to far greater safety standards on cruise ships. He talks about how cars changed the face of the American landscape, and created everything from superhighways to motor courts and carhops. Cars made it easier to get from here to there, but they create pollution, traffic jams, and numerous causalities, too. He maintains that as we develop even more reliance on computers and programming, it can lead to catastrophe if health, wellness, or safety systems backfire. He talks about modifying intensity in agriculture to improve yields and stop rampant growth, and talks about other gains in technology that have improved our lives, such as stronger steel and more fuel-efficient automobiles. He believes that in the future, we need to be less reliant on resources from the Earth, and more economical in how we live and view out lives. He also maintains that we have to look back occasionally, even while we are making advances, to see where we have been and learn from our history.
Tenner, E. (1996). Why things bite back: Technology and the revenge of unintennded consequences. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
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