Mumford: “Men had become mechanical before they perfected complicated machines”

From the opening section of Lewis Mumford’s Technics and Civilization (1934):

While people often call our period the “Machine Age,” very few have any perspective on modern technics or any clear notion as to its origins. Popular historians usually date the great transformation in modern industry from Watt’s supposed invention of the steam engine; and in the conventional economics textbook the application of automatic machinery to spinning and weaving is often treated as an equally critical turning point. But the fact is that in Western Europe the machine had been developing steadily for at least seven centuries before the dramatic changes that accompanied the “industrial revolution” took place. Men had become mechanical before they perfected complicated machines to express their new bent and interest; and the will-to-order had appeared once more in the monastery and the army and the counting-house before it finally manifested itself in the factory. Behind all the great material inventions of the last century and a half was not merely a long internal development of technics: there was also a change of mind. Before the industrial precesses could take hold on a great scale, a reorientation of wishes, habits, ideas, goals was necessary.

For reasons that I may outline in a later post, I plan to regularly post excerpts from notable works of older and often forgotten works of tech criticism. I’ll usually refrain from adding any commentary to these excerpts. My hope is that they will sharpen our thinking and yield useful insights. We’ll call these posts readings in the tech critical canon.

2 thoughts on “Mumford: “Men had become mechanical before they perfected complicated machines”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s