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Yes but does it work?
on 28 August 2016
Many many years ago, when I first started reading about the Second World War in the East, I came across the surprising statistic that for the German Army the most important technology was not the tank, but the horse. Millions of horses provided the basic motive power for the Wehrmacht, even as tanks broke down and froze in the terrible cold. In other words, far from replacing the horse, the tank was a subordinate partner until the very end of the war, when, at least in the West, large numbers of transport vehicles were available for the first time.
David Egerton's book is at one level a useful corrective to the idea that technological changes take place quickly and completely, and so strikes a blow against the worship of so-called "innovation" which these days just seems to be away of making a quick fortune out of some technological novelty or other. What Egerton demonstrates is that technologies do not simply replace each other but exist alongside each other for long periods of time. A classic would be the bicycle which ought to have been replaced generations ago by the car, but in fact flourishes and in many cases is making a comeback. But in turn, this is because the technology of the bicycle as dramatically improved, and compared to the heavy awkward machines of my youth, today's are much more sophisticated and way almost nothing. This book will substantially change how you see the application of technology to daily life, and how far you are convinced by the endless rhetoric and ideology of "innovation". The conclusion, I think, is that most of us do not particularly want innovation, so much as wanting technology that is reliable and actually works.