Monsters

Monsters

The Hindenburg Disaster and the Birth of Pathological Technology

Book - 2015
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"Oh, the humanity!" Radio reporter Herbert Morrison's words on witnessing the destruction of the Hindenburg are etched in our collective memory. Yet, while the Hindenburg --like the Titanic --is a symbol of the technological hubris of a bygone era, we seem to have forgotten the lessons that can be learned from the infamous 1937 zeppelin disaster.

Zeppelins were steerable balloons of highly flammable, explosive gas, but the sheer magic of seeing one of these behemoths afloat in the sky cast an irresistible spell over all those who saw them. In Monsters , Ed Regis explores the question of how a technology now so completely invalidated (and so fundamentally unsafe) ever managed to reach the high-risk level of development that it did. Through the story of the zeppelin's development, Regis examines the perils of what he calls "pathological technologies"--inventions whose sizeable risks are routinely minimized as a result of their almost mystical allure.

Such foolishness is not limited to the industrial age: newer examples of pathological technologies include the US government's planned use of hydrogen bombs for large-scale geoengineering projects; the phenomenally risky, expensive, and ultimately abandoned Superconducting Super Collider; and the exotic interstellar propulsion systems proposed for DARPA's present-day 100 Year Starship project. In case after case, the romantic appeal of foolishly ambitious technologies has blinded us to their shortcomings, dangers, and costs.

Both a history of technological folly and a powerful cautionary tale for future technologies and other grandiose schemes, Monsters is essential reading for experts and citizens hoping to see new technologies through clear eyes.
Publisher: New York :, Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group,, 2015, ©2015.
ISBN: 9780465065943
Branch Call Number: 303. 4830904 REG
Characteristics: xx, 325 pages ; 25 cm

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akari_honey_2
Jun 04, 2016

First, a pathological technology typically (but not always) embraces something huge, either in its effects (such as a nuclear explosion) or in its absolute size (such as the zeppelin).

a
akari_honey_2
Jun 04, 2016

More than anything else, what makes a given technology pathological is that it exists within, is a product of, and induces a virtually paralyzing state of emotional fixation, a condition bordering on hypnotic enthrallment on the part of its proponents.

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akari_honey_2
Jun 04, 2016

The potent force of emotion also explains the third defining characteristic of a pathological technology: its proponents regularly and systematically underplay its downsides, risks, unintended negative consequences, and even blatantly obvious dangers.

a
akari_honey_2
Jun 04, 2016

Fourth and finally, there is the issue of the cost of the technology in relation to the potential benefits that it is alleged to confer... In general, a technology is pathological when its benefits are dwarfed by the scale of its relevant costs.

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akari_honey_2
Jun 04, 2016

Even if you aren't interested in Regis' case about pathological technology, there is plenty to enjoy about this book. Regis details some of the science and history that got zeppelins off the ground in the first place. Parts I and III, which combined are over half of the book, are most focused on the Hindenburg, so anyone who is strictly interested in that disaster will get a lot out of it.

Part II devotes a chapter each to other ill-advised ideas: Project Plowshare, the Superconducting Supercollider, and the 100-Year Starship program. What is really interesting is that all of these examples are from within the last 60 years and ongoing in some cases.

Overall, an excellent read that provides insight into things that now make us shake our heads and say, "What were they thinking?"

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akari_honey_2
Jun 04, 2016

akari_honey_2 thinks this title is suitable for 10 years and over

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