The Hindenburg Disaster and the Birth of Pathological TechnologyBook - 2015
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.
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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).
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.
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.
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