History 398 - Fall 2006

Technologies and Their Societies: Historical Perspectives

Third Essay - Final Exercise

Write an essay of about 2000 words on ONE of the following questions. Your answer should reflect your knowledge of the readings and lectures through the choice of appropriate examples to document and illustrate your argument. The essay is due by 3:00 PM, 22 January, in my "to Mahoney" box in the History Office, 129 Dickinson Hall. Extensions may be granted only by an appropriate Dean or Director of Studies.  Be sure you sign the correct pledge as given below. Your signature affixed to this pledge attests that you have read and understand the provisions set forth in Academic Integrity at Princeton.  


The modern consumer society took definitive shape when in the later 19th century systems of mass production and mass consumption began to offer customers such "consumer durables" as sewing machines, typewriters, bicycles, and automobiles. One may say that technology itself then became a commodity, as machines of production became vehicles of leisure. In light of that historical development, discuss how information has become a commodity, objectified in that most recent of consumer durables, the personal computer. How has information fit into systems of mass production and mass distribution, both as technological component and as end product, and how does an emphasis on information alter our understanding of those systems? What light does Lawrence Lessig shed on the question in Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace?


In "What Declan Doesn't Get," the final chapter of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Lawrence Lessig asks why Net libertarians like Declan McCullagh "are proud to leave things to the invisible hand." Indeed, Lessig, who calls for limited governance of cyberspace, posits that, contrary to libertarians' belief that freedom will flourish only in an unregulated cyberspace, "[t]he invisible hand, through commerce, is constructing an architecture that perfects control--an architecture that makes possible highly efficient regulation."

One could argue that both McCullagh (libertarian) and Lessig (interventionist/regulator) want to manipulate a technological system in such a way that it maximizes  liberty for the greatest number of people. The perspective of a historian of technology might help. Counsel each side of the internet regulation debate using themes and examples from Stephen Meyer's The Five Dollar Day, the Lynds' Middletown, and Langdon Winner's "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" Keep in mind that "architecture" is only one of four modes of regulation discussed by Lessig.


"Spaces have values. They express these values through the practices or lives that they enable or disable. Differently constituted spaces enable and disable differently." (Lawrence Lessig, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, 62)

Explain what Lessig means by "constituted spaces" and how they enable or disable practices and lives, and use his proposition to analyze the technologically constituted spaces of the Lowell factories, Harpers Ferry Armory, Ford's Highland Park plant, and Middletown. What about the space in which you work here?


Using Lessig's Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace together with the lectures and readings, address Langdon Winner's comment in testimony before a Congressional committee in April 2003 that "The acceptance of any technology requires the building of a broad social coalition that agrees to support its introduction and use." ( Be sure to root your discussion in specific examples taken from several different periods covered by the course.


"This paper represents my own work in accordance with University regulations."