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A Steam-Powered Computer and the History of Technology
Alex Steffen, 12 Jul 06

Knowing when you are is every bit as important as knowing where you are, which is why this steam-powered computer is brilliant:

At a table, curator Rob Tufnell is using an Apple Mac powered by the engine. For this is the Steam Powered Internet Machine: the latest deeply eccentric project from Turner-prizewinning artist Jeremy Deller and his collaborator Alan Kane. "We were thinking about something that connects the industrial revolution and the digital revolution," said Deller. Kane added: "They are worlds apart but there's also a proximity. The steam age and the digital age are not so far apart."

I find this fun, provocative and useful.

To know the histories of our technologies is to gain insight into why we use the technologies we do: civilizations don't adopt the "best" technologies, through some magical process of competition (which is the story we like to tell ourselves), they adopt the technologies which best suit their particular material, cultural and political needs at the time. Much of the struggle to build a bright green future involves confronting those legacy technologies, in all their irrationality, and trying to do a better, more forward-thinking job of replacing them with a new crop of technologies. The more we think about and understand the history of technology, the better a job we'll do.

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