Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Graded Blog Entry #1: Techniques to Describe Technology

Technology is an important aspect of society and finds its way into everyday life and in most literature. The advancements of technologies in a society also can represent the status of the society. Nations with advanced communications, computer and medical technologies are referred to as developed nations while nations that are not as advanced are generally looked down upon and labeled as uncivilized. If one breaks down the Greek roots of the word technology to techne and logos, technology can be defined as words about techniques. This definition shows that different farming and hunting techniques or technologies that allow one nation to exist is still a technology even if it is looked at as primitive to advanced nations.

In literature, different techniques can be used to tell a story. In the same regard, different techniques can be used to describe technologies used in a story. In the case of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court, he constantly describes the technologies of Camelot and new technologies brought by the ‘curious stranger’. The following passage is an example of this:

“We had another large departure on hand, too. This was a telegraph and a telephone; our first venture in this line. These wires were for private service only, as yet, and must be kept private until a riper day should come. We had a gang of men on the road, working mainly by night. They were stringing ground wires; we were afraid to put up poles, for they would attract too much inquiry. Ground wires were good enough, in both instances, for my wires were protected by an insulation of my own invention which was perfect. My men had orders to strike across country, avoiding roads, and establishing connection with any considerable towns whose lights betrayed their presence, and leaving experts in charge.” (Twain, 104).

It is first important to note that at the time this was written (1889), the patents for the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell was only about a decade old (1878-1880). (Invention). This meant that the telephone was a rather ‘high-tech’ device in this time period. This passage was one of many explaining how the ‘curious stranger’ brought nineteenth century civilization to Camelot, but I believe it best shows the techniques in which Twain discusses technology in this book.

When the prospect of telephone lines is being introduced, it is made obvious that this is far above the society’s current technologies and will make Camelot a much better society. Only experts will be allowed to use the telephone and telegraph lines and it would be kept secret from the masses because they would not be able to handle this. Even though Camelot may have been a high standing society in sixth century England, it was uncivilized to him and for civility to occur technologies must be implemented and the masses must be educated. To describe all of these technologies and new industries that were discussed throughout the novel, all of which were relatively ‘cutting edge’ at the time the novel was written, it was directly compared to the ways of an ‘uncivilized’ society.

I believe that Twain is commenting on how all of the advances in technology that occurred in the nineteenth century can easily be taken for granted. The ‘curious stranger’ constantly discussed how to have civilization you must first have the various industries and technologies he introduced to Camelot when he was in a society that was an advanced society in its time period. He could not comprehend a society existing without all of the modern technologies he was accustomed to in Connecticut. By showing this throughout his novel, Twain effectively shows how easy it is to take for granted advancements that had to occur over time that allow for everything that is available in current times.

“Invention of the Telephone” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 16 Jan 2008 : information reference for article: Coe, Lewis. The Telephone and Its Several Inventors: A History. North Carolina: McFarland, 1995.

Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court. London: Penguin Books, 1986.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

Your first couple paragraphs mostly just repeat the assignment, with variations and additions - while this isn't the end of the world, it also doesn't serve any real purpose. Avoid filler! Also, if you're working with categories like "advanced" and "primitive," you might ask why - while these categories are in common use, many historians of technology resist them.

Your quote is a promising start (it is the _real_ start of this entry). While Wikipedia is obviously an untrustworthy source, the fact that you're dealing with straightforward (and cited) information like dates helps greatly. You're using Wikipedia wisely, in other words, to illustrate an important point. As much as I hate to praise someone for using Wikipedia (just on principle), you're making a very important point about the historical context of the novel.

You are accepting the Yankee's description of his own goals (civilizing Camelot) at face value - there are questions to be asked here, about what his intentions are for all of this (as you accurately label it) hi-tech.

In the final paragraph, you get more reflective: the Yankee's assumptions, and his tendency to ridicule Camelot, says a great deal about him and his culture, and perhaps less than we might think about the reality of Camelot. This would have been a brilliant _start_ to an entry (backed by the research, of course). As it is, it's still very interesting, but much of the material that got us here was not strictly necessary.

Short version: your concept is fantastic, your excecution a mixed bag.