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Technology and Culture 42.2 (2001) ix
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In This Issue
Greg Downey's "Virtual Webs, Physical Technologies, and Hidden Workers: The Spaces of Labor in Information Internetworks" departs from the observation that the "virtual" economy remains bound by the stubborn fact that it depends on human labor at crucial points. Downey calls the people who knit the "global digital information internetwork" together "boundary workers," and he argues that "What these workers do, and where they do it, is fundamental to any history we might write" of the developing information infrastructure. Using the nineteenth-century "internetwork" of the telephone, telegraph, and Post Office systems to illuminate the modern internetwork defined by broadcast radio and television, packet-switching computer networks, and telephones, Downey seeks to meld ethnography and geography with history to track "changes in technologies, institutions, and commodities" now taking place.
Silicon Valley has become a symbol, perhaps the symbol, of economic success in the modern world, and ambitious leaders of government, industry, and education have sought to apply the formula that worked so well there to other locales. Stuart Leslie's "Regional Disadvantage: Replicating Silicon Valley in New York's Capital Region" is a case study of one such attempt in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, led principally by George Low, then president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Low's efforts did not bear the fruit that he hoped for; the story, writes Leslie, illustrates "the limits of local action in the face of larger corporate restructuring and regional economic decline. If Low did not discover the secrets of reindustrializing an ailing region, no one since has either, and his experiences may at least provide some cautionary lessons for those who would follow his example."
In "What Makes a Failure: Designing a New National Telescope, 1975-1984," W. Patrick McCray describes the long-drawn-out process by which the astronomy community in the United States agreed upon a design for a new large telescope--which, in the end, was never built. It is, as McCray tells it, a "complicated story of competing and then changing priorities" that bears on two important topics in the history of technology. On the one hand, the process of designing the National New Technology Telescope was an example of what John Law has labeled "heterogeneous engineering," a project that required its advocates to build political support, find funding, provide scientific justification for an immense (and immensely expensive) technological effort, and develop the technologies and techniques called for by the design. On the other, the fact that the NNTT was never built connects this case to the literature of failure studies: as McCray argues, "despite its outcome, the NNTT was more than just a curious detour."
United States Army engineers played an important role in surveying railroads in the early days of that industry--only one aspect, observes Robert Angevine in "Individuals, Organizations, and Engineering: U.S. Army Officers and the American Railroads, 1827- 1838," of the "military contribution to American economic development during the antebellum era." The importance of military influence on technological development at different times and in different places is well established; Angevine points, in particular, to Ken Alder's work on French artillerists' "sophisticated political campaign to implement their vision of how to organize the nation's technological life" and to the role of U.S. military organizations during the cold war in "shaping policies that extended well beyond the military or technical realms." Here Angevine seeks to test and extend the insights developed in those literatures, to explore the question of "whether the experience of army engineers surveying early American railroads resembled the interplay of individual goals and organizational imperatives described" there.