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Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept

From: Technology and Culture
Volume 51, Number 3, July 2010
pp. 561-577 | 10.1353/tech.2010.0009



When the word technology was introduced into American English in the nineteenth century, it referred to the study of—or treatises in—the mechanic arts. It did not achieve currency as a reference to those arts as such until c. 1900–1930. By the 1840s, however, when Daniel Webster eloquently summarized the remarkable transformation of life attributable to advances in science and what later would come to be called technology, public discourse was filled with evidence of a semantic void that eventually would be filled by the concept—the word—technology. Two kinds of development—one conceptual or ideological, and the other substantive or mechanical—created the need for the new concept. By the end of the century it had become evident that Webster had been seeking to identify—to name—a novel form of human power with far greater efficacy and scope than that previously ascribed to the mechanic or useful arts. The new power is what we call technology.