Understanding Technological Change


272 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-920057-26-8
DDC 331





Reviewed by Bruce Grainger

Bruce Grainger is head of Public Services at the Macdonald Library,
McGill University.


The focus of this book is rather different from that suggested in the title. While technological change from prehistoric times to the present is discussed, the main concern of the author is that working people should have more control over the introduction and use of new technology in the workplace. Some valid points are made in discussing how workers modify and improve technology on the job. The success of Japanese business in using workers’ suggestions to improve efficiency is noted but not discussed. Recent North American efforts in this regard are ignored. There is little discussion of the impact of current technological change on society as a whole. In an instance where this is done, it is puzzling why a discussion of the effects of radio on society should be based on a book that is 40 years old and that the social effects of television should be ignored.

The author states that he has drawn many of his examples of technological change from case histories and that it is not known how representative these cases are. This caveat has not restrained him from making sweeping generalizations which are especially suspect when based on incorrect facts. For example, although there is little historical evidence that the “droit du seigneur” was a widespread practice or even existed in feudal Europe, the author generalizes without qualification that female serfs “were expected to bear and nurse their lord’s illegitimate children.” It is also ridiculous to state that three crops per year could be grown in western Europe. (“Feudal lords wanted the crops rotated three times a year.”) Nor does the author appear to know the difference between straw and hay. In discussing the development of computers, he states that a card computer was used for the U.S. census in 1911 (sic), when in fact Hollerith’s punched card system was first used in the 1890 census. In short, the author ought to have taken more care in expressing his thoughts and in ascertaining his facts.

It is evident that this book was hastily assembled from lecture notes for a course the author gave at Capilano College in 1981, supplemented by material written by Jim Petersen. A substantial part of the book consists of an appendix entitled “The Best Labour Initiatives” based on extracts from documents that illustrate the response of unions in various countries to technological change. Editorial deficiencies include numerous typographical errors, misspelled proper names, unidentified illustrations, and incomplete or inaccurately cited references.


DeBresson, Chris, with Jim Petersen, “Understanding Technological Change,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed March 29, 2023, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/34814.