It’s just a little Air-Pump

Steven Johnson in the Invention of Air goes to great length to explain the importance of science and innovation to society. One of the biggest ways technological innovation impacts society is through the transfer of energy. As Johnson explained earlier in his book, the transfer of energy is one of the major drivers for human progress, and when a new form of harnessing or releasing energy is developed it often causes or coincides with social revolution. This trend, combined with the fact that political power is tied to historical, and often dated, power structures, means that when a new form of power is developed it often upsets the political power balance. This is why the English hierarchy has “ reason to tremble at an air pump, or electrical machine,” the innovation behind these drivers in science and technology has the ability to switch the political and economic power away from the dated agricultural and land based structures and towards the urban and economic and innovation centered cities. (Johnson p.168)

This same idea also applies to the church, often when we look back at history we see the church in power at the time resisting the innovation and more progressive leanings of the public. This is also because power here is solidified through history, and to backtrack on that history, or progress in beliefs is to admit that the church, historically, has been wrong. This can be incredibly awkward as churches preach “Divine Truth.” To say that the Truth they once taught was wrong can be seen as a weakness or reason to doubt religion and the ability to proclaim the Truth in the current time, potentially losing members and with them power. 

Once example of a current technology that has far reaching implications both religious and political is birth control. This argument may be a little out dated and the main debate about it in particular has transitioned into a debate about abortion, however the fact that birth control has been wide spread in our society for decades allows us to see some interesting correlations. American society up until around the 60’s was widely anti-birth control for mostly religious reasons. The argument is that God is the creator of life and by limiting one’s ability to generate life one is limiting God. From this perspective it is somewhat understandable to try to limit birth control. (An action I am by no means in favor of.) However, the technology was created and once women had the option to shift their energy from the home to the outer world there was no way that was going back. This energy shift allowed women to be more productive in the work place and led to economic growth directly, it also meant that a couple could choose to have children in their own time. This led to later births and more economically settled families. In some areas across the world a dramatic drop in crime as well as poverty rates was documented around 15 years after birth control went into effect. This offered strong correlative evidence that giving women the right to choose when and if to have children meant that families were more prepared to raise their children, which helped keep them off the streets and out of trouble and put the family as a whole in a better economic situation. This is just one example of innovation that initially was quite controversial, threatening to over turn the social order becoming a long term benefit to the society that created it as a whole. 

2 thoughts on “It’s just a little Air-Pump

  1. I agree with what you said 100%. I really like how you pointed out that most power structures that exist, are often dated. So when innovation does arise, it threatens the status quo, because power can begin to change hands. In addition that your example of abortion and birth control was very well written. Since new technology was coming out making birth control easier, it was much harder to stop to shift society was having in favor of it. Even if it took time, it still became one example of how technology managed to change the power dynamics within the status quo.


  2. I agree with all of the points you made, and I think that the parallels you made between different ideas were creative and helpful in understanding the concepts. I like how you point out different outdated constructs such as religion and certain family values, because those are both very important parts of people’s lives that went unchallenged for a long time. Admitting wrong or that times have changed views when it comes to concepts larger than the individual person can be tricky, and you acknowledge that but also point out that sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. I think that idea of this post was very well thought out and well written overall.


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