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The Real World of Technology

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  271 ratings  ·  42 reviews
In this expanded edition of her bestselling 1989 CBC Massey Lectures, renowned scientist and humanitarian Ursula M. Franklin examines the impact of technology upon our lives and addresses the extraordinary changes since The Real World of Technology was first published.

In four new chapters, Franklin tackles contentious issues, such as the dilution of privacy and intellectua
Paperback, Large Print, 224 pages
Published June 1st 1999 by House of Anansi Press (first published January 1st 1990)
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Wes Hazard
Feb 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Every person even remotely responsible for public policy (from the municipal to the international level) should read and learn from this.

"To give just one general example of unmet needs: The field of accountancy and bookkeeping is in urgent need of redemptive technologies. In order to make socially responsible decisions, a community requires three sets of books. One is the customary dollars-and-cents book, but with a clear and discernable column for money saved. The second book relates to peopl
Nov 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
Ursula Franklin provides an important 'alternative reality' voice to the dominance of what she calls 'technology' today. Even more impressive that the book was written nearly 30 years ago.

Unfortunately, her book only looks at one side of the coin. On the opposite end of any sweatshop laborer are potentially hundreds of people clothed. It doesn't exactly work like that, but it's hard to make the case that the sewing machine has caused more harm than good by 'enslaving sweatshop laborers.' She is
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a rather gentle introduction to a staggeringly anti-establishment and humanist way of thinking about technology, expanding our understanding beyond "the sum of its artifacts" to "a system ...involv[ing] organization, procedures, symbols, new words, equations, and most of all, a mindset. ...it includes activities as well as a body of knowledge, structures as well as the act of structuring" that have cultural, social, and political implications for concepts such as privacy, freedom, power, ...more
Siddiq Khan
May 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Soft spoken, very Canadian, and wonderfully insightful historical perspective on the social role of technology made by an experimental physicist, a politically active pacifist, and a feminist.

Professor Franklin brings to bear her particular combination of allegiences and expertise to provide a completely unique take on technology that is both complimentary to and quite distict from the likes of EF Schumacher, Lewis Mumford, Ivan Illich, and Jacques Ellul. She has quite a lot of interesting thin
Oct 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
My sociology teacher was a bitch but i am so glad she recommended this book to me. Really outs a lot of things in perspective with respect to technology and it’s impact. A very insightful read.
Masatoshi Nishimura
Sep 05, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: biography
She excuses herself for not trying to be a philosoper yet she spins up grand categorizations like vernacular reality or extended reality. I couldn't shake up the fact she sounded like an amateur blogger who is so desperate to sound smart.

This is rather a criticism for modern pop-humanity people. It's extremely under researched. Franklin, please do some homework. If you want to make a granular narrative about technology, don't act as if you are an outside observer merely touching its bare surfac
Alex Strohschein

This book reminded me a lot of Neil Postman's "Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology," which also came out in the early 1990s. Many of the remarks and warnings that Ursula Franklin makes I had already read in Postman's book, but this was still a good book. I appreciate that Franklin often focused specifically on the Canadian scenario, using Canadian examples to illustrate her point. With technology becoming so much a part of fabric of our everyday lives, I appreciate Franklin'
Aug 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An incredibly lucid and accessible argument for creating community and human centred technology. As relevant now as it was when it was originally published in 1989.
Jul 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting read which - despite having been published in 1989 - still resonates a lot with the tech-driven reality most of us live in today. Very dense and insightful yet accessible. This book should be a mandatory read for any policy maker in charge of protecting the public interest from corporate greed.
Erhardt Graeff
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book, especially the first six chapters delivered in lecture in 1989 is simply prophetic. Ursula Franklin's synthesis continues to resonate. ...more
Jerry Wall
Aug 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
The problem of technology is that we don't see technology (ies) as problematic anymore than we see
any other tool such as a screwdriver or pliers as being a problem. We know how much of a time sink technology can be for children and adults. While technology can do things for us to make work easier, or calculation both easier and more accurate, or iterative thinking easier, it has been shown that it can and does let us go thoughtless and creationless (?) while using it to pass the time or to colle
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Franklin's lectures synthesize a variety of critiques levied by the humanities and social sciences against a cultural value system that equates "technological progress" with "the good." Her summary is concise, well organized, and useful for reviewing these ideas.

However, I found her notion of "the real world of technology" - which is foundational to her analysis - promising in concept but hazy and ill-defined in use.

Having said that, I think this book's great value is twofold. First, Franklin s
Jul 06, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book a great deal. Franklin provides a rundown of 20th century technology and its effects on society, while paying particular attention to its potentially negative transformational aspects. A lot of media and technology study from this period tends to underfocus on the human cost and potential dangers of technology, so I really appreciated where she was coming from. The four new lectures at the end didn't quite sit as well; they felt less focused, and brief. (They were certainly s ...more
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
When I feel very lonely in the world, there's a few little clips on youtube of Ursula Franklin that I turn to. Her voice, raspy and German and carefully pronounced with all the intent of a scientist, is the sound of a friend's love.

This person was one of those souls you hope sticks around after death to prevent global catastrophe. If we'd listened to this Ursula (and also the more science fiction Ursula), we'd be living in a brighter world than we now inhabit.
Jeroen Nijs
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you work in technology, and don’t know much about the humanities (which describes, like me, most people I’ve met in IT), you will find this to be an excellent, insightful read.

Although I must say that the original 6 chapters are better than the 4 that were added later; they feel a bit tacked-on.
This was pretty good. Not mind blowing as I had already encountered most of her ideas through a variety of other people. But, outside of possibly Neil Postman, Ursula Franklin is probably the clearest writer on the problem of technology in society that I have read. I could easily recommend her to others.
Canadian 791
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 24, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A dense but succinct analysis of how technology, broadly defined, has transformed our lives and societies (in mostly negative ways) along with a little on what we need to be aware of and do in order to find a better balance and build a better future for all.
Apr 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: tech-and-society
extremely dense, incredibly rich. bears rereading many times.
Sunni C. | vanreads
In the 80s, Ursula Franklin was already calling out potential issues that arise with advancing technologies (and climate concerns) while giving us advice on how we should approach technological advancement. If only we had listened to her then, but it’s better late than never. Please give this one a read. Franklin is brilliant.
Bridget Bonaparte
Jul 20, 2020 rated it liked it
I feel really lucky to have spoken with Ursula and to have attended Ursula Franklin Academy. Although the school has its problems, the values on which it was founded are inspiring tenets. A lot of what is said in this book is salient today. The broad way technological thinking is spoken of is something we need reminding of. Technology is here a system of thought and a mode of being, a more holistic look than the STEM/ Humanities divide engenders.
I feel like this book should be mandatory reading for all engineering students. I first encountered Ursula Franklin on a sociology course website (which was no longer being taught at the time I discovered it) called "Engineering and Social Justice", taught by a global development professor (Richard Day) who has been involved in 'anarchist'/'post-anarchist' activism. I'm not sure if Franklin has any explicit affinity for anarchist politics, though by virtue of her Quaker faith, I did learn in thi ...more
Jun 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Should be a mandatory read for political leaders and technology developers alike!

A book of essays, can get a little academic in verbiage but still superb insight into what we need to be mindful about as we move ahead! The importance of using technology to enhance humanity not profit from human isolation; facebook ads/dating websites = which can never fully replace the time and care needed to helping human relationships flourish. More importantly thus far is how women can be reintroduced in our t
Woodward Library
Elizabeth Croft, Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Associate Dean, Education and Professional Development, Faculty of Applied Science recommends . . .
The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner

Why is this a favourite book?

The Real World of Technology is based on Dr. Franklin’s 1989 Massey Lectures. Her arguments are both profound and prophetic. She
recognized the effect of Facebook, smartphones and the web on our communities before they were even invented. Where
Jaya K
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Not recent, but SO relevant. Ideas on privacy, and the importance of being critical of government priorities, are truly timely and important. Other biggies that come up: holistic vs. prescriptive technology, a growth model vs. a production model, divisible vs. indivisible costs, planners vs. plan-ees, maximizing gain vs. minimizing disaster, the natural environment vs. the built environment. You can listen to the whole thing free online which I did since bébé was not enabling a whole lotta readi ...more
Julia Hendon
Jan 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
I was more interested in Franklin's discussion of technology as practice then in her social activism so I read this selectively. Her focus on technology as a system, a set of practices, etc. agrees well with current anthropological views. Similarities with Heather Lechtman's cultural approach as well.
Aug 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Eye-opening and deeply insightful treatise on the social implications of technology -- amazing how much is still relevant today despite this being written in the 90s. Everyone working on large-scale consumer technologies should read this.
Jun 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recommended
You can skip the additional chapters that she added on to the second publishing (in my opinion). But the first three chapters are essential reading for anyone trying to understand how technology is shaping our lives and creating a culture of compliance.
Apr 07, 2015 added it
Shelves: read-school
Started reading this for school (for my social science course), but didn't get far at all. I'll probably just stop here. So yes, I did not "read" this, but I'm marking it as "read" because .... Ya. [April 8, 2015] ...more
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an authoritative text on the real world of technology and its implications on our everyday life comprising of social and professional relationships but most importantly on our identity and body, mind and soul.
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Ursula Martius Franklin was a German-Canadian metallurgist, research physicist, author, and educator who taught at the University of Toronto for more than 40 years. She was the author of The Real World of Technology, which is based on her 1989 Massey Lectures; The Ursula Franklin Reader: Pacifism as a Map, a collection of her papers, interviews, and talks; and Ursula Franklin Speaks: Thoughts and ...more

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