Presents an evolutionary theory of technological change based on recent scholarship in the history of technology and on relevant material drawn from economic history and anthropology. Challenges the popular notion that technological advances arise from the efforts of a few heroic individuals who produce a series of revolutionary inventions that owe little or nothing to the technological past. Therefore, the book's argument is shaped by analogies drawn selectively from the theory of organic evolution, and not from the theory and practice of political revolution. Three themes appear, with variations, throughout the study. The first is diversity: an acknowledgment of the vast numbers of different kinds of made things (artifacts) that long have been available to humanity. The second theme is necessity: the mistaken belief that humans are driven to invent new artifacts in order to meet basic biological needs such as food, shelter, and defense. And the third theme is technological evolution: an organic analogy that explains both the emergence of the novel artifacts and their subsequent selection by society for incorporation into its material life without invoking either biological necessity or technological process.
"Mr. Basalla argues his case ingeniously and cites a variety of examples...the reader is astonished again and again at the ease with which Mr. Basalla overturns many cherished prejudices and preconceptions about inventors and their creations." New York Times Book Review "George Basalla has done scholars a valuable service...(his)own insights at an intermediate level of analysis may well provide the building blocks for a more rigorous and sophisticated theory of technological change." Science "A thoughtful and thought provoking analysis drawing on a wide range of historical examples that will be of use to scholars and students." - Science, Technology and Society "a refreshing book...a lively and revealing perspective on the history of technology. This book should find its way into undergraduate courses." American Scientist "Both the tech-happy and the tech-wary will find news in this view of technology as an evolutionary system. Fascinating case studies show how society-bending inventions - even 'breakthroughs' - proceed from small, incremental variations upon earlier inventions." Whole Earth Catalog