The Evolution Of Your Office

Hidden agreements have made all business workplaces remarkably similar.

One of the first objects visible inside the entrance of the National Building Museum’s show On the Job: Design and the American Office (which runs in Washington, D.C., through August) is an early stapler. The Hotchkiss Number Two is more than a century old. It uses a curved, gravity-flow system for feeding the staples, lending it a resemblance to a cross between Hans Brinker’s silver skate and an old-time apple corer.

 
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The Ancient History Of The Internet

Though it appears to have sprung up overnight, the inspiration of free-spirited hackers, it in fact was born in Defense Department Cold War projects of the 1950s

The Internet seems so now, so happening, so information age, that its Gen-X devotees might find the uncool circumstances of its birth hard to grasp. More than anything the computer network connecting tens of millions of users stands as a modern—albeit unintended—monument to military plans for fighting three wars.Read more »

Less Work For Mother?

Modern technology enables the housewife to do much more in the house than ever before. That’s good- and not so good.

Things are seldom what they seem. Skim milk masquerades as cream. And laborsavine household appliances often do not save labor. This is the surprising conclusion reached by a small army of historians, sociologists, and home economists who have undertaken, in recent years, to study the one form of work that has turned out to be most resistant to inquiry and analysis—namely, housework.

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“we Get The Technology We Deserve”

A leader in the emerging field of technological history speaks about the inventors who made our modern world and tells why it is vital for us to know not only what they did, but how they thought

When people say that technology is a juggernaut dragging a helpless society along behind it, Thomas Hughes shakes his head. History shows otherwise, he says. In his landmark study Networks of Power , he tells how in Victorian England electrification was stopped cold for many years by apprehensive small-town councils. Such episodes—and the book describes many of them—have convinced Hughes that technology is quite tamable—if we keep close account of its past and present interactions with society.Read more »

The Absolute All-american Civilizer

A lot of people still remember how great it was to ride in the old Pullmans, how curiously regal to have a simple, well-cooked meal in the dining car. Those memories are perfectly accurate—and that lost pleasure holds a lesson for us that extends beyond mere nostalgia.

Not long ago I received a very angry letter from an old friend. It was a response to my suggestion that liberal arts colleges might give students some instruction in technology; that is, give them some feeling for how the world they are living in works. My friend’s argument was that from the Love Canal to Three Mile Island, and from the grid locks of Manhattan to the boeuf bourguignon on the plastic airline trays, the technological world was not working very well and never would.Read more »

What It Was Like To Be Sick In 1884

American medicine in a crucial era was at once surprisingly similar and shockingly different from what we know today. You could get aspirin at the drugstore, and anesthesia during surgery. But you could also buy opium over the counter, and the surgery would be more likely to be performed in your kitchen than in a hospital.

IN 1884 ALMOST three-quarters of America’s fifty million people lived on farms or in rural hamlets. When they fell ill, they ordinarily were treated in their own homes by someone they knew, someone who might not be a trained physician but a family member, neighbor, or midwife. Only a handful of smaller communities boasted hospitals, for they were still a big-city phenomenon.Read more »

The Prizewinners

America has won more Nobel Prizes in medicine than any other nation: it’s easy when you have the money, the technology, and people from every other nation

In 1977 the sociologist Harriet Zuckerman published a comprehensive study of the American Nobel laureates in science called Scientific Elite . She used these words of Simone Weil for an epigraph: “Science today must search for a source of inspiration above itself or it will perish. There are just three reasons for doing science: (1) technical applications; (2) chess game; (3) the way toward God. (The chess game is embellished with competitions, prizes and medals.)” Read more »

The New Army Helmet

… is more comfortable and safer than World War II’s “steel pot. ” The problem is that it looks just like the One Hitlers troops wore.

THE NEWS PHOTOGRAPHS that appeared following the lightning invasion of Grenada by United States troops last November were almost as surprising as the invasion itself. The pictures showed troopers of the 82d Airborne wearing gull-winged helmets that stirred up memories of the old German Wehrmacht. Since when, more than one journal editorialized, did American soldiers start looking like the Waffen SS?Read more »

The Air-conditioned Century

The story of how a blast of cool, dry air changed America

IN THE SUMMER of 1881, as James Garfield lay dying of an assassin’s bullet in the White House, a team of naval engineers was called in to solve a vexing problem: how to cool the President’s bedroom. The temperature in Washington was hovering above ninety, and the humidity was uncomfortably high. Read more »

They Didn’t Know What Time It Was

On November 18, 1883, the nation finally settled on the method of synchronizing all clocks that we call standard time. Why did it take so long to figure that one out?

THROUGHOUT MOST of the last century, very few Americans could agree on the time of day. Every town kept its own time. A pocket diary for the year 1873 contains two tables, one showing the difference in time between Boston and other cities, the second giving the time in other cities when it was noon in New York. With a little calculating, a Boston salesman bound for St.Read more »