HPS202 Electricity

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University of Toronto St. George
History and Philosophy of Science and Technology

HPS202 Thursday, October 6, 2011 Domesticating Technology • tech need to be symbolically and practically tamed before they can be assimilated into household • innovation only gain permanent footing in home if its role is made meaning and unthreatening to household economy and values • need to ask how and why tech is adapted and why • • Histories of tech have tendency to take adoption of new tech as inevitable but not that simple, to create demand for electricity need to overcome •existence of gas as sensible, cheap and established system •public concern over dangers of electricity •need to develop complete tech system adoption of electric lights depended as much on ability of promoters to redirect fears • about innate dangers, represent gas as dirty and dangerous, and use gender specific authority to reach both household gender managers as it did on system building and cost efficiency •aesthetics of home increasingly feminine domain, women have to also be convinced In U.K. • dealing with public is messy, some people adopt tech early, some don’t • experience and perception of tech vary greatly depending on context and personal temperament process of domesticating electricity long and slow • • in US experience much more mediated by awe than fear but significant public concern over dangers; Edison plays on this fear in antiAC campaign • systems actually not too different, power potential Constructing Fear • lack of scientific consensus on what electricity is and exactly how it behaves fires in Pearl St Station, 1881 Paris exposition • • electrocution of Lord Salisbury’s servant 1882, first innocent bystander killed by electricity in home • gas promoters represent electricity as dangerous, poorly understood and even more poorly managed, too unpredictable and threatening to allow into home, metaphors of of wild, untamed lightening Death of William Dimmock (1881) HPS202 Thursday, October 6, 2011 • gardener to Marquis of Salisbury, celeb figure for enthusiastic adoption of electricity, ran off with generator installed in basement first domestic electrocution, status as innocent bystander universalizes fear, can • happen to anyone (vs another industrial accident of electricians in workplaces) • gas companies represent death as example of innate danger of electricity • electric company’s try to focus on coroner’s inquest report blaming human error and accidental fall Making Electricity Safe • redirect fears • blame human error, carelessness, inexperience to direct attention away from rep electricity itself/management as dangerous • tech innovations to answer concerns: creation of fuse, increased insulation on wires, stricter regulation on installation • public safety displays • represent gas as dangerous, focus on potential for fire to consume oxygen or for unlit lamp to leak gas and poison air; neither problems of electric
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