9.0052 On History of Technology: The Zipper (1/31)

Tue, 6 Jun 1995 02:10:35 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 0052. Tuesday, 6 Jun 1995.

Date: Wed, 31 May 1995 13:25:34 -0400
From: mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca (Willard McCarty)
Subject: the zipper

To the several popular books in the history of technology, Robert Friedel
has recently added <t>Zipper: An exploration in novelty</i>, wonderfully
reviewed by Giles Foden, Arts Editor of the TLS, in No. 4808 (May 26 1995):
5-7. Since we have in our hands a technology that is still not very well
understood, all such histories recommend themselves as grist for our
electronic mill.

Allow me to quote a paragraph from the review and be done with it:

What is enduringly interesting about a technology is only what is human
about it (though there is an incipient sense of the sublime about many new
technologies, and always has been), and what could be more human than the
zip? But what, too, could be more innately technological? The Greek techne,
as well as meaning "art" or "craft", had a sense of "sleight of hand" or
"cunning device" - meanings which suggest the zip as the quintessential
technological device. It does seem, after all, like a magic trick. Where
zips are on the body makes this slyly close to the bone; as if, by the
Faustian association of a technical and sexual overreaching that breaks a
notional natural law, the zip in itself playfully contextualizes ancient
worries about the ethics of technological progress. In other words, beware
that you don't take a sleight of hand too far!


Willard McCarty, Centre for Computing in the Humanities (Toronto)
(416) 978-3974 voice (416) 978-6519 fax mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca