Selected Works

Books
Humanity remaking itself through technology
The self-cancelling, self-frustrating side of human ingenuity, and what to do about it.
Magazine Articles
A review of James R. Chiles, Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology in Harvard Magazine
How sitting customs have affected the human body
Are big structures harbingers of decline?
Harvard's debt to the shoe industry
The Harvard Society of Fellows, a history and personal appreciation
Books/Essays
The U.S. military-industrial complex's surprising debt to France.

Our Own Devices: The Past and Future of Body Technology

from the Alfred A. Knopf website:

Our Own Devices
The Past and Future of Body Technology
Edward Tenner
Science; Technology | Knopf | Hardcover | June 2003 | $26.00| 0-375-40722-7


About this Book

From the author of Why Things Bite Back– which introduced us to the revenge antics of technology–Our Own Devices is a wonderfully revealing look at the inventions of everyday things that protect us, position us, or enhance our performance.

In helping and hurting us, these body technologies have produced consequences that their makers never intended:
• In postwar Japan traditional sandals gave way to Western-style shoes because they were considered marks of a higher standard of living, but they seriously increased the rate of fungal foot ailments.
• Reclining chairs, originally promoted for healthful brief relaxation, became symbols of the sedentary life and obesity.
• A keyboard that made the piano easier to learn failed in the marketplace mainly because professional pianists believed difficult passages needed to stay difficult.
• Helmets, reintroduced during the carnage of World War I, saved the lives of countless civilian miners, construction workers, and, more recently, bicyclists.

Once we step on the treadmill of progress, it’s hard to step off. Yet Edward Tenner shows that human ingenuity can be applied in self-preservation as well, and he sheds light on the ways in which the users of commonplace technology surprise designers and engineers, as when early typists developed the touch method still employed on today’s keyboards. And he offers concrete advice for reaping benefits from the devices that we no longer seem able to live without. Although dependent on these objects, we can also use them to liberate ourselves. This delightful and instructive history of invention shows why National Public Radio dubbed Tenner “the philosopher of everyday technology.”