In a layman’s language, the term technology is an assortment of techniques. In fact, as a concept, technology itself is extremely wide and ambiguous. Robert Friedel provides his definition of the term in a well-ordered, instructive, and easily understandable manner in his book A Culture of Improvement where he expresses his own opinion.
In this book, Freidel introduces the concept of “capturing” in technology, which seeks to elaborate the series of changes involved in the process of technological improvements. He tries to figure out the reasons as to why technology keeps on altering every day activities.
He shows the extent to which technology can undergo transformation, as well as the possible results of the technological alterations. While the dynamic changes occur, the positive impact felt based on a variety of enhancements affects the surrounding (Friedel 98). This paper aims at underpinning Freidel’s claim that there existed a “culture of improvement” in western technology by providing examples of such technological improvements. Further, it shows how the improvements are “captured”.
Friedel’s book majorly focuses on two key theses. In the first one, he ascertains that, over the past 1000 years, a ‘culture of improvement’ that focuses entirely on technological improvement and the ways in which it can be sustained has been developed in the west. The second thesis is mostly concerned about the rate at which technological change has changed in the past 500 years following the new and more effective methods of making technological improvement a part of the sustained change series.
In support of Friedel’s first thesis, there are numerous proofs of the existence of the “capture” of technological improvements that have existed in the western world. The focus on improvement that Freidel takes is important since it explains both the contingent and the contextual character embraced by technological changes, as well as providing an elaborate explanation as to why some of these technological changes catch on while others fail miserably.
The technological advancements that shape the world today link well with the technological innovations that took place in Europe during the middle ages (Stahl 189). For instance, the medieval Venetian mint produced ten million coins a year, which were in use for a long period even after many years had passed.
This was one of the biggest production facilities in the west whose effect in technological advancement was felt even centuries later. In the course of the thirteenth century to the fifteenth century, Venetian mint adapted many technological innovations, as well as production control systems, a move that enabled it to maintain a competitive edge over its close rivals.
These innovations also assisted in thwarting the malicious acts of counterfeiters, clippers, and cullers who could lower the products’ utility (Stahl 191). The existence of the constant technological improvements in Europe as early as the thirteenth century validates Friedel’s thesis on the existence of “a culture of improvement” in the western technology.
The invention of more sophisticated weapons was responsible for warfare in the west for many years, as nations wanted to expand by conquering others and making them subject to their will. For instance, one can understand the tension that existed between the science of military and the protocols involved in the renaissance siege through considering the 1555 plan to bombard the city of Siena during the last days of the Italian wars. The plot involved the use of big guns to destroy the walls of Siena (Pepper 573).
Technological innovations, as posited in Freidel’s book, ensured that such cities as Siena constructed protective mechanisms such as walls while, on the other hand, the enemies continuously invented powerful weapons that could destroy such protective walls. This process of technological betterment or improvement constitutes what Freidel terms as the “culture of improvement”, that ensured the coming up of better weapons, as well as protective barriers in the west.
As described by Jonathan Israel, Netherlands, the genius of the seventeenth century did not rely on the artworks of the time but rather on the civic pride and the technological improvements that spread to the rest of Europe. The rapid growth of the Dutch cities between the years 1648 and 1720 is attributable to the technological innovations and improvements that were taking place at the time (Israel 85).
This led to the growth of the cities to the extent that most of the Dutch people felt strongly endowed to them. In most cases, they identified themselves with the cities rather than the country. It is arguable that since the West has managed to advance its technological development over a certain time of its history, its antiquity was to be drafted prior to other regions with the purpose of avoiding other histories to be written first.
In his book, Friedel quoted his most significant hypothesis. He concluded that, over the past thousand centuries, there appeared a culture of improvement in the West that made western people accept the idea that hi-tech modernization is advantageous to people.
The comprehensive communal image was what Friedel meant by the term ‘culture of improvement’. Friedel sticks to the point that improvement, as he actually uses the term, cannot compare with the term development. The last one holds an ethical intelligence that may be vague from the previous knowledge of the massacre: it can be enhanced but can never be viewed as an improvement.
While focusing on the improvement, more so the ordinary arrangement of improvement that perceives persons and cultures endeavoring to style changes, Friedel demonstrates this by comparing it to human evolution. He used the word “capture” to validate the methods that proved the fact that technological developments were not only documented but also “entertained”, for instance, by facilitating and promoting them to the broader world.
As Friedel states, the capacity to gain control over “capture” can be closely associated with having authority in any society. He had a feeling that those who could influence “capture” were to be placed in a better position of reaping greater benefits than the main founders did. He said that such persons would be seen to invent new and modern technologies.
The concept of ‘capture’, as brought forth by Friedel, explains the series of changes that have taken place for a period of over 1000 years in the western world. Freidel goes ahead to post that there was a “culture of improvement” existing in the western technology for a very long period.
Ranging from the technological innovations to the militarism, there is a substantial and reliable evidence for the claim that Freidel makes in his book. Concisely, arguments about technological change, as presented forth by Friedel, remain a long-term debate. Otherwise, he deserves a thumb for his keen and close observation of technological transformations with time.
Friedel, Robert. A Culture of Improvement: Technology and the Western Millennium. New York: Mit Press, 2010. Print.
Israel, Jonathan. Golden Age: Innovation in Dutch. History today, 1995. Print.
Pepper, Simon. Siege law, siege ritual, and the symbolism of city walls in Renaissance Europe in Tracy, James (ed.) City Walls: The Urban Enciente in Global perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.
Stahl, Allan. “Technological Innovation and Control at the Medieval Venetian Mint in Marie-Therese Zenner (Ed.). Villard’s Legacy”. AVISTA studies in the History of Science, Technology and Art 2.1 (2000): 189-196. Print.