What are the best personal essays about technology?
August 18, 2009 3:02 PM   Subscribe

What are some great examples of personal, non-fiction essay writing about technology, to be used in a freshman writing class with a tech theme?

I have many interesting readings to use that are about technology, other people using technology, academic research on writing and technology, or technical writing.

However, I want to assign them a "technology autobiography" essay, and would like to include examples of essayistic explorations of the presence or absence of technology in an author's life. An extremely broad definition of tech is fine--what is important is that I have examples of good writing for my students to emulate.

(Non-fiction writing only, please, the class isn't really about discussing literature and is not in an English department.)
posted by Tesseractive to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Bill McKibben wrote a book a while ago called The Age of Missing Information which is basically a comparison between watching "a day" worth of cable TV [he recorded hundreds of channels for 24 hours and watched them sequentially over a few months and a day spent walking in the woods. A chapter from that book would probably be a good read for your students. It's reflective without being too preachy.

Lewis Thomas wrote a book called The Youngest Science about medical science and technology which talks about watching the field of medicine change from a lot of careful guesswork to something much more accurate with the advent of diagnostic tools. The whole profession changed as he was in it, and he is very introspective about that. Many of the chapters stand alone as terrific essays and were, in fact, published separately originally. Chapters four and five would be especially useful and Thomas is a great writer.

I really like Cory Doctorow's writings on technology, both personal and larger scale, in his book Content, but many people have a love/hate relationship with him. He's a very friendly, chatty in-your-face author that I think would appeal to students.

Atul Gawande's book Better talks about medical mistakes [including his own] and many of the things he writes talk about his relationship with medical technology. Not sure I could suggest a chapter. His writing is pretty accessible.
posted by jessamyn at 3:24 PM on August 18, 2009

A Rape in Cyberspace. The Hacker Crackdown?
posted by Leon at 3:35 PM on August 18, 2009

Five short pieces by Douglas Adams you might be interested in: How to Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet, Frank the Vandal, Under-the-desktop Publishing, The Little Computer That Could, and Dongly Things.
posted by mayhap at 4:31 PM on August 18, 2009

Stephen Fry is always writing about technology: his love for Macs, iPhones, Twitter etc. His blog would be a great place to start, and his column for the Guardian.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:38 PM on August 18, 2009

Gary Snyder is mostly known for being a poet, but I have always loved this prose poem about his relationship to his macintosh computer.
posted by jessamyn at 4:39 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Perhaps Neal Stephenson's essay In the Beginning There Was the Command Line?
posted by bz at 5:05 PM on August 18, 2009

Oh I heart Gary Snyder.

Well, this would be considering 'technology' in its broadest form, but I recommend David Foster Wallace's review of A Dictionary of Modern American Usage.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:16 PM on August 18, 2009

Is Google making us stupid?
posted by ecmendenhall at 8:07 PM on August 18, 2009

George Orwell: You and the Atom Bomb, Down the Mine, The Case for the Open Fire (sorry, no link found for that one).
posted by jet_silver at 8:17 PM on August 18, 2009

Seconding Stephen Fry's "Dork Talk" column, especially the first few articles.

Also, interpreting "technology" and "autobiographical" a bit more broadly, how about Donald Norman's "The Design of Everyday Things"?
posted by estherbester at 8:52 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another Neal Stephenson suggestion in the fantastic "Mother Earth, Mother Board"
posted by pompomtom at 9:57 PM on August 18, 2009

Leonard Richardson's Nostalgiaudit.
posted by rdc at 9:50 AM on August 19, 2009

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