Olio Seminar | Humans and Technology: A History

Lawrence Cappello at WeWork // 205 Hudson

Thu, Apr 12 at 7 p.m.   |   90 minutes

We'll be exploring the many ways human beings have responded to, embraced, loved, become addicted to, and been fucked-over by technology throughout American history.

This is a four-part seminar meeting on Thursday evenings – April 12th, April 19th, May 3rd, & May 10th. Limited to 30 people.


The movies. The assault rifle. The robot that’s about to take your job. In universities nationwide the history of technology is exploding as an academic field. It’s not so much the study of technology itself, but of the very complicated relationship between technology and human beings. Technology is a powerful historical force – it wins wars, turns nations into superpowers, sorts out the haves and the have-nots, and is continuously shaping our society and the ways we express ourselves.

This four-part series offers an accessible and entertaining primer to the history of technology in the United States. It is NOT about merely cataloguing the evolution of technology over time. It’s about people. About exploring the many ways human beings have responded to, embraced, loved, become addicted to, and been fucked-over by technology throughout American history.

Each meeting will be part-lecture/part-discussion, and include some light (read: not required for class) take-home readings.

Week 1 – Americans Don’t Make Things Anymore – But We Used To

Americans often complain that we don’t make anything in this country anymore. We certainly did back in the day. The Industrial Revolution may have started in England, but by 1900 the United States was the #1 industrial power on Earth. Topics will include the rise of the factory, the death of artisanal work, the bloody battles of the early labor movement, why being first doesn’t really matter in the technology business, why we stopped making things, and why not making things anymore is maybe a good thing.

Week 2 – Technology in Warfare

Destruction is a form of creation. War does amazing things for technological innovation. Bigger bombs and better guns, sure, but also submarines, radar, airplanes, nuclear power, and now combat drones. Topics will include the way technology changed the nature of warfare over time and how technological superiority fosters conquest. Particular attention will be given to the two world wars of the twentieth century.

Week 3 – The Technology of Sight and Sound: Radio, TV, and Movies

It’s not what you’re like -- it’s what you like. America has been a global powerhouse in entertainment for more than a century largely because of its technological contributions to radio, television, and film. This one is all about culture. Topics will include the rise of the media establishment, the social and political implications of mass communications, and an exploration of why America has always been the most dominant global content provider of television programming and feature films.

Week 4 – A Digital Age: Computers, Big Data, and a Shrinking World

We are all of us traversing rapidly, and for the most part eagerly, into a wondrous technological golden age. But many believe we’ve lost something of ourselves along the way. Topics will include the impact of digital technology on privacy, new forms of social interaction, technology addiction, and who really invented the internet.

Teacher: Lawrence Cappello

Lawrence Cappello is a Professor of Constitutional History at the University of Alabama and the author of None of Your Damn Business: Privacy in the United States from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age. His essays have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and The Nation. He was recently profiled by The Economist.


Venue: WeWork // 205 Hudson

What is Think Olio?


Think Olio is here to put the liberation back into the liberal arts.

Classically, the liberal arts, were the education considered essential for a free person to take an active part in civic life. To counter a humanities that has been institutionalized and dehumanized we infuse critical thinking, openness, playfulness, and compassion into our learning experience.

Read more about our mission, our story, and how we are doing this.

Scenius Membership

If Friday night lectures, museum field trips, and living room salons sound like your kind of thing, then you've found your people. We can't wait to welcome you to the Think Olio Scenius. More info


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Olio: A miscellaneous collection of art and literature.