Infinity, Limited

This is Jonathan Coopersmith's history of technology blog. An Associate Professor of History at Texas A&M University, Coopersmith’s latest book is FAXED: The Rise and Fall of the Fax Machine (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015).

  • Technology's Poor Step-Sister: Maintenance

    by Infinity, Limited

    Like Rodney Dangerfield, maintenance, whether of physical or social infrastructure, gets little respect despite its importance.  As one wag puts it:  “everyone wants to save the earth, but no one wants to do the dishes.”

  • Academic opposition to Trump's Muslim ban

    by Infinity, Limited

    Getting academics to work together is often, as the old joke goes, like herding cats.  So what did it take to get scores of scientific and academic organizations to act together?  The answer is President Trump’s January 27 blanket banning, now temporarily stayed by court order, certain groups of Muslims from entering the United States. 

  • Obama's Legacy in Science, Technology, and Innovation

    by Infinity, Limited

    What will be the legacy of Barack Obama's policies in science, technology, and innovation?  His most important policy was not a specific goal but promoting the scientific approach -- experimental, data-driven, open, and transparent -- as an integral part of federal policy making and implementation.  

  • "It Can't Happen Here, Can It?" Will Trump and Climate Deniers Purge American Science and Technology?

    by Infinity, Limited

    Is the incoming Trump administration planning a purge of government climate science research and researchers?  If historical cases such as Soviet persecution and McCarthyism offer any precedent, such a purge will prove destructive to both careers and the national interests of the United States – and give other countries the opportunity to hire top-quality American researchers.  

  • The real star of the 1968 conventions: Now you really are there

    by Infinity, Limited

    While politics dominated the 1968 presidential conventions, NBC’s introduction of a portable microphone system greatly expanded the ability of its reporters to roam the convention floor and make viewers feel “you are there.”  Television coverage would never be the same.  


  • Does Technology Make Us Dumber or Smarter? Yes.

    by Infinity, Limited

    Since humans began to farm, technology has made us individually dumber and individually smarter – and collectively smarter. Technology has made us able to do more while understanding less about what we are doing, and has increased our dependence on others.  What technology has not done is make us wiser.

  • Technology and Politics: Neither good, nor bad, nor neutral

    by Infinity, Limited

    The Economist aptly applied “Technology is neither good, nor bad, nor neutral,” Mel Kranzberg’s first law of the history of technology, to its recent discussion of technology and politics.  While the revolutionary power of digital data and social media are great, possibly greater are the opportunities for repressive states to observe dissidents, attack opponents, manipulate public perceptions, and even create alternate realities to stay in power.  Such efforts have a long history, but the digital politics offers much greater potential and peril.

  • What if politicians acted like engineers?

    by Infinity, Limited

    What if politicians acted like engineers and tried to pragmatically solve problems?  The pro-life movement has a great opportunity to reduce the number of abortions in America, not by trying to defund Planned Parenthood, but by supporting long-acting reversible contraceptives for women.  These contraceptives are very effective because they minimize human error.  A Colorado experiment providing these long-term contraceptives to low income women sharply reduced abortions and high-risk births.  

  • Why I Miss Old Fashioned Library Cards

    by Infinity, Limited

    When the teenage library records of novelist Haruki Murakami were published the Japan Library Association criticized this violation of privacy.  But this information used to be public. It was useful. 

  • Compromising Engineers and the Keystone XL Pipeline

    by Infinity, Limited

    Compromise may be a career-ending concept in politics, but it is essential in engineering. 

    Every day engineers have to balance legitimate and conflicting interests.  What makes a great engineer is not only the ability to find the best balance but also to convince the appropriate people of the wisdom of that decision. President Obama's veto of the Keystone XL pipeline provides a similar opportunity for a grand compromise of political engineering:  Democratic support for the pipeline in exchange for Republican support of a carbon tax.