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User Unfriendly Consumer Struggles with Personal Technologies, from Clocks and Sewing Machines to Cars and Computers by Joseph J. (Senior Lecturer, Stanford University) Corn

User Unfriendly Consumer Struggles with Personal Technologies, from Clocks and Sewing Machines to Cars and Computers



User Unfriendly Consumer Struggles with Personal Technologies, from Clocks and Sewing Machines to Cars and Computers by Joseph J. (Senior Lecturer, Stanford University) Corn

We've all been there. Seduced by the sleek designs and smart capabilities of the newest gadgets, we end up stumped by their complicated set-up instructions and exasperating error messages. In this fascinating history, Joseph J. Corn maps two centuries of consumer frustration and struggle with personal technologies.Aggravation with the new machines people adopt and live with is as old as the industrial revolution. Clocks, sewing machines, cameras, lawn mowers, bicycles, electric lights, cars, and computers: all can empower and exhilarate, but they can also exact a form of servitude. Adopters puzzle over which type and model to buy and then how to operate the device, diagnose its troubles, and meet its insatiable appetite for accessories, replacement parts, or upgrades. It intrigues Corn that we put up with the frustrations our technology thrusts upon us, battling with the unfamiliar and climbing the steep learning curves. It is this ongoing struggle, more than the uses to which we ultimately put our machines, that animates this thought-provoking study.Having extensively researched owner's manuals, computer user-group newsletters, and how-to literature, Corn brings a fresh, consumer-oriented approach to the history of technology. User Unfriendly will be valuable to historians of technology, students of American culture, and anyone interested in our modern dependence on machines and gadgets.


The author examines the barriers that customers have faced in adopting personal technologies, including product unfamiliarity, nonintuitive instructions, lack of service or support, unavailability of replacement parts, and technological and planned obsolescence... A useful acquisition for consumer studies and history of technology collections. * Choice * An excellent introduction to the ways technology has been used in the domestic sphere. -- Lawrence B. Glickman * Journal of American History * A must read for historians of technology. Corn's thoughtful engagement of the historiography, inclusion of interdisciplinary scholarship, and close readings of the sources change what we know not simply about these individual machines, but about the process of technology consumption. -- Kathleen Franz * Technology and Culture * Joseph Corn's book is a much needed addition to the literature of the history of consumer technology. -- A. David Wunsch * IEEE Technology and Society Magazine *

About the Author

Joseph J. Corn is a senior lecturer emeritus in the history department at Stanford University, author of The Winged Gospel: America's Romance with Aviation, and coauthor of Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future, both also published by Johns Hopkins.

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Book Info

Publication date

11th October 2011


Joseph J. (Senior Lecturer, Stanford University) Corn

More books by Joseph J. (Senior Lecturer, Stanford University) Corn
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Johns Hopkins University Press


296 pages


History of science
History of the Americas



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