Monday, May 11, 2015

Carroll Pursell's "From Playgrounds to PlayStation"

Carroll Pursell is an adjunct professor of history at The Australian National University and professor emeritus of history at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of The Machine in America: A Social History of Technology.

Carroll applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, From Playgrounds to PlayStation: The Interaction of Technology and Play, and reported the following:
From Playgrounds to PlayStation contains seven chapters covering Toys, Playgrounds, Amusement Parks, Hobbies, Games and Sports, Extreme Sports and Electronic Games. Ford Madox Ford’s suggested page 99 falls within the chapter on Hobbies, and is, as he predicted, a fair sample of the book itself. First, the narrative moves along quickly covering a number of topics, in this case the final examples of the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) craze which peaked in the years after World War II. It manages to span a 225,000 square foot Home Depot builders’ material store/warehouse and San Francisco’s boutique TechShop which opened in 2011. Mid-page the topic shifts to the DIY kitchen. Historian Rachel Maines, author of Hedonizing Technologies points out that in 2006 only 53 percent of meals eaten in American homes were actually prepared there (mostly sandwiches and bowls of cereal). Furthermore, of the remaining DIY home cooks, many were men (27 percent of men were said to be the “primary food handlers for their families”). When men got interested in cooking they also developed a desire for more upscale and specialized technologies to aid their efforts: Italian espresso machines, saute pans and very expensive handmade Japanese knives among others. It was the latest example of what historian Steven Gelber called Domestic Masculinity.

The theoretical constructions of Maines and Gelber are among a number of such insights that are brought to bear on the subject “technology and play” in the book. The historian Susan Douglas has alerted us to the “audio outlaws” whose pursuit of sound pioneered radio broadcasting and pushed the boundaries of high-fidelity recordings and FM radio, while historian Elaine Tyler May contributed the concept of “virtuous consumption” to explain the post-war urge to own a home, improve it, and fill it with domestic technologies. Page 99, like the rest of the book, attempts to tell many stories about the interaction of technology and play, while finding meanings through the theorizing of such underlying realities as gender and the dynamics of a developing industrial capitalism.
Learn more about From Playgrounds to PlayStation at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue