Harvard Business School professor and former Barnard College president Debora L. Spar offers an account of how technology has transformed our intimate lives in the past, and how it will do so again in the future.
Harvard Business School professor Spar...probes the historical links between gender, family, technology, and work to understand their implications for the future in this thought-provoking and cautiously optimistic account ... Though the book lands somewhat awkwardly between futurist think piece, gender study, and historical survey, Spar’s explanations of how specific technologies developed are lucid and insightful. Readers will take comfort in this clear-eyed assessment of humanity’s ability to adapt to technological change.
Spar spends the first half of the book looking backward, tracing how monogamy sprang from the plow, how the steam engine pried open a gender divide at work and home, and how the dishwasher set the stage for the second-wave feminist movement. When she is excavating this history, Spar carves convincing paths through mountains of academic and historical records. But as she veers into the present and pitches toward the future, her visions become murkier and her trail of evidence grows faint ... I don’t know if Spar is right about what the future holds, but her view of the present reveals some limitations. She can treat decade-old technologies as if they are vexing new developments ... Her section on developments in hormone therapy and their impact on gender expression mostly emphasizes her own experience straining to parse these changes, which she does not appear to have yet mastered ... Though Spar is interested in the cultural side of technology, the strict determinism of her argument — tech begets culture — can flatten the complex interplay of these forces. Spar plugs so many innovations and social shifts into her thesis, jumping from in vitro gametogenesis to hormone therapy to sex robots, that her insights can feel programmatic, and at times strangely dehumanizing ... a book that seems interested in human experience only insofar as it relates to some tool.