The Story of Modern Technology

Sex, Bombs and Burgers: How War, Porn and Fast Food Created Technology as We Know It - Peter Nowak

I do actually like non-fiction books and found this one very interesting. In fact I actually agree with his conclusions (though many people will probably baulk at them). His idea is that the technology that we have today has been developed through what he considers three bad things: war, porn, and fast food. While I do not consider food to be a bad industry in itself (and would even consider investing in it), I do find that war and porn are. However we must admit that the technology that we have today, and in fact the Internet that we use, came about through our need to kill other humans and to satisfy our sexual desires. However the issue of food, while not bad, is a necessity (which he explores) and our need to feed ourselves also gives rise to the technology that we have. I'll look at all three in this review.


First of all war. Novak's proposition, and it is one that I agree with, is that since the government has deep pockets, then they are able to fund research into concepts that would simply be too expensive, or too risky, for the private market to develop. As such, the American military develops the concept and then releases the idea into the private market. The classic example of this is flight. Most of our flight technologies arose from developments than came out of the Second World War. In fact, it was the second world war that brought many of the luxuries that we have today, such as jet powered aeroplanes and plastics.


Further, he explores this institution that is known as DARPA. For those who are familiar with the history of the internet, you will know that DAPRA was the founding father of the internet as we know it. In fact, DARPA, a government funded organisation, was the only organisation that was willing to fund research into this area. The original idea was to develop a telecommunications system that would be resistant to a nuclear war, so that if one city were to be nuked, then the country could still communicate (due to redundancy, that is if one centre were to go off line, then it could reroute through another five different centres).


Within this discussion of the internet we come to porn. Many will not admit that they like (or look at) porn, but it can be very alluring. The truth is that most of the technology that we have today, in particular credit card payments and security systems, come from the porn industry. In fact, much of the home entertainment technology comes from porn. The reason that porn develops these technologies is two fold. First is the desire for privacy, and secondly because there is money in it. The more private porn becomes, the more people will pay for it. When I was a teenager the only way to get porn was to purchase it, and that would be very embarrassing, but now you can simply log onto a web site and get it for free in the privacy in your own home. In fact, when I was a teenager, porn was not as much an issue for Christians, but the anonymity of the internet makes it ever easier to look at it behind closed doors (though the reality is that your browsing history is kept somewhere, and as the Ashley Madision hack showed, nothing is truly anonymous – except for maybe TOR, but that is another story).


Finally I'll speak about food. Well, food is an essential. I do not consider it an evil trinity as Novak does because there is nothing wrong with food, we need it, and the technology to get it to us is very useful, however he is very right when he says that since food has become plentiful in our Western World it has created a different problem, and that is selectiveness. We not only waste an incredible amount of food, but we have become very selective with what we eat. Who has ever heard of a lactose intolerant African. They are starving and will take whatever they can get. To me, the biggest issue is the waste of food. I was staying at a five-star hotel in Europe and saw their breakfast selection, and it was huge. In fact, what disgusted me the most was the amount of food that would have gone to waste. While our technology to store food has become better, once it is on the table, it is on the table and is not going back.


While this book is not a book designed to make you think or challenge you as to how you live your life, it is very insightful in regards to the history of our technology and where they came from. He is also somewhat forward looking in fact to how technology is coming to a point where it will reverse the effects of the Tower of Babel (if that is ever possible). However, back in the 80's, nobody ever envisaged the internet (though we did want mobile phones) so what the world will bring in the future is anybody's guess.