Peoples & ThingsOct 10, 2022
039 The Politics of Bicycling: A Conversation with Zack Furness
Zack Furness, an associate professor of communications at Penn State Greater Allegheny, talks about his 2010 book, One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility, with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. One Less Car examines the history of how bicycles became a tool and object of advocacy and activism. With roots going back to 1960s countercultures and growing through punk subcultures and the Critical Mass movement, bicycle activism has been an important focus of environmentalism and countering what Furness calls the “automobile-industrial complex.” Over a wide-ranging conversation, Furness and Vinsel also discuss Furness’s more recent research project on the history of Israeli punk bands.
038 Historians Examine Thomas Piketty's Capital and Ideology: A Conversation with Andrew Popp and Jonathan Coopersmith
Andrew Popp, a professor of history at Copenhagen Business School, and Jonathan Coopersmith, a professor (retired) of history at Texas A&M, talk about a recent special issue they edited in the journal History Compass with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. The special issue brought together a number of business historians to assess the historical arguments of Thomas Piketty’s 2019 book, Capital and Ideology, which argues that societies have developed a number of ideologies to justify inequality. While largely sympathetic to Piketty’s aims, the historians involved prod and criticize aspects of his argument and evidence. Popp, Coopersmith, and Vinsel also discuss the need for more historians, particularly business historians, to focus on the history of inequality.
037 The History of Student Loans in the United States: A Conversation with Elizabeth Tandy Shermer
Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, an associate professor of history at Loyola University Chicago, talks about her book, Indentured Students: How Government-Guaranteed Loans Left Generations Drowning in Debt, with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. Indentured Students examines the long history of student loans in the United States, including important turning points in the 1960s. Shermer argues that elected officials have preferred student loans as an answer to an important social problem, the perceived-need for college education, over more structural solutions. Shermer and Vinsel also talk about what this legacy of debt means today as well as what recent public discussions about student debt might portend for the future.
036 American Independent Inventors in an Era of Corporate R&D: A Conversation with Eric Hintz
Eric Hintz, a historian and fellowship coordinator with the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, talks about his book, American Independent Inventors in an Era of Corporate R&D, with Peoples & Things host, Lee Vinsel. The two discuss why independent inventors are often invisible in histories of 20th century invention and innovation, the role that independent inventors played in the two world wars, and the complicated history of gender and race around invention, which was a path of both promise and risk for women and black people.
035 Gun-Detecting AI, Infrastructure, and Bureaucracy: A Conversation with Aaron Gordon
Aaron Gordon, Senior Writer at Motherboard, Vice’s science and technology website, talks about his co-authored article, “‘The Least Safe Day’: Rollout of Gun-Detecting AI Scanners Has Been a ‘Cluster,’ Emails Show,” with Peoples & Things host, Lee Vinsel. They also discuss Gordon’s career trajectory, going from a sports reporter to a writer focused on infrastructure, maintenance, bureaucracy, and related topics. Additionally, the two chat about systematic bottlenecks around electric vehicles, a promising technology too-often cast as a cure-all.
034 ALICE and Economic Hardship in the United States: A Conversation with Stephanie Hoopes
Stephanie Hoopes, National Director of United for ALICE, a research center founded at United Way of Northern New Jersey, talks about the ALICE program with Peoples & Thing host, Lee Vinsel. ALICE stands for Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained Employed, and describes working households who can barely afford to make ends meet. The ALICE program repeatedly finds that about 40% of American households fits its criteria. Hoopes and Vinsel also the social structures and economic factors that contribute to ALICE, and how different populations are affected unequally by these factors.
033 The Techlash and Tech Crisis Communication: A Conversation with Nirit Weiss-Blatt
Communication researcher Nirit Weiss-Blatt talks about her book, The Techlash and Tech Crisis Communication, as well as some of her recent and forthcoming pieces on the digital technology industry with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. Weiss-Blatt’s work examines both the rise of the “techlash”—the development of negative public and expert sentiment about the digital technology industry—and how company public relations efforts responded to this development. Weiss-Blatt and Vinsel also talk about how some claims about the negative impacts of social media do not seem to hold up to empirical scrutiny and what all of this means for regulation of the digital technology industry.
032 Energy Costs, Poverty, and Race: A Conversation with Destenie Nock
Destenie Nock, an assistant professor in the Engineering and Public Policy and Civil and Environmental Engineering Departments at Carnegie Mellon University and CEO of People’s Energy Analytics, a new startup, talks about her co-authored paper “The Energy Equity Gap: Unveiling Hidden Energy Poverty” with Peoples & Things host, Lee Vinsel. The two also talk about the arc of Nock’s career; poverty, race, and infrastructure in the United States; and how Nock’s new company can help energy utilities identify and address hidden forms of energy poverty.
031 How a California Electricity Utility Caused Deadly Wildfires: A Conversation with Katherine Blunt
Journalist Katherine Blunt, who writes about renewable energy and utilities for the Wall Street Journal, talks about her new book, California Burning: The Fall of Pacific Gas and Electric—and What It Means for America’s Power Grid with Peoples & Things host, Lee Vinsel. The book tells the fascinating story of how declining performance at an electrical utility eventually led to wildfires and staggering loss of human life. Blunt and Vinsel also talk about what this story means for the future of electricity utilities in the face of global climate change.
030 "Tech" Journalism and the Many Lives of Stewart Brand: A Conversation with John Markoff
Journalist John Markoff has been writing about Silicon Valley for over forty years. In this interview with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel, Markoff talks about his long career, how he became a “tech journalist” long before that term even existed, and how he came to write his new book, Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand. Markoff and Vinsel also talk about how Brand’s life is interwoven with the history of Silicon Valley and the technology its companies have made.
029 Gendered Labor, Food Security, and Technology in 20th Century Mali: A Conversation with Laura Ann Twagira
Laura Ann Twagira, an associate professor of history, head of African Studies, and an affiliate with science in society program and feminist gender sexuality studies program at Wesleyan University, talks about her book Embodied Engineering: Gendered Labor, Food Security, and Taste in Twentieth-Century Mali with Peoples & Things host, Lee Vinsel. Embodied Engineering examines how women in rural Mali have used technology to ensure food security through the colonial period, environmental crises, and postcolonial rule. Twagira charts how women in Mali resisted some technological changes in agriculture and kitchens while embracing others, often in the name of pursuing their own notions of how food should taste. Twagira and Vinsel also talk about the need to redefine concepts, such as engineering and technology, in different contexts, and how doing so challenges reigning paradigms, such as that the goal of technology adoption should be increasing productivity and replacing labor - two values that women in Mali rejected
028 The Promised and Perils of Hype in Science and Technology: A Conversation with Gemma Milne
Journalist and STS graduate student Gemma Milne talks about her book, Smoke and Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It, with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. The book examines how hype works and how it plays out in a number of scientific and technical fields, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing, brain implants, cancer drugs, fusion energy, and the future of food.
027 The Internet, Inequality, and the "Digital Divide": A Conversation with Daniel Greene
Information scholar Daniel Greene, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, talks about his book, The Promise of Access: Technology, Inequality, and the Political Economy of Hope, with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. The Promise of Access examines how the “digital divide” became a policy problem and draws on fascinating ethnographies of a “tech” startup, a public library, and a charter school to examine how organizations come to chase technological solutions to social problems.
026 Computers, Information, and Decision-Making: A Conversation with Samantha Kleinberg
Samantha Kleinberg, an associate professor of computer science at Stevens Institute of Technology, talks about a book she’s been writing on how we can (and can’t) use information to make better decisions with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. Kleinberg and Vinsel also talk about barriers to artificial intelligence getting dramatically better anytime soon, and why ideas, like “the singularity,” are mere fantasies.
025 Why It's So Hard for Us to Subtract: A Conversation with Leidy Klotz
Leidy Klotz, professor of engineering at the University of Virginia, talks about his book, Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, with Peoples & Things host, Lee Vinsel. As Klotz shows throughout the book, we pile on “to-dos” but don’t consider “stop-doings.” We create incentives for good behavior, but don’t get rid of obstacles to it. We collect new-and-improved ideas, but don’t prune the outdated ones. Every day, across challenges big and small, we neglect a basic way to make things better: we don’t subtract. Klotz’s work sits at a fascinating intersection between engineering, design, and experimental psychology. His pioneering research shows us what is true whether we’re building Lego models, cities, or strategic plans: Our minds tend to add before taking away, and this is holding us back.
024 Inventing American Telecommunications: A Conversation with Richard John
Historian Richard John, professor of journalism at Columbia University, talks about his book, Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications, with Peoples & Things host, Lee Vinsel. Network Nation is a history of the telegraph and telephone in the United States, and one of its key findings is that, from the very beginning of these technologies, thinking about the state, regulation, and ideas of political economy was at the heart of business strategy. John and Vinsel also talk about the nature of historical research and why it is so important to go back to primary sources.
023 War, Plague, and Confession in Fourteenth-Century Provence: A Conversation with Nicole Archambeau
Nicole Archambeau, associate professor of history at Colorado State University, talks about her book, Souls under Siege: Stories of War, Plague, and Confession in Fourteenth-Century Provence (Cornell University Press), with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. The book explores how the inhabitants of southern France made sense of the ravages of successive waves of plague, the depredations of mercenary warfare, and the violence of royal succession. Many people, Archambeau finds, understood both plague and war as the symptoms of spiritual sicknesses caused by excessive sin, and they sought cures in confession. Archambeau and Vinsel also discuss the important lessons historians can teach about working to understand people who are quite different from ourselves.
022The History of Teletherapy: A Conversation with Hannah Zeavin
Hannah Zeavin, lecturer in the department of History and member of the executive committees of both the Center for New Media and the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society at University of California, Berkeley, talks about her book, The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy, with Peoples & Things host, Lee Vinsel. The book tracks the history of teletherapy, which Zeavin defines as therapeutic interaction over distance, and its metamorphosis from a model of cure to one of contingent help. The book starts with letters sent through the mail and ends in our current coronavirus catastrophe. Zeavin and Vinsel also talk about the complexities and potential harms of going back fully in-person, including how it will negatively affect disabled people.
021 Collaborations between Cold War Scientists and Artists: A Conversation with Patrick McCray
Patrick McCray, Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, talks about his book, Making Art Work: How Cold War Engineers and Artists Forged a New Creative Culture, with Peoples & Things host, Lee Vinsel. The book shows how artists eagerly collaborated with engineers and scientists to explore new technologies and create visually and sonically compelling multimedia works after World War II. McCray and Vinsel also discuss how this history connects to more recent developments such as the creation of the MIT Media Lab and so-called “STEAM education.”
020 Business in Socialist Hungary: A Conversation with Phil Scranton
Philip Scranton, University Board of Governors Professor Emeritus of the history of industry and technology at Rutgers University-Camden, talks about his book, Business Practice In Socialist Hungary, Volume 1: Creating The Theft Economy, 1945-1957, with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. Scranton’s book examines how leaders in socialist Hungary planned and developed business enterprises in the shattered post-World War II economy and how workers, farmers, and citizens both supported and resisted these aims. Scranton and Vinsel also talk about what this project means for business history, which has tended to focus far too often on Western, rich, capitalist nations.
019 The History of Electricity in Mexico: A Conversation with Diana Montaño
In her detailed cultural history of technological change, Electrifying Mexico, Diana Montaño argues that ordinary Mexicans became electrifying agents who actively negotiated the extent and manner electricity entered their lives and lived spaces in Mexico City. An Assistant Professor of History at Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. Montaño's teaching and research interests broadly include the construction of modern Latin American societies with a focus on technology and its relationship to nationalism, everyday life, and domesticity.
018 The Archaeology of Innovation: A Conversation with Catherine Frieman
Catherine Frieman, an associate professor of European Archaeology at the School of Archaeology, talks about her recent book, An Archaeology of Innovation: Approaching Social and Technological Change in Human Society, with Peoples & Things host, Lee Vinsel. Her book offers a long-term perspective on innovation that only archaeology can offer and draws on case studies from across human history, from our earliest hominin ancestors to the present. The book makes several different arguments, but one of them is that our present narrow focus on pushing the adoption of technical innovations—especially so called “disruptive innovations”—ignores the complex social, technological, and environmental systems that undergird successful societies.
017 Engineering and Social Justice: A Conversation with Donna Riley
Donna Riley, professor and head of the school of engineering education at Purdue University, talks about her path, her work, and her 2008 book, Engineering and Social Justice, with Peoples & Things host, Lee Vinsel. If technologies and infrastructures embody moral and political values, what should engineering students be taught about their roles in society? Riley and Vinsel also talk about how universities have changed since Riley’s book came out and Riley’s hopes for social justice in engineering education going forward.
016 The History of Temp Work: A Conversation with Louis Hyman
Historian Louis Hyman, professor and director of the Institute of Workplace Studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, talks about his book, Temp: How American Work, American Business, and American Dream Became Temporary, with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. In this conversation, Hyman and Vinsel chat about how most mid-20th century secure jobs were possessed by white men, how temporary work began to rise after World War Two, and how all this led to the gig-based world we inhabit.
015 How Universities Are Plundering Our Cities: A Conversation with Davarian Baldwin
Davarian L. Baldwin is a professor of American studies and founding director of the Smart Cities Lab at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. His latest book, In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities Are Plundering Our Cities (Bold Type Books, 2021) is a wake-up call to the reality that higher education is no longer the ubiquitous public good it was once thought to be. But as Baldwin shows, there is an alternative vision for urban life, one that necessitates a more equitable relationship between our cities and our universities.
014 Deafness "Cures" in History: A Conversation with Jaipreet Virdi
Jaipreet Virdi talks about her book Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. The book details the long history of attempts to “fix” deaf people, including a great deal of quackery. Towards the end of the conversation, Virdi and Vinsel also talk about what a world beyond solutionist fantasies that disability can be “cured” would look like.
013 Trend Forecasting and the Business of the Future: A Conversation with Devon Powers
Devon Powers, a professor of advertising, media, and communication at Temple University, talks about her book, On Trend: The Business of Forecasting the Future with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. Powers’ book examines the world of futurists, cool hunters, and forecasters who sell people advice about tomorrow. Powers and Vinsel discuss about how we should think about the influence of such individuals, given that their predictions are often misleading and inaccurate. They also talk how the making of futures can become more just and inclusive.
012 The Thought of Ivan Illich: A Conversation with L. M. Sacasas
Author L. M. Sacasas talks about the life, thought, and legacy of the Catholic priest, philosopher, and social critic Ivan Illich with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. Sacasas and Vinsel discuss Illich’s critiques of bureaucracy, technology, scale, and expertise and how these critiques apply to medicine, education, our credential society, and life with media technologies.
011 Automating Finance: A Conversation with Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra
Sociologist Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra, a professor at the University of California San Diego, talks about his book Automating Finance: Infrastructures, Engineers, and the Making of Electronic Markets with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. The book traces the long, largely anonymous, and in some senses boring history of how experts applied computers to financial systems since the 1970s, creating a digital infrastructure of the trading world. The conversation also touches on Pardo-Guerra’s more recent work on how systems of quantitative metrics have been applied to the management of universities and what might be done about it.
010 Shoddy - Recycled Textiles in History: A Conversation with Hanna Rose Shell
Historian Hanna Rose Shell, a professor at the University of Colorado – Boulder, talks about her book Shoddy: From Devil’s Dust to the Renaissance of Rags with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. Along the way, Shell raises a number of important and interesting things, including the long history of reuse and recycling and how forms of technology and work become tied to social status. With shoddy, it was the anxieties of low class, low social status work and poverty. Shell also discusses how individual technologies become mirrors for the worries, fears, hatreds, and other feelings of society – how when we look into the history of any technology we often see ourselves reflected back.
009 The Ideology of Innovation: A Conversation with Lilly Irani
Science and Technologies scholar Lilly Irani talks her book, Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India, with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. Irani’s work examines the ideological role that ideas of “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” have played in India and the people who are left behind by such visions. Irani and Vinsel also discuss her other work and activism focusing on the politics of the Bay Area in California, including organization against the digital technology industry.
008 South Korea, Technology, and Globalization: A Conversation with Patrick Chung
Patrick Chung, assistant professor of history at the University of Maryland, talks about his research on the rise of shipping and manufacturing in South Korea with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. Along the way, Chung provides fascinating insights into the role that both the US Department of Defense and local South Korean actors played in globalization.
007 Infrastructure and Inequality: A Conversation with Daniel Armanios
Daniel Armanios, associate professor of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, talks about his work on infrastructure and inequality with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. Armanios’ recent work has focused on coming up with quantitative measures of how infrastructure relates to inequalities around race, gender, and class, both to address historical injustices and to inform future infrastructure construction. Armanios also talks about how he brings these topics into his teaching and his larger project around engineering and social justice.
006 The Politics of Digital Technology: A Conversation with Meredith Whittaker
Meredith Whittaker, co-founder and faculty director of the AI Now Institute and Minderoo Research Professor at New York University, talks about the politics of digital technologies with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. The conversation examines Whittaker’s fascinating career moving between industry and academia, her role in the Google walkout, and her hopes for the future, including the role of social movements in fomenting political change.
005 Artificial Unintelligence - How Computers Misunderstand the World: A Conversation with Meredith Broussard
Data journalist Meredith Broussard talks about her book, Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World, with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. The book how artificial intelligence systems do and don’t work and why people have come to have such unrealistic understandings of the technologies’ capabilities. One central factor is what Broussard calls technochauvinism, “the belief that technology is always the solution.” Broussard also discusses her early career as a computer scientist, why she became her journalist, and her hopes for a more humane technological future.
004 Challenges to Scientific Authority in modern America: A Conversation with Andrew Jewett
Andrew Jewett is the author of Science Under Fire: Challenges to Scientific Authority in Modern America (2020) and Science, Democracy, and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War (2012). He has taught at Harvard, Yale, NYU, Vanderbilt, and Boston College and held fellowships from the National Humanities Center, the Cornell Society for the Humanities, the National Academy of Education, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
003 Understanding Technology Bubbles: A Conversation with Brent Goldfarb and David Kirsch
Brent Goldfarb and David Kirsch, professors of entrepreneurship and strategy at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, talk about their book, Bubbles and Crashes: The Boom and Bust of Technological Innovation, with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. Bubbles and Crashes puts forward a parsimonious model of how and when economic bubbles develop around new technologies. In the conversation, Goldfarb and Kirsch reflect on a variety of topics, including why it matters that Elon Musk is such a good storyteller, whether we are currently in a technology bubble, and what we can do to prevent bubbles in the future.
002 Poverty, Race, and Rural Sanitation: A Conversation with Catherine Coleman Flowers
Catherine Coleman Flowers, activist, author, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, and MacArthur “genius prize” winner, talks about her book Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. Waste examines the brutal realities of rural sanitation issues, particularly the lack of septic tanks, and how they affect poor, often black, people. Flowers also reflects on growing up in Lowndes County, Alabama and how her family, the Civil Rights Movement, and her faith life led her to be the leader she is today.
001 The History of Household Technology from Open Hearth to the Microwave: A Conversation with Ruth Schwartz Cowan
Historian Ruth Schwartz Cowan talks about her book, More Work for Mother, with Peoples & Things host Lee Vinsel. The book examines the history of how Americans industrialized their homes over the past two hundred years and how supposedly labor-saving technologies led women to do increased housework. Cowan also reflects on what it was like to work as a professor as a woman and mother in the 1970s and how families have changed their relationship to technology and housework in the nearly forty years since the book was published.