Posted by: deirdrea | November 25, 2008

WLSLearns, Thing #5. Technology, & Glass Cactus by Leopold & Rudolph Blaschka

Hi, again, everyone!

You may be wondering why I am displaying this beautiful flower to illustrate a blog about technology. To me, though, this photo encapsulates my thoughts on the subject almost better than anything I could write.
(A picture is worth a thousand words, right?)

This cactus is one of the famous glass flowers that the father/son team of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka created for Harvard’s botany classes back in the late 19th – early 20th centuries. When I was in grad. school, I got to process the contents of their glass making studio for one of my internships. It was awesome beyond belief! I loved learning about the Blaschkas, who practiced a traditional craft (technology!) with consummate skill, in a way that perfectly combined science with art.

(I hope you can all follow me here — there is indeed a point to my ramblings! Well, let me continue…)

SO… thinking about this assignment made me think about the Blashkas again, because it made me realize once again how inseperable technology of all kinds is from human existence.

To digress just a little bit further. ….For me, one of the most eye-opening experiences I ever had regarding technology occured in high school. I was in a history class, and we were reading primary sources on English history — The Anglo Saxon Chronicles, etc. One of the books we had to read was “The Making of the English Landscape,” by Hoskins (I think this was the book). Among the many things we discussed in that class was the invention of the horse collar, and how that revolutionized farming, transportation, and building, and completely transformed the land. And I started to realize that even the most “natural” landscapes are often essentially “man-made.”

BTW, is it time for another picture? Here’s a nice one of an ox team. You can see how the yoke works — and how it wouldn’t work so well on horses!

OK, so I’m travelling very far afield here. Now to relate all this back to our assignment.

By musing on technology, I came to an important realization: I am a geek! It’s true! I might seem like some kind of nature-girl, luddite-type-woman-person. But I am indeed a geek. In fact, I am a librarian — and that means I am an UEBER GEEK! (or rapidly becoming one, I hope).

And what I’ve learned so far from this class is that technology=human inventiveness. And you really have to explore it thoroughly in order to exploit it to the best advantage.

For me, the most illuminating exercise so far has been “Bloglines” and RSS feeds. In the past, I’ve used these only to get information OUT. (Podcasts, for instance). But, like streets, feeds go both directions! Now, for the first time, I’m using them to bring information to me — and this really does save me time!



  1. Now I think *you* win the prize for most articulate! That’s a really interesting concept, that so much of what we humans do can be considered technology. And I love the pictures, especially that cactus – hard to believe it’s made of glass!

  2. Great post, Mary. I think you would enjoy this 15 minute interview with Kevin Kelly, who looks at the word from the perspective of technology, and in response to the question, ‘what does technology want’, answers — ‘efficiency, increasing diversity, complexity, specialization’. kind of like life itself. (‘he also says humans are the sexual organs of technology’, which is a pretty fascinating concept.

    I have to learn more about horse collars! john

  3. whoops! Deirdre — i was reading Mary’s comment just before the comment and put her name in instead of yours! sorry. john

  4. Thanks, John!

    I’ll definitely check out that vid, as soon as I get to a computer that will play it — sounds fascinating!

    Sort of along the same lines, there’s an awesome book, The Trout Pool Paradox, that really illuminates how human activity shapes — and has always shaped –the local landscape. (Well, local to me, I mean!) One thing I found fascinating in the book was George Black’s discussion of how the Shepaug people managed forestry. The American Chesnut woods 400 years ago must have been an awesome sight!
    But here I am waffling again — I was about to start on how much I loved Terrence Malick’s movie “The New World….” ;-D. But I’ll stop now — have to get back to work!
    Thanks again, John, & I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!


  5. Really enjoyed this post – and all your revelations! Glad that you’ve embraced your ueber geekiness!

    Love your avatar!

  6. Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it 😀

    (and it’s a somewhat tentative embrace, but still…;-D)

    & I ADORE your avatar, as you know.

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