Major projects

Retooling explores how the most important twentieth-century technology became the vexing riddle of the twenty-first century.

There is little doubt that the automobile defined the twentieth century, almost exactly ushering in the century with Carl Benz’s and Henry Ford’s “horseless carriage” innovations. From the first, the car’s place in society and in individual lives was also manufactured — sometimes carefully, but often haphazardly.

The car propels human beings into a future, a transforming power that solidly has rooted the car in American identity and dictated the shape of American society.

Part a personal meditation of the author and his sons as they take on a challenging “project car,” part a deeply researched examination of the expansive personal and social echoes of automobile technology, the book reveals personal entanglements the car has created in art, in media, in work, in human relationships — and how we might confront problems the car has delivered to us in the twenty-first century.

Others have described the material results of the car — its key role in suburban sprawl, its economic impact and transformation of the American marketplace and cityscape, for example. Retooling examines internal bonds of human identity and of culture with the automobile. Nostalgia, human inertia, and culture constitute the glue that make cars so sticky in America.

John G. Zimmerman, 1979. Photo by Greg Zimmerman

“Automotive triptych: Three views through John G. Zimmerman’s Lenses” calls upon the extensive photographic riches of the John G. Zimmerman Archive and deep resources on twentieth-century advertising from the Duke University’s John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History. The essay examines Zimmerman’s distinctive talent as he applied to three main types of commercial photography as the car sped through America’s optimistic 1950s and tumultuous 1960s. The richly illustrated essay will appear in a collection edited by Edward Timke, PhD, (Michigan State University) and Linda Zimmerman, PhD, (John G. Zimmerman Archive). The working title of the book is Behind the Lens: The Advertising Photography of John G. Zimmerman.

Technocomplex, a Substack newsletter, was begun at the request of students in my technology seminar, and it has since grown to include essays that go to the edges of human experience with technology and the products that they create together.

Subscriptions to Technocomplex are free. Posts appear weekly through most of the year, with a more relaxed bi-weekly schedule in summer. They are “notes, links, and experiments” from an inquiring mind. A sample of posts is available.

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About Me

I currently am working on three major writing projects. These projects explore ways that technology, broadly conceived, influences culture and society. As part of the focus on these influences, I am involved in a group devoted to studying and promoting “arts practices,” which concretely integrate technologies and human meaning. Broadly educated and formally trained in literature and history, I continue to teach a seminar at Duke University, from which I retired in 2021.

My Substack newsletter, Technocomplex, features essays and podcasts drawn from a wide perspective on society and culture. During fall semesters, the newsletter focuses more intently on how individuals and societies choose, limit, develop, and discard technologies. Get more information and a sampling of links to essays.