Eotechnic, Paleotechnic, and Neotechnic

Eotechnic, Paleotechnic, and Neotechnic

 

The idea of resurrecting old technologies in a modern context is also suggested byMumford’s periodization of technological history in

Technics and Civilization in the first phase (AD 1000 to 1800) Mumford starts technically-civilized life off with the clock, to him the most important basis for the development of capitalism because time becomesfungible. The clock is the most important prototype for all other machines. He contrasts the development and use of glass, wood, wind and water with the inhumanly horrific work that goes in to mining and smelting metal.  Mumford divided late medieval and modern technological development into three considerably over-lapping periods: the eotechnic, paleotechnic, and neotechnic.

 

The original technological revolution of the late Middle Ages, the eotechnic, was as-sociated with the skilled craftsmen of the free towns, and eventually incorporated the fruitsof investigation by the early scientists. It began with agricultural innovations like the horsecollar, horseshoe and crop rotation. In mechanics, its greatest achievements were clockworkmachinery and the intensive use of water and wind power. It achieved great advances inthe use of wood and glass, masonry, and paper (the latter including the printing press). Theagricultural advances of the early second millennium were further built on by the innova-tions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, like raised bed horticulture and The original technological revolution of the late Middle Ages, the eotechnic, was as-sociated with the skilled craftsmen of the free towns, and eventually incorporated the fruitsof investigation by the early scientists. It began with agricultural innovations like the horsecollar, horseshoe and crop rotation. In mechanics, its greatest achievements were clockworkmachinery and the intensive use of water and wind power. It achieved great advances inthe use of wood and glass, masonry, and paper (the latter including the printing press). The agricultural advances of the early second millennium were further built on by the innova-tions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, like raised bed horticulture and green-houses. green-houses.

 

The eotechnic phase was supplanted or crowded out in the early modern period bythe paleotechnic revolution. Paleotechnic was associated with the new centralized state andits privileged economic clients, and centered on mining, iron, coal, and steam power. Itculminated in the “dark satanic mills” of the nineteenth century and the giant corpora-tions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth. Although the paleotechnic incorporatedsome contributions from the eotechnic period, it was a fundamental departure in direction,and involved the abandonment of a rival path of development. Technology was developedin the interests of the new royal absolutists, mercantilist industry and the factory systemthat grew out of it, and the new capitalist agriculturists (especially the Whig oligarchy of England); it incorporated only those eotechnic contributions that were compatible withthe new tyrannies, and abandoned the rest

 

The beginning of the neotechnic period was associated, among other things, with theinvention of the prerequisites for electrical power—the dynamo, the alternator, the storagecell, the electric motor—along with the development of small-scale electric productionmachinery suitable for the small shop and power tools suitable for household production.Electricity made possible the use of virtually any form of energy, indirectly, as a primemover for production: combustibles of all kinds, sun, wind, water, even temperature differ-entials. (Mumford, Technics and Civilization pp.214-221)

 

The typical factory, through the early 20 th century, had machines lined up in longrows, “a forest of leather belts one arising from each machine, looping around a long metalshaft running the length of the shop,” all dependent on the factory’s central power plant.The neotechnic revolution made it possible to run free-standing machines off of smallelectric motors.( Mumford Technics and Civilization p.225)

 

The decentralizing potential of small-scale, electrically powered machinery was thecentral theme of Kropotkin’s Fields, Factories and Workshops  Even before the introduction of electrical power, Kropotkin wrote, petty industry in small, wheel-powered workshops co-existed with large-scale industry. But with electricity “distributed in the houses for bring-ing into motion small motors of from one-quarter to twelve horse-power,” workers wereable to leave the small workshops to work in their houses.

 

More important, by freeingmachinery up from a single prime mover, it ended all limits on where the small workshopsthemselves could be located. The primary basis for economy of scale, as it existed in thenineteenth century, was the need to economize on horsepower—a justification that van-ished when the distribution of electrical power eliminated reliance on a single source of power.