Sex, Bombs, and Burgers, by Peter Nowak: Where Would Technology Be Without War, Porn, and Food?

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 6 2012 5:40 PM

Sex, Bombs, and Burgers, by Peter Nowak: Where Would Technology Be Without War, Porn, and Food?

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Picture taken November 25, 2010 in a Paris restaurant of a hamburger and French fries plate. AFP PHOTO FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images

The military’s role in creating technologies like the Internet is well-documented. And who hasn’t heard tell of the adult film industry’s pivotal role in deciding the VHS/Betamax format wars?

But these straightforward narratives miss the more complex ecosystem that gives rise to modern technology, says technology writer Peter Nowak. In his new book Sex, Bombs, and Burgers: How War, Pornography, and Fast Food Have Shaped Modern Technology, Nowak explores the tangled ways that the military, food, and pornography have mingled to create our current technological landscape. To eat, to battle, to reproduce—they are some of our most basic motivations, and that’s reflected in our gadgets, says Nowak. He traces the ways the three fields collide and intersect. Take the video camera: “The most surprising by-product of the Second World War has to be the creation of the modern pornography industry,” Nowak writes. The military invested heavily in handheld, relatively durable cameras so soldiers could, after only brief training, capture images of war. Companies also learned how to make those cameras more cheaply. The scene was set for the amateur pornographer—which in turn set the scene for the amateur home videographer. Likewise, we have World War II’s demand for cheap, long-lasting food to thank for Spam, microwave ovens, and fast-food French fries.

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Next up: robots. The military is investing in them. At least some people are interested in making love with them. And anyone who has ever watched The Jetsons has longed for a robotic cook. But maybe the sex robot and the cook robot shouldn’t be the same machine.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

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