In Alex Gibney’s 2015 documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, a number of technology whizzes—Jobs included—make solemn pronouncements about how they expect Apple products to change the world. The validity of these remarks is arguable: much as I like my iPhone and would not want to go without it, I would not claim that it has changed my life so much as it has simplified tasks that I previously handled in different, less efficient ways. The comments in the movie stand as instances of the technological fallacy: the idea that technologies inevitably alter the development of the societies that employ them.

Mark Kurlansky is an ardent opponent of that idea, and he spends a goodly portion of his new book, Paper: Paging through History, refuting the proposition and demonstrating the means by which societies have adapted...


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