I began with the question what did we not "get to" on Friday?:
TITLE Imagining tomorrow : history, technology, and the American future / edited by Joseph J. Corn. PUBLISHER Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c1986. SUBJECT Technology. Science Library T20 .I43 1986and that started a variety of hares:
Utopians: what is it that they offer, or seek? (reform, perfection of society; often, technology was the means, the panacea, for solution of social problems perceived)... explore how to investigate words like 'panacea' ...digression on the OED as a tool... but of course the array of utopian thought goes far beyond the technological -- among the pivots have been taxation, socialism, religion, eugenics, communitarianism, revolution...
Mastery of Nature --in the late 19th century, often by Electricity (and grasping how Electricity was viewed in the 50 years 1880-1930 makes an interesting challenge... and the process of Electrification and its assorted consequences...)
Buildings (and architecture and city planning) have often been an articulated part of the utopian vision (and Suburbia and Levittown and such-like planned communities were post-WWII utopian schemes). Bucky Fuller...
Efficient transportation and communication systems another common ingredient (and wasn't the Interstate highway system seen as part of the realization of a utopian dream... as well as a means to move military equipment in times of national crisis) Robert Moses? Technocrats?
Household devices [intended/alleged] to save labor --electric washers, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, etc... and air conditioning as a utopian dream realized
Utopian visions usually simplify --leaving out things, institutions, etc. that are inconvenient to the Vision. And the Visions generally say more about the times in which they are articulated than they really do about the future. (Alvin Toffler, and Gingrich as disciple? --another in a long series of visionaries and their acolytes)
Corn notes the "penchant for extravagant prediction" (1986:219), and 3 common fallacies of utopians:
(among utopians to consider: BF Skinner Walden II; and anti-utopians: Orwell and Huxley... but plenty of others)
?A shift from "machines ushering in a better tomorrow" in the 1960s, toward "a more skeptical and anxious viewpoint" (Corn 1986:2)
X-ray as medicine's first complex machine --look at what the technology was supposed/expected to accomplish, and how people wrote and thought about that.
Tenor/temper of the Times: opposed groups, forces, segments of society change over time, and the succession is worth a look
Vannevar Bush As We May Think for eventual class reading
Not bad for 4-5 hours of messing about.
It occurred to me that science fiction is an interesting venue for thinking and writing about utopias, and a useful reflecting pool for studies of American notions of technology, present and future. Here's a list of titles from Annie --wish I had time to follow up on this idea. My own background in scifi reading isn't exactly comprehensive, but has tended to concentrate on fairly proximal stuff, less on to-the-stars and intergalactic warfare or BEMs [that's the accepted acronym for "bug-eyed monsters", referring to a genre of scifi that leans heavily on aliens]. Writers like John Brunner, Bruce Sterling, William Gibson...
My attention is drawn to a movement of the 1920s-1930s, of which I must have heard before, but which I had never had occasion to explore: the Technocrats. Several books from my weekend Annie search have material on this footnote to American history, and I mean to explore and summarize this line of thought. It looks like it's sensible to see the Technocrats as an offshoot of "scientific management" that produced a "planning" line which got its start in the 1890s, bloomed into the forerunners of modern urban and regional planning, and extended into an effort to conceptualize national planning --a Utopian ideal if there ever was one. This line of inquiry probably wants its own technocracy weblet.
Since the term 'utopia' originated with Sir Thomas More, his work of the same name is worth a look. There's a version available online via Columbia, and for our purposes the section OF THEIR TRADES, AND MANNER OF LIFE (Book II) is probably the most relevant.
Note, by the way, that 'utopia' really means "nowhere", not "goodwhere" (which would be 'eutopia').