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We live surrounded by objects and systems that we take for granted, but which profoundly affect the way we behave, think, work, play and in general conduct our lives and those of our children. Look, for example, at the place in which you are reading this book now, and see how much of what surrounds you is understandable, how much of it you could either build yourself or repair should it cease to function. When we start the car, or press the button in an elevator, we give no thought to the complex devices and systems that make the car move, or the elevator rise. During this century we have become increasingly dependent on the products of technology. They have already changed our lives: at the simplest level, the availability of transport has made us physically less fit than our ancestors. Many people are alive only because they have been given immunity to disease through drugs. We can neither feed, nor clothe, nor keep ourselves warm without technology.

The objects and systems produced by technology to perform these services operate independently and impersonally. Step across the road into the path of an oncoming vehicle and your life may depend on the accuracy with which the brakes were fitted by someone you do not know and will never meet. A frost in Brazil may change your coffee-drinking habits by making the price prohibitive. Where we once lived isolated and secure, leading our own limited lives whose forms were shaped and controlled by elements with which we were intimately acquainted, we are now vulnerable to change which is beyond our own experience and control.