Home' Technology Review : March April 2008 Contents FROM THE EDITOR
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW MARCH/ APRIL
FROM THE EDITOR
On November 20, 1917, at the Battle of Cambrai, a new
technology was used successfully for the first time.
In a plan conceived by a young British sta o cer
named J. F. C. Fuller, hundreds of tanks advanced on
astonished German trenches. The gains of the British Army were
soon lost, but within the year Fuller had planned the tank opera-
tions at the Battle of Amiens. There, British tanks broke through
the German lines and were followed by Allied infantry, who held
the ground thus taken. The Battle of Amiens ended the stalemate
of trench warfare and led to the end of the First World War.
After the war, through command of an experimental mecha-
nized brigade, in books, and in journalism (often in collabo-
ration with the British military historian Sir Basil Liddell Hart),
Fuller urged the British Army to prepare for a di erent kind of
war. Fuller believed that tanks should be used in concentrated
formations for their shocking capacity to penetrate the enemy's
defenses. But the British General Sta thought tanks should be
used in support of infantry---despite the successes at Cambrai
and Amiens, where they had led the advances.
Yet if Fuller and Liddell Hart were unappreciated at home,
they found an audience abroad in one imaginative o cer, Heinz
Wilhelm Guderian, who translated their work into German and
agitated for the adoption of their ideas by the Wehrmacht.
In his autobiography, Panzer Leader, Guderian wrote that in
1929, "I became convinced that tanks working on their own or in
conjunction with infantry could never achieve decisive impor-
tance. ... What was needed were armored divisions which would
include the supporting arms needed to allow the tanks to fight
with full e ect." He got his way: starting in May 1940, Guderian
led a German armored corps in its blitzkrieg ("lightning war")
through the Ardennes forest, a campaign that ended with the fall
of France and the evacuation of the British Army at Dunkirk.
Guderian was 51 in 1940, but he had preserved a quality of mind
that seems to atrophy in many of us as we grow older: the capacity
to be unconfounded by new technologies. Guderian was not
merely an enthusiast of the new technology of tanks. He did with-
out resistance what Fuller had unsuccessfully entreated his own
generals to do: think creatively about how they might be used.
In "A Technology Surges" (p. 70), David Talbot provides a
modern analogue in his account of a new military intelligence
network called TIGR (or Tactical Ground Reporting System).
Developed by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency, TIGR is a "map-centric application that junior o cers
can study before going on patrol and add to upon returning." It
is part of a broader e ort the military calls "network-centric war-
fare," in which information is swiftly relayed to soldiers. TIGR is
popular with junior o cers because it allows them to exchange
information in a way that recalls the "peer production" common
to wikis, rather than relying on whatever information a battalion
intelligence o cer chooses to disseminate. Yet as John Arquilla,
a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School
and a leading proponent of network organization in the military,
writes on page 12 ("Network Warfare"), "These technologies are
wonders, but generally they have not been accompanied by shifts
in military doctrine and organization. ... New organizational
forms and practices must develop along with new tools."
For anyone who has invested a lifetime in understanding the
uses and benefits of a technology that has become outmoded,
it can be supremely hard to think creatively about a new tech-
nology. Our di culty is that we have powerful emotional reasons
to dismiss its capacity to disrupt our established ways.
Elsewhere in the magazine Jason Epstein provides a di erent
example of this melancholy truth ("What's Wrong with the Kindle,"
p. 12). Epstein may be the greatest living publisher: at Random
House, where he was editorial director for more than 40 years,
he invented the modern paperback, and he cofounded the New
York Review of Books and the Library of America. He is certain
there will be no large market for electronic readers like Amazon's
Kindle (see one cracked open on page 94). Epstein understands
that the digital transmission of books is an established fact, but
he believes that "the most rational form of digital transmission
is not an electronic reader posing as a book but an actual library-
quality paperback that has been printed, bound, and trimmed
at low cost on demand, created from a digital file at point of sale
by a machine like an ATM." In this, he is like the British generals
who understood that the tank was an important new technology,
but not that it would change warfare.
How can we stay young? How can we be unconfounded by
2008's "10 Emerging Technologies" (p. 51)? Certainly, we must not
suspend our critical faculties: not all the scenarios suggested by
such technologies are equally plausible, and something of the
past always leaks into the future. But we should try to be as little
attached to the past as teenagers, and to satisfy our creativity not
in the disparagement of new technology but in the contempla-
tion of how it might change our lives. Write and tell me what you
think at email@example.com. ---Jason Pontin
How to Stay Young
THE EASY PART IS UNDERSTANDING A NEW TECHNOLOGY;
WHAT'S HARDER IS TO THINK CREATIVELY ABOUT IT.
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