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The Frailest Thing: Ten Years of Thinking About the Meaning of Technology

In the fall of 2009, as the age of blogs was already fading, I launched The Frailest Thing as a space to think out loud as I worked my way through a graduate program in technology studies. In the years since, I sought to think about the challenges posed by emerging technologies, particularly digital media, in light of insights offered by scholars and thinkers from a variety of disciplines, past and present. Lewis Mumford, Neil Postman, Hannah Arendt, Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, Langdon Winner, and Walter Ong are among the those whose work has informed my analysis and reflection as I sought to clarify the political, cultural, and moral consequences of technological change. Ten years and 800 posts later, it was time to bring the enterprise to a close. 

What you have here are 100 dispatches spanning that decade of thinking and writing about how technology sustains, mediates, and conditions our experience. These are the essays that, in my view, have remained useful exercises in thinking about the meaning of technology. Prominent themes include the relationship of technology to politics, memory and time, ethics, and the experience of the self.

I've made the work available at no cost, you're welcome to it. You are also able to pay whatever amount you like for it, should you so desire. Either way, if you find the work helpful, consider letting others know about it and rating the e-book here. 

Thanks for reading.

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"For more than ten years, Michael Sacasas has been one of the most penetrating and stimulating critics of digital technology, probing its social, personal, and moral consequences. This book, which brings together his best work, is essential for anyone seeking to understand the human condition today.” 

— Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows and The Glass Cage

"If there ever was anything like the golden age of blogging, that time has passed. As a sign of the times, Michael Sacasas is no longer writing “The Frailest Thing,” a blog that ran for a decade and played a fundamental role in shaping how I, and so many others, made sense of the changing technological landscape and the place of humanity within it. While so much online commentary oozes outrage and snark, Sacasas chose to follow a different path. Motivated by curiosity, tempered by reverence for the value of history, and committed to patiently unpacking nuanced issues concerning aesthetic, moral, political, and religious values, Sacasas established himself as the public philosopher of technology. This collection of 100 posts is a testament to Sacasas’s rare ability to have thought aloud online without presenting quick-takes that have short shelf-lives. It’s truly a gem that means as much today as when each of the posts was authored. I can’t recommend it highly enough."
— Evan Selinger, Prof. Philosophy, Rochester Institute of Technology  

"LM Sacasas' writing has been so helpful to me in thinking about the role of technology in society that I bought two copies of his book. Check it out." 

— Adrian Chen, journalist

"There has been many a philosophical full court press on the character of technology. I’m not sure they have done much to change a culture that is urgently in need of transformation. Michael’s persistent and unassuming explorations will have a better chance—that’s my hope. Michael has a deep understanding of the troubling and unasked questions that haunt people, explicitly as well as implicitly. The Frailest Thing will give them the brief and incisive reflections that can daily clarify and console daily lives."

— Albert Borgmann, Regents Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Montana


"For ten years, L.M. Sacasas’ The Frailest Thing offered us many of the most powerful, nuanced, and profound ruminations to be found on the relationship between technology and our moral and political lives — the acute frailty of which both history and the present moment urgently remind us. It was here that I happened upon the very first blog piece that I was compelled to assign to my students, one that endured on my syllabus as other works of transient interest dropped away. The Frailest Thing continued to provoke new thoughts from my students year after year, prompting them to spend time with the works of Arendt, Ellul, Mumford and others whose echoes in The Frailest Thing gave historical depth and texture to a subject that is so often treated as if it were invented yesterday. Sacasas’ work is a model of writing that truly expresses thought – the work refuses to sacrifice clarity and elegance for needlessly arcane and performative scholarly jargon, yet also refuses to ask any less of the reader than sincere, attentive adults are capable of giving. The Frailest Thing showed us what contemporary writing and thinking about technology, culture, and ethics could be, and still can be."

— Shannon Vallor, Baillie Gifford Chair in the Ethics of Data and Artificial Intelligence, University of Edinburgh


"An extraordinarily humane, wide-ranging and intelligent collection of readings, ideas and insights. I came away from this book stimulated, delighted and humbled by the depth and breadth of its author's reading — and the passionate integrity of his search for richer and more telling ways of understanding our relationships with and through technology."

— Tom Chatfield, writer, broadcaster and tech philosopher

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