The primary goal of these authors is to establish the reciprocal relationship between Modernity and Technology as a legitimate object of study, which fits with the original context of the papers, a conference in the Netherlands in 1999. So they are selling "Modernity and Technology." It's always good to read the fine print of any offer, so I found the conclusion by Rip to be more helpful than the four introductory papers in explaining what they were about with this collection. For me, the undercurrent might be called "post-relevance," because either they assume that things are pretty OK in today's world, or they wish the target audience (Deans? Potential funders of interdisciplinary programs?) to think that they think things are OK.
Some thoughts about Modernity vs. Modernism vs. the Modern as engaged in the book.
For us to perceive ourselves as Modern, we have to have consciousness of a history distinct from the present day. The present has to be seen as tangibly different from the past. Once a culture has embraced the consciousness of history, there is no going back, as the post-historians (Francis Fukuyama) are starting to acknowledge.
Modernity seems to be more global than "the Modern"; that is, Modernity includes up-to-date-ness, hipness, currency, attractiveness, glamor. How could there be a Post-"modernity"; who wouldn't want all these good things?
As for Modernism as a cultural or artistic movement, the identification of the Modern movement as a formalist reaction against Realism (Brey, p. 36) is wrong: modern art including abstraction began with Realism and incorporates its conventions. Realism is still the dominant way of representing reality in popular culture. In familiar parlance, it is convenient to identify Modernism in art with the period 1905-1975, with its peak in the 1920s and 1930s. The problem with this usage is that the culture, especially the popular culture of the '20s and '30s displayed all the characteristics-(p. 44:) "consumerism, commodification, the simulation of knowledge and experience...." that Brey identifies with the post-modern.
Rip acknowledges that the offer of Modernity as a topic is deliberately misleading; the real issue is whether technology is playing a modernizing role, that is, is helping to improve the quality of life in contemporary society.
Where the authors become vague is in identifying the controlling hand of technology. As Brey and Feenberg have it, that is a space for theory. I was happy to see that Feenberg touches on the conflict between operationalism and any issue that might lead to opposition. In this space between theory and a systems approach there does not appear to be much room for political action.
The distance learning issue is one we need to discuss in class. For those who are working or plan to work in libraries, you may find your institution depending for support on maintaining a distance learning program of some kind.