TL;DR I uploaded my MP3s of Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology to the Internet Archive where you can listen to it, or add it to your podcast player using this URL:

Back when I was starting out in the PhD program at UMD I ran across the work of Ursula Franklin. News of her passing was circulating in social media at the time. This is when I encountered her Massey Lectures, which I listened to, and enjoyed greatly. I can see looking back that listening to these lectures is what made me double down on the Science and Technology Studies angle in my own research.

At any rate, a colleague and friend of mine (hey Adam) recently found himself looking for the lectures because they disappeared from the CBC website. He ran ran across an old tweet that mentioned I had extracted MP3s from the Flash that the CBC published:

I still had these stashed away on and was about to zip them up to send to Adam, but then thought that maybe it would be good to make them publicly available now that they are no longer publicly available. This didn’t seem like too much of an risk since the CBC is a public broadcaster, and was making the content available for free before.

So, I uploaded the audio to the Internet Archive, and was in the middle of writing a description for the Internet Archive item when I noticed something weird. The book says that there are six lectures and the CBC website only made five recordings available. I thought maybe some of the recordings could include more than one night? Or perhaps there was one missing? But after spending a few hours correlating the text of the 2nd edition with the recordings I came to realize a few things:

  1. The 2nd edition of the book supposedly only adds new content in Chapters 7-10, and leaves Chapters 1-6 from the 1st edition as is. But chapters 1-6 greatly depart from the lecture recordings in multiple places. It would be a major bit of work to analyze all the places where they diverge. Although come to think of it, that would be an interesting research project. Perhaps the 1st edition is closer to the recordings–but I wasn’t able to get a hold of one quickly. If I had to guess I would say chapters 1-6 are identical in both editions, and that the differences between the recordings and the books were introduced when the lectures were first put into print. It could be also that Franklin wrote up the lectures, and then improvised a bit when reading them?

  2. The Wikipedia page says that the Massey Lectures are an “annual five-part series” which corroborates how there were only five recordings on the CBC website. Of course Wikipedia is Wikipedia, but a bit of looking around at other Massey lectures seemed to confirm that they are five episodes instead of six I listened to how each lecture started and ended, and heard the announcer say at the end which number in the series it was. The 4th seemed to flow directly into the final one. So perhaps when creating the book manuscript Franklin restructured the text so significantly that it created an additional chapter, and whoever wrote the preface aligned the number of lectures with the number of chapters, making five lectures into six lectures? It’s actually kind of hard to say. If you have any knowledge please drop it on me.

So I am pretty uncomfortable saying that the recordings are complete, even though I’m sure they represented what was on the CBC website. There are no recordings on the website now so it doesn’t lend much confidence.

Update: 2020-02-08: Peter Binkley was able to confirm that it was in fact five lectures.

Ottawa Citizen, November 17, 1989.

Here is a little taste of what was cut from the book (at least the 2nd edition). It’s from Lecture 4 and starts at 49:07. I’m including it because it’s quite pessimistic about the current state of human technology and its historical arc, and points to a revolution in thinking that needs to happen if the human race is to survive. Remember, this is coming from a scientist:

I think that it is there that I would like to close. I think when we look at this real world of technology, and how we can conduct ourselves as human beings, responsibly, and compassionately, and intelligently, then we see a number of very real tasks, both within our communities, within the relationship between people, but also in the relationship between our community with nature. As I said at the beginning of these lectures, I do feel quite strongly, and you don’t need to share that feeling, that we have come to the end of a historical period in which technology was helpful and useful to meet human needs over the last two or three hundred years. Kenneth Boulding once said “Nothing fails as well as success”, and in that he meant that one risks failure when something that works is carried on beyond the point of it’s appropriate usefuleness. And I think in terms of technology we have come to that point.

Although it appears that Boulding was citing Chesterton?

On the subject of nothing failing like success: if you like documentaries definitely check out Honeyland. It’s about a beekeeper in Macedonia, who understands not to be too successful at her trade, in order to continue to live.

Anyhow, that’s probably a lot of details about the lectures that you didn’t want to know. But if you haven’t listened to them before and want to, maybe I’ve made it a bit easier. You can find them here:

Internet Archive do lots of cool stuff with your media uploads but I couldn’t seem to find a way to get it to emit Podcast RSS. So I hand-rolled an RSS file which you could drop into your Podcast App of choice (if it still lets add a podcast by URL):