Exploding the black box: personal computing, the notebook battery crisis, and postindustrial systems thinking

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Historians of science and technology have generally ignored the role of power sources in the development of consumer electronics. In this they have followed the predilections of historical actors. Research, develop- ment, and manufacturing of batteries has historically occurred at a social and intellectual distance from the research, development, and manufactur- ing of the devices they power. Nevertheless, power source technoscience should properly be understood as an allied yet estranged field of electronics. The separation between the fields has had important consequences for the design and manufacturing of mobile consumer electronics. This paper ex- plores these dynamics in the co-construction of notebook batteries and com- puters. In so doing, it challenges assumptions of historians and industrial engineers and planners about the nature of computer systems in particular and the development of technological systems. The co-construction of note- book computers and batteries, and the occasional catastrophic failure of their compatibility, challenges systems thinking more generally.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)368-391
Number of pages24
JournalTechnology & Culture
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2017



  • notebook computers
  • batteries
  • postindustrial innovation

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