The Tomato, the telephone and the toilet

We live in a “technological age”. But which technologies have played the most important roles in producing our modern civilization?

Which have most radically transformed our way of life?

Industrial engineering, the space research programme, computers and communications technology?


Of course, yet certain unobtrusive everyday technologies have been just as fundamental in producing the modern self: try to imagine your life without the toilet, a humble technological device which some would argue is the foundation of modern civilization and the enabler of modern being.

 Domestic technologies shape the way we see ourselves and relate to others, as well as the way we live and our impact on the planet. Middle-class domestic technologies help build a shared culture and a sense of family togetherness, but they also generate inequality and instability. Our refrigerators hold tomatoes and strawberries engineered so that they are never out of season; supermarkets replace check-out staff with barcode readers. Social media keep families together every minute of the day and photos chart every step of our lives: they include but also exclude. Our newsfeeds bring us only the opinions we already hold, and thanks to digital technology many of us no longer need to leave the home to work or to shop: a click or two and the groceries will be delivered to the front-door by a person you will never meet again. Toilets, washing machines and recycling bins whisk away our filth and waste so efficiently that we can ignore the by-products of consumer culture; more than ever, being “dirty” is considered a sign of moral failure, and one reason homeless people are stigmatized is because they lack facilities to keep clean.

 Many people are now worried about the environmental impact of this convenient, comfortable lifestyle. Its social, political and geopolitical impact are equally disquieting. This project focuses on the micro- and macro-politics of our everyday family lives through household technologies or technical artefacts including the tomato (food), the telephone (communication) and the toilet (hygiene).