With respect to the soil itself, the neotechnic phase produced important conservative changes. One of them was the utilization once more of human excrement for fertilizers, in contrast with the reckless method of befouling stream and tidal water and dissipating the precious nitrogenous compounds. The sewage utilization plants of neotechnic practice, most extensively and systematically introduced perhaps in Germany, not merely avoid the misuse of the environment, but actually enrich it and help bring it to a higher state of cultivation. The presence of such plants is one of the distinguishing characteristics of a neotechnic environment. The second important advance was in the fixation of nitrogen. At the end of the nineteenth century the existence of agriculture seemed threatened by the approaching exhaustion of the Chile nitrate beds. Shortly after this various processes for fixing nitrogen were discovered: the arc process (1903) required cheap electric power: but the synthetic ammonia process, introduced by Haber in 1910, gave a new use to the coke oven. But equally typical of the new technology was the discovering of the nitrogen-forming bacteria at the root-nodules of certain plants like pea and clover and soy bean: some of these plants had been used by the Romans and Chinese for soil regeneration: but now their specific function in restoring nitrogen was definitely established. With this discovery one of the paleotechnic nightmares-that of imminent soil-exhaustion-disappeared. These alternative processes typify another neotechnic fact: namely, that the technical solution it offers for its problems is not confined necessarily to a physical or mechanical means: electro-physics offers one solution, chemistry another, bacteriology and plant physiology still a third. (Mumford 1934:257)
Plainly, the fixation of nitrogen was a far greater contribution to the efficiency of agriculture than any of the excellent devices that speeded up the processes of ploughing, harrowing, sowing, cultivating, or harvesting. Knowledge of this sort-like the knowledge of the desirable shapes for moving bodies-is characteristic of the neotechnic phase. While on one side neotechnic advances perfect the automatic machine and extend its operations, on the other, they do  away with the complications of machinery in provinces where they are not needed. A field of soybeans may, for certain purposes, take the place of a transcontinental railroad, a dock in San Francisco, a port, a railroad, and a mine in Chile, to say nothing of all the labor involved in bringing these machines and pieces of apparatus together. This generalization holds true for other realms than agriculture. One of the first great improvements introduced by Frederick Taylor under the head of scientific management involved only a change in the motion and routine of unskilled laborers carrying ingots. Similarly, a better routine of living and a more adequately planned environment eliminates the need for sun-lamps, mechanical exercisers, constipation remedies, while a knowledge of diet has done away except as a desperate last resort with once fashionable-and highly dangerous-operations upon the stomach. (Mumford 1934:257-8)
MUMFORD, Lewis. 1934. Technique and civilization. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.