Technology and society: Wikis

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{{Essay-like|date=May 200xr technology in society or technology and culture refers to the cyclical co-dependence, co-influence, co-production of technology and society upon the other (technology upon culture, and vice-versa). This synergistic relationship occurred from the dawn of humankind, with the invention of the simple tools; and continues into modern technologies such as the printing press and computers.

The academic discipline studying the impacts of science, technology, and society and vice versa is called (and can be found at) Science and technology studies.

Contents

Pre-historical examples

The importance of stone tools, circa 2.5 million years ago, is considered fundamental in human development in the hunting hypothesis.

It has been suggested, in Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, that the control of fire by early humans and the associated development of cooking was the spark that radically changed human evolution.

Modern examples

There are an extraordinary number of examples how science and technology has helped us that can be seen in society today. One great example is the mobile phone. Ever since the invention of the telephone society was in need of a more portable device that they could use to talk to people. This high demand for a new product led to the invention of the mobile phone, which did, and still does, greatly influence society and the way people live their lives. Now many people are accessible to talk to whoever they want no matter where any of the two people are. All these little changes in mobile phones, like Internet access, are further examples of the cycle of co-production. Society's need for being able to call on people and be available everywhere resulted in the research and development of mobile phones. They in turn influenced the way we live our lives. As the populace relies more and more on mobile phones, additional features were requested. This is also true with today's modern media player.

Society also determined the changes that were made to the previous generation media player that the manufactures developed. Take for example, today's media players. At the beginning, cassettes were being used to store data. However, that method was large and cumbersome so the manufactures developed compact disks, which were smaller and could hold more data. Later, compact disks were again too large and did not hold enough data that forced today's manufactures to create MP3 players which are small and holds large amount of data. Today's society determined the course of events that many manufactures took to improving their products so today's consumers will purchase their products.

Economics and technological development

Nuclear reactor, Doel, Belgium

Looking back into ancient history, economics can be said to have arrived on the scene when the occasional, spontaneous exchange of goods and services began to occur on a less occasional, less spontaneous basis. It probably did not take long for the maker of arrowheads to realize that he could probably do a lot better by concentrating on the making of arrowheads and barter for his other needs. Clearly, regardless of the goods and services bartered, some amount of technology was involved—if no more than in the making of shell and bead jewelry. Even the shaman's potions and sacred objects can be said to have involved some technology. So, from the very beginnings, technology can be said to have spurred the development of more elaborate economies.

In the modern world, superior technologies, resources, geography, and history give rise to robust economies; and in a well-functioning, robust economy, economic excess naturally flows into greater use of technology. Moreover, because technology is such an inseparable part of human society, especially in its economic aspects, funding sources for (new) technological endeavors are virtually illimitable. However, while in the beginning, technological investment involved little more than the time, efforts, and skills of one or a few men, today, such investment may involve the collective labor and skills of many millions.

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Funding

Consequently, the sources of funding for large technological efforts have dramatically narrowed, since few have ready access to the collective labor of a whole society, or even a large part. It is conventional to divide up funding sources into governmental (involving whole, or nearly whole, social enterprises) and private (involving more limited, but generally more sharply focused) business or individual enterprises.

Government funding for new technology

The government is a major contributor to the development of new technology in many ways. In the United States alone, many government agencies specifically invest billions of dollars in new technology.

[In 1980, the UK government invested just over 6-million pounds in a four-year program, later extended to six years, called the Microelectronics Education Programme (MEP), which was intended to give every school in Britain at least one computer, software, training materials, and extensive teacher training. Similar programs have been instituted by governments around the world.]

Technology has frequently been driven by the military, with many modern applications being developed for the military before being adapted for civilian use. However, this has always been a two-way flow, with industry often taking the lead in developing and adopting a technology which is only later adopted by the military.

Entire government agencies are specifically dedicated to research, such as America's National Science Foundation, the United Kingdom's scientific research institutes, America's Small Business Innovative Research effort. Many other government agencies dedicate a major portion of their budget to research and development.

Private funding

Research and development is one of the biggest areas of investments made by corporations toward new and innovative technology.

Many foundations and other nonprofit organizations contribute to the development of technology. In the OECD, about two-thirds of research and development in scientific and technical fields is carried out by industry, and 20 percent and 10 percent respectively by universities and government. But in poorer countries such as Portugal and Mexico the industry contribution is significantly less. The U.S. government spends more than other countries on military research and development, although the proportion has fallen from about 30 percent in the 1980s to less than 10 percent.[1]

Other economic considerations

Sociological factors and effects

Downtown Tokyo (2005)

The use of technology has a great many effects; these may be separated into intended effects and unintended effects. Unintended effects are usually also unanticipated, and often unknown before the arrival of a new technology. Nevertheless, they are often as important as the intended effect.

Values

The implementation of technology influences the values of a society by changing expectations and realities. The implementation of technology is also influenced by values. There are (at least) three major, interrelated values that inform, and are informed by, technological innovations:

  • Mechanistic world view: Viewing the universe as a collection of parts, (like a machine), that can be individually analyzed and understood (McGinn 1991). This is a form of reductionism that is rare nowadays. However, the "neo-mechanistic world view" holds that nothing in the universe cannot be understood by the human intellect. Also, while all things are greater than the sum of their parts (e.g., even if we consider nothing more than the information involved in their combination), in principle, even this excess must eventually be understood by human intelligence. That is, no divine or vital principle or essence is involved.
  • Efficiency: A value, originally applied only to machines, but now applied to all aspects of society, so that each element is expected to attain a higher and higher percentage of its maximal possible performance, output, or ability. (McGinn 1991)
  • Social progress: The belief that there is such a thing as social progress, and that, in the main, it is beneficent. Before the Industrial Revolution, and the subsequent explosion of technology, almost all societies believed in a cyclical theory of social movement and, indeed, of all history and the universe. This was, obviously, based on the cyclicity of the seasons, and an agricultural economy's and society's strong ties to that cyclicity. Since much of the world is closer to their agricultural roots, they are still much more amenable to cyclicity than progress in history. This may be seen, for example, in Prabhat rainjan sarkar's modern social cycles theory. For a more westernized version of social cyclicity, see Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 (Paperback) by Neil Howe and William Strauss; Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (September 30, 1992); ISBN 0-688-11912-3, and subsequent books by these authors.

Ethics

Winston (2003) provides an excellent summary of the ethical implications of technological development and deployment. He states there are four major ethical implications:

  • Challenges traditional ethical norms. Because technology impacts relationships among individuals, it challenges how individuals deal with each other, even in ethical ways. One example of this is challenging the definition of "human life" as embodied by debates in the areas of abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, etc., which all involve modern technological developments.
  • Creates an aggregation of effects. One of the greatest problems with technology is that its detrimental effects are often small, but cumulative. Such is the case with the pollution from the burning of fossil fuels in automobiles. Each individual automobile creates a very small, almost negligible, amount of pollution, however the cumulative effect could possibly contribute to the global warming effect. Other examples include accumulations of chemical pollutants in the human body, urbanization effects on the environment, etc.
A Lancaster dropping bundles of 4lb stick incendiaries (left), 30lb incendiaries and a "cookie" (right)
  • Changes the distribution of justice. In essence, those with technology tend to have higher access to justice systems. Or, justice is not distributed equally to those with technology versus those without.
  • Provides great power. Not only does technology amplify the ability, and hence the strength, of humans, it also provides a great strategic advantage to the human(s) who hold the greatest amount of technology. Consider the strategic advantage gained by having greater technological innovations in the military, pharmaceuticals, computers, etc. For example, Bill Gates has considerable influence (even outside of the computer industry) in the course of human affairs due to his successful implementation of computer technology.

Lifestyle

In many ways, technology simplifies life.

  • The rise of a leisure class
  • A more informed society
  • Sets the stage for more complex learning tasks
  • Increases multi-tasking (although this may not be simplifying)
  • Global networking
  • Creates denser social circles
  • Cheaper prices
  • Greater specialization in jobs

In other ways, technology complicates life.

  • Pollution is a serious problem in a technologically advanced society (from acid rain to Chernobyl and Bhopal)
  • The increase in transportation technology has brought congestion in some areas
  • Technicism (although this may not be complicating)
  • New forms of danger existing as a consequence of new forms of technology, such as the first generation of nuclear reactors
  • New forms of entertainment, such as video games and internet access could have possible social effects on areas such as academic performance
  • Increased probability of some diseases and disorders, such as obesity
  • Social separation of singular human interaction. Technology has increased the need to talk to more people faster.
  • Structural unemployment
  • Anthropogenic climate change

Institutions and groups

Technology often enables organizational and bureaucratic group structures that otherwise and heretofore were simply not possible. Examples of this might include:

  • The rise of very large organizations: e.g., governments, the military, health and social welfare institutions, supranational corporations.
  • The commercialization of leisure: sports events, products, etc. (McGinn)
  • The almost instantaneous dispersal of information (especially news) and entertainment around the world.

International

Technology enables greater knowledge of international issues, values, and cultures. Due mostly to mass transportation and mass media, the world seems to be a much smaller place, due to the following, among others:

  • Globalization of ideas
  • Embeddedness of values
  • Population growth and control
  • Others

Environment

Technology provides an understanding, and an appreciation for the world around us.

Most modern technological processes produce unwanted byproducts in addition to the desired products, which is known as industrial waste and pollution. While most material waste is re-used in the industrial process, many forms are released into the environment, with negative environmental side effects, such as pollution and lack of sustainability. Different social and political systems establish different balances between the value they place on additional goods versus the disvalues of waste products and pollution. Some technologies are designed specifically with the environment in mind, but most are designed first for economic or ergonomic effects. Historically, the value of a clean environment and more efficient productive processes has been the result of an increase in the wealth of society, because once people are able to provide for their basic needs, they are able to focus on less-tangible goods such as clean air and water.

The effects of technology on the environment are both obvious and subtle. The more obvious effects include the depletion of nonrenewable natural resources (such as petroleum, coal, ores), and the added pollution of air, water, and land. The more subtle effects include debates over long-term effects (e.g., global warming, deforestation, natural habitat destruction, coastal wetland loss.)

Each wave of technology creates a set of waste previously unknown by humans: toxic waste, radioactive waste, electronic waste.

One of the main problems is the lack of an effective way to remove these pollutants on a large scale expediently. In nature, organisms "recycle" the wastes of other organisms, for example, plants produce oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis, oxygen-breathing organisms use oxygen to metabolize food, producing carbon dioxide as a by-product, which plants use in a process to make sugar, with oxygen as a waste in the first place. No such mechanism exists for the removal of technological wastes.

Humanity at the moment may be compared to a colony of bacteria in a Petri dish with a constant food supply: with no way to remove the wastes of their metabolism, the bacteria eventually poison themselves.

Construction and shaping

Choice

Society also controls technology through the choices it makes. These choices not only include consumer demands; they also include:

  • the channels of distribution, how do products go from raw materials to consumption to disposal;
  • the cultural beliefs regarding style, freedom of choice, consumerism, materialism, etc.;
  • the economic values we place on the environment, individual wealth, government control, capitalism, etc.

According to Williams and Edge (1996), the construction and shaping of technology includes the concept of choice (and not necessarily conscious choice). Choice is inherent in both the design of individual artifacts and systems, and in the making of those artifacts and systems.

The idea here is that a single technology may not emerge from the unfolding of a predetermined logic or a single determinant, technology could be a garden of forking paths, with different paths potentially leading to different technological outcomes. This is a position that has been developed in detail by Judy Wajcman Therefore, choices could have differing implications for society and for particular social groups.hh

Autonomous technology

In one line of thought, technology develops autonomously, in other words, technology seems to feed on itself, moving forward with a force irresistible by humans. To these individuals, technology is "inherently dynamic and self-augmenting." (McGinn 1991, p. 73) Jacques Ellul is one proponent of the irresistibleness of technology to humans. He espouses the idea that humanity cannot resist the temptation of expanding our knowledge and our technological abilities. However, he does not believe that this seeming autonomy of technology is inherent. But the perceived autonomy is due to the fact that humans do not adequately consider the responsibility that is inherent in technological processes.

Another proponent of these ideas is Langdon Winner who believes that technological evolution is essentially beyond the control of individuals or society.

Government

Individuals rely on governmental assistance to control the side effects and negative consequences of technology.

  • Supposed independence of government. An assumption commonly made about the government is that their governance role is neutral or independent. However some argue that governing is a political process, so government will be influenced by political winds of influence. In addition, because government provides much of the funding for technological research and development, it has a vested interest in certain outcomes. Other point out that the world's biggest ecological disasters, such as the Aral Sea, Chernobyl, and Lake Karachay have been caused by government projects, which are not accountable to consumers.
  • Liability. One means for controlling technology is to place responsibility for the harm with the agent causing the harm. Government can allow more or less legal liability to fall to the organizations or individuals responsible for damages.
  • Legislation. A source of controversy is the role of industry versus that of government in maintaining a clean environment. While it is generally agreed that industry needs to be held responsible when pollution harms other people, there is disagreement over whether this should be prevented by legislation or civil courts, and whether ecological systems as such should be protected from harm by governments.

Recently the social shaping of technology has had new influence in the fields of e-science and e-social science in the United Kingdom, which has made centers focusing on the social shaping of science and technology a central part of their funding programs.

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