SOCB50H3 Lecture Notes - Trailer Park, Aboriginal Peoples In Canada, Major Force
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Malak Patel | Chapter 22
Online Chapter 22: Technology & the
Technology: Saviour or Frankenstein?
Bombing of Hiroshima divided the twentieth century into two distinct periods:
o period before Hiroshima the era of naive optimism
During that time, technology could do no wrong
Technology: practical application of scientific principles to the improvement of
J. Robert Oppenheimer → “father” of the atomic bomb
o After the bomb was dropped, people are beginning to think of technology as a monster,
a Frankenstein rather than a saviour
The most infamous technological disasters of the 1970s and 1980s include:
o Outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease--Buildings can harbour toxic chemicals & dangerous germs.
o Dangerously high levels of toxic chemicals were discovered leaking into the basements
and drinking water of the residents of Love Canal, near Niagara Falls, NewYork
o Partial meltdown of the reactor core at nuclear facility in Pennsylvania caused lethal
radioactive water and gas to pour into the environment.
o gas leak at a poorly maintained pesticide plant in Bhopal, India killed 4 000 people
o No. 4 reactor at Ukraine, exploded, releasing 30-40 X the radioactivity of the blast at Hiroshima
o Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska, spilling crude oil, producing a dangerous slick
Normal accident: accidents that occur inevitably & unpredictably b/c of the complexity of
o usually when rare combinations of conditions occur in the computer program
o ex) when your home computer crashes
Risk society: way in which risk [& danger] is distributed as a side effect of society
o Danger does not result from technological accidents alone.
o Increased risk is due to mounting environmental threats--more widespread, chronic, and
ambiguous than technological accidents
o greenhouse effect, global warming, acid rain, ozone depletion, endangered species
o Tech enables the production of ever-more g/s but @ the cost of breathable air &
Technopoly [U.S.A.]: U.S. is the 1st country in which technology has taken control of culture.
o Technology compels ppl to try to solve all problems using technical rather than moral
criteria, although technology is often the source of the problems
Latest concern of technological skeptics is biotechnology
o Biologists can splice genes together, creating plants & animals with entirely new characteristics
o Advocates of this speak of a “second genesis” and “the perfection of the human species.”
o Cons: w/o moral & political decisions based on a sociological understanding of who
benefits and suffers from these new techniques, biotech can be a threat
These considerations suggest 5 tough questions:
1. Is technology the great driving force of historical and social change?
opinion of both cheerleaders and naysayers--who view technology as our
saviour and those who fear it as a Frankenstein
Malak Patel | Chapter 22
Waves” of Modern
2. If some people do control technology, then exactly who are they?
military & big corp decide the direction of technological research & its application
3. What are the most dangerous spinoffs of technology and how is risk distributed?
Focus on global warming, industrial pollution, and ↓ of biodiversity
We show that although these dangers put all of humanity at risk, the degree of
danger varies by class, race, and country
the socially and economically disadvantaged are most at risk
4. How can we overcome the dangers of environmental degradation?
market & technological solutions are insufficient, cooperation required
5. Of what use is socio in helping us solve world’s technological & environmental problems?
Socio @ the Movies: The Matrix & The Terminator
Matrix: gigantic computer that makes imagination possible
Terminator: killing machine
Theme of the Terminator → The imminent destruction of humanity by machines
Idea of ppl inventing machines that try to destroy their creators [theme in novel Frankenstein]
Technology is not always a means of improving human life--it is antagonistic to human values
and unless we are careful, it can destroy us
Nanobots: microscopic robots
A programming error or a genetic mutation could result in the copying process getting out of control-
Technology AND People Make History
Nikolai Kondratiev→ 1st social scientist to notice that technologies are invented in clusters
New group of major inventions has cropped up every 40 to 60 yrs since the Industrial Revolution
These cause major economic growth spurts beginning 10 -20 yrs later and lasting 25 -35 yrs each
Technological determinism: belief that technology is the main factor shaping human society&history
John Atanasoff→ 1st to invent the computer in 1939
o Atanasoff stopped work on it soon after the outbreak of World War II
o Once the military potential of the computer became evident, development resumed
o 1 of the earliest computers: ORDVAC
Technologies did not become engines of economic growth until social conditions allowed them
Technology becomes a major force in society only after it is coupled with an urgent social need