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York University
Natural Science
NATS 1775
Vera Pavri

2009 © Vera Pavri Introductory Lecture: Questions Concerning Technology, Part One - Today we will look at how technology is defined and some common myths associated with technology and technological development. Lastly, we will explore some of the major themes that will be examined throughout this course I. Defining Technology - While the term technology can be found as early as the 17 century, used to describe treatise or study of industrial (practical) arts - Term technology only popularized after WWII but use of technology (or material) items can be traced to almost 2 million years ago - prior to this, terms used were “practical arts,” “applied science” and “engineering” - 1831 – Jacob Bigelow – book entitled “Elements of Technology…on the Application of Science to the Useful Arts” - he equated technology with invention and creativity; science as process of discovery - breaking down term: teks is Indo-European root word meaning to fabricate or weave; in Greek, tekton refers to carpenter or builder and tekhne to art, craft or skill - In this class, you will begin to understand that the history of technology is not just about focusing on particular “revolutionary” technologies or “great inventors” - most technologies are not created by just one individual; ideas about technology are often taken from older sources - also important to understand that social and cultural factors play a KEY role in the success or failure of new technologies; why are some technologies successful in one area and not in another - also important to distinguish between invention and innovation (making a technology commercially successful) II. Popular theories of technological development that we will RE-EXAMINE and CRITIQUE ***One of the main things we will be doing in this course is to RE-EXAMINE (i.e. question or critique) some popular ideas about the relationship between technology and society. These theories below will be re-examined and questioned throughout the term so please make sure you understand them as you will refer to them throughout the term: A. Technological Determinism i. Defining Determinism 2009 © Vera Pavri - Technological determinism is a viewpoint that regards technology as the prime agent of social and organizational change - Technology is seen as an independent entity that changes and shapes society. It is an “autonomous force” that once invented, appears to have a “life of its own.” - Once an object is invented, this artifact then transforms society and the way humans interact with one another; central to this idea is that human agents have almost no control over a technology once it has been built - Technological determinism thus offers a linear account of technology development that is inherently progressive - Historian Heilbroner explains that determinists assume that technological change follows a roughly ordered sequence of development and imposes certain social and political characteristics upon the society in which it is found - The idea that technology is the “cause” of social, political, economic and cultural change is the central element in determinist theories of technological change - Technology is thus the “driving force of history” that can have a revolutionary impact on relatively passive societies ii. Popularity of Theory and Problems with Determinism - Ideas of technological determinism are most pervasive in popular discourse - According to historians Marx and Smith, “It is typified by sentences in which “technology,” or a surrogate like “the machine,” is made the subject of an active predicate: “The automobile created suburbia.” “The atomic bomb divested Congress of its power to declare war.” “The mechanical cotton-picker set off the migration of southern black farm workers to northern cities.” “The robots put the riveters out of work.” “The Pill produced a sexual revolution.” - In each case a complex event is made to seem the inescapable yet strikingly plausible result of a technological innovation - Ironically, what makes determinist accounts of technological change frightening is also what makes them appealing: while technologies may appear to be out of control, humans are in turn absolved of their own responsibilities regarding the impact of technological development iii. Alternative theories - technological determinists have been criticized for simplifying what is a far more complex relationship between society and technological change - Theories such as the social construction of technology and the social shaping of technology have been developed to refute the notion of technological determinism 2009 © Vera Pavri - Generally, these theorists argue that determinists place technology outside society, and neglect to account for the human factor in technological innovation - Determinists fail to see technologies as part of a pattern of social and cultural use and by doing so absolve humans of their own responsibilities regarding the use of technologies. - Technological determinism is also universalistic; it does not account for the fact that technological development, innovation and use varies within different groups and cultures. - According to historians Williams and Edge, “choices are inherent in both the design of individual artifacts and systems and in the direction or
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