Lecture Two: Introductory Lecture Cont
September 15, 2011
Technology as Applied Science
This theory claims that science and technology are interrelated, and that basic
scientific research can find new technologies.
This theory can be applied to the modern world, however it cannot be applied to
most of history. This was because technology and science were believed to be
completely different fields.
In the past history of technology was usually subsumed under histories of
science or economics.
Technology as “applied science” refers to idea that technology is driven by
While this might be true to some extent in the modern era, prior to the 20th
century science and technology done by different sets of people with different
norms and values within their established communities
Scientists and people practicing the technical arts were working in completely
different domains, and they did not collaborate in their ideas until the 20th
Industrial Revolution – inventions such as textile machines, steam engines,
railways had little scientific knowledge behind them
Today, the debate still continues as to whether modern technology heavily relies
on scientific knowledge
Project Hindsight – 1960’s – Department of Defense – looked at development of
military defense system
Researchers found 0.3% events relied on scientific; 90% had technical origin; 8%
Project Traces – National Science Foundation – contraceptives, electron
microscope, VCR’s all rooted in basic scientific research Necessity is the Mother of Invention/The Necessity Argument/The
Economic Needs Theory
According to this theory, a technology is created by someone in order to fulfill a
need that exists in society.
Economic approach to technological development whereby technologies are
created according to the particular needs or wants of society; “necessity is the
mother of invention”
Sometimes, technologies are created out of need, but in the majority of
instances, this is not true
Assumption is that technological development follows a fixed one-way path and
can be explained by referring to economic laws, etc...
While this may be true for a certain category of invention, the major criticism of
this idea is the assumption that the inventors of a technology actually know what
their technology will be used for
Problems with this Argument
In most of history, technologies have not really been created for necessity. Many
have been created out of hate, love, boredom or sometimes completely by
The Time-Lag Argument - this theory doesn't apply because there are some
technologies that were created long before society had found a use or need for
the technology. Therefore there was no need for that technology when it was
eExample: windmills introduced into England around 1185 but spread only in
13th century after landowners thought they could be profitable venture
We are making a huge assumption with this theory. We are assuming that
inventors know how their technology will be used. We don't actually know
ultimately how the technology will be used.
As we will see time and time again in this class, inventors of a technology may
not actually know how users will respond to their technology; in many instances
comparisons will often be made to older technologies This often leads to idea of UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES related to
More Likely Approach on This
Instead of necessity as mother of invention, might be more prudent to argue that
new inventions often create needs that must then be satisfied by new
This means that technologies are created which in turn create needs for the
technologies that are available.
THEMES OF THE COURSE
How Users Shape new Technologies
If inventors don't know how their technology is going to be used, we have to see
how people use the technology to determine whether or not it is successful, and
in what shape it will take in society.
This is the direct counter to the Necessity argument. In some cases, “users” can
refer to society in general or a smaller subgroup within society.
There are al