Textbook Notes (368,432)
Canada (161,877)
Sociology (1,513)
SOC100H5 (538)
Chapter 13

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Nathan Innocente

Chapter 13Scholars interested in the relationship between technology and society recognize that Hiroshima divided the twentieth century into two distinct periods We can call the period before Hiroshima the era of naive optimism During that time technology could do no wrong or so it seemed to nearly all observers Technologywas widely defined as the application of scientific principles to the improvement of human life It seemed to be driving humanity down a oneway street named progress picking up speed with every passing year thanks to successively more powerful engines steam turbine internal combustion electric jet rocket and nuclear Technology produced tangible benefits Its detailed workings rested on scientific principles that were mysterious to all but those with advanced science degrees Therefore most people regarded technologists with reverence and awe They were viewed as a sort of priesthood whose objectivity allowed them to stand outside the everyday world and perform nearmagical actsBy the mid1980s sociologist Charles Perrow was referring to such events as normal accidents The term normal accidentrecognizes that the very complexity of modern technologies ensures they will inevitably fail although in unpredictable ways For example a large computer program contains many thousands of conditional statements They take the form if xy do z if ab do c When in use the program activates many billions of combinations of conditional statements As a result complex programs cannot be tested for all possible eventualities Therefore when rare combinations of conditions occur they have unforeseen consequences that are usually minor occasionally amusing sometimes expensive and too often dangerous You experience normal accidents when your home computer crashes or hangsGerman sociologist Ulrich Beck also coined a term that stuck when he said we live in a risk society A risk societyis a society in which technology distributes danger among all categories of the population Some categories however are more exposed to technological danger than others are Moreover in a risk society danger does not result from technological accidents alone Increased risk is due to mounting environmentalthreats that are more widespread chronic and ambiguous than technological accidentsand therefore more stressful New and frightening termsgreenhouse effect global warming acid rain ozone depletion endangered specieshave entered our vocabulary To many people technology seems to be spinning out of control From their point of view it enables the production of ever more goods and services but at the cost of breathable air drinkable water safe sunlight plant and animal diversity and normal weather patternsThese considerations raise four tough questions We tackle each of them belowFirst is technology the great driving force of historical and social change This is the opinion of both cheerleaders and naysayers those who view technology as our saviour
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