SOCA02H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 22: Ozone Depletion, Thomas Edison, Overconsumption

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15 Apr 2012

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Technology: Saviour or Frankenstein?
Scholars interested in the relationship between technology and society recognize that the
bombing of Hiroshima divided the 20th century into 2 distinct periods
o The era of naive optimism (before Hiroshima)
Technology could do no wrong
Technology: the application of scientific principles to the improvement
of human life
Technology produced tangible benefits
Most people regarded technologists with reverence and awe
o The era of pessimism
Evident 3 weeks before Hiroshima, when the world’s first nuclear bomb
exploded at the Alamogordo Bombing Range in New Mexico
Bomb was created by J. Robert Oppenheimer, who organized the largest
and most sophisticated technological project in human history
o He wanted both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to halt
thermonuclear research and refuse to develop the hydrogen
In the postwar years a growing number of people have come to share doubts about nuclear
energy and technology in general
It was only in the 1970s that a series of horrific disasters alerted many people to the fact that
technological advance is not always beneficial or benign
By the mid-1980s, Charles Perrow referred to the disasters as normal accidents: accidents that
occur inevitably though unpredictably because of the very complexity of modern technologies
Ulrich Beck said that we live in a risk society: a postmodern society in which technology
distributes danger among all categories of the population
o Increased risk is also due to mounting environmental threats
Environmental threats are more widespread, chronic, stressful and ambiguous
than technological accidents (e.g. climate change, greenhouse effect, global
warming, acid rain, ozone depletion, endangered species)
Technology seems to be spinning out of control
o 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
Neil Postman refers to the U.S. as a technopoly: a form of social organization in which
technology compels people to try to solve all problems by using technical rather than moral
criteria, even though technology is often the source of the problems
o Argues that the U.S. is the 1st country in which technology has taken control of culture
Biotechnology is the latest concern of technological skeptics
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o The ability to create new forms of life holds incredible potential for advances in
medicine, food production, and other fields
o Without moral and political decisions based on a firm sociological understanding of who
benefits and suffers from these new techniques, the application of biotechnology may
be a greater threat to our well-being than any other technology ever developed
Technology and People Make History
Nikolai Kondratiev was the first social scientist to notice that technologies are invented in
o A new group of major inventions has cropped up every 40 to 60 years since the
Industrial Revolution
o He argued that these flurries of creativity cause major economic growth spurts
beginning 10 to 20 years later and lasting 25 to 35 years each
Called it a form of technological determinism: the believe that technology is the
major force shaping human society and history
Technologies did not become engines of economic growth until social conditions allowed them
to do so (i.e. social need)
o Technology and society influence each other
How High Tech Because Big Tech
A technological advantage usually translates into big profits for businesses and military
In the 19th century, gaining technological advantage was still inexpensive
o Took only modest capital investment, a little knowledge about the best way to organize
work, and a handful of highly trained workers
20th and 21st century technology requires enormous capital investment, detailed attention to
the way work is organized, and legions of technical experts
o Also need to overcome the intensely competitive business and geopolitical environment
Turning scientific principles into technological innovations require both genius and substantial
resources, especially money and organization
Thomas Edison established the first “invention factory”
By mid-century, most technological innovation was organized along industrial lines
The prototype of today’s invention factory was the Manhattan Project, which built the nuclear
bomb in the last years of World War II
By the time of the Hiroshima bombing, the manufacturing complex of the U.S. nuclear industry
was about the same size as that of the U.S. automobile industry
Only governments and giant multinational corporations could afford to sustain the research
effort of the 2nd half of the 20th century
In the course of the 20th century, the number of research scientists in North America increased a
o Research and development spending tripled
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o Industry’s share of spending rose from one-third to two-thirds of the total, while
government’s share dropped proportionately
Because large multinational corporations now routinely invest astronomical sums in research
and development, the time lag between new scientific discoveries and their technological
application is continually shrinking
Military and profit-making considerations now govern the direction of most research and
Money, personal interests, individual creativity, practicality, and the state of a field’s intellectual
development influence scientists and engineers to research particular topics
Many researchers are pulled in particular directions by large research grants, well-paying jobs,
access to expensive state-of-the-art equipment, and the possibility of winning patents and
achieving commercial success
Economic lures have generated moral and political qualms among some researchers
o Some wonder whether work on particular topics achieves optimum benefits for
o Some are troubled by the possibility that some scientific inquiries may be harmful to
o However, some researchers recognize that to do cutting-edge research, they must
adhere to military and industrial requirements and priorities
Environmental Degradation
The side effect of technology that has given people the most serious cause for concern is
environmental degradation
It has 4 main aspects:
Global Warming
Ever since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been burning increasing quantities of fossil
fuels to drive their cars, furnaces, and factories
These fuels release carbon dioxide
o The accumulation of carbon dioxide allows more solar radiation to enter the
atmosphere and less heat to escape
Called the greenhouse effect
It is believed that the greenhouse effect contributes to global warming: the gradual worldwide
increase in average surface temperature
Scientists believe that global warming is already producing serious climatic change
o As temperature rises, more water evaporates
This causes more rainfall and bigger storms, which lead to more
flooding and soil erosion, which in turn lead to less cultivable land
Global warming is causing the oceans to rise
o Partly because warmer water expands and partly because the partial melting of the
polar ice caps puts more water in the oceans
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