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Canada (161,733)
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SOCA02H3 (310)
Chapter 22


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Malcolm Mac Kinnon

CHAPTER 22 TECHNOLOGY AND THE GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT Technology: Saviour or Frankenstein? Scholars interested in the relationship between technology and society recognize that the th bombing of Hiroshima divided the 20 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 worlds 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 bomb 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 patterns 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 st o Argues that the U.S. is the 1 country in which technology has taken control of culture Biotechnology is the latest concern of technological skeptics 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 clusters 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 superiority In the 19 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 th st 20 and 21 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 todays 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 2 half of the 20 century th In the course of the 20 century, the number of research scientists in North America increased a hundredfold o Research and development spending tripledo Industrys share of spending rose from one-third to two-thirds of the total, while governments 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 development Money, personal interests, individual creativity, practicality, and the state of a fields 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 humanity o Some are troubled by the possibility that some scientific inquiries may be harmful to humankind o However, some researchers recognize that to do cutting-edge research, they must adher
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