Does Technology Drive History? Essay

688 Words3 Pages
A theme that appears over and over in discussions about technology is whether or not technology is the cause of major social, cultural, political, and economic changes in modern society. Of course, we can find many, many examples of technologies associated with enormous social changes. The automobile, for example, is often spoke of as "causing" a whole array of social changes, from the creation of suburbia, to the development of the fast food industry, to the paving of farm land, to the imported oil vulnerabilities of the 1970s. The popular media is filled with similar examples of new technologies that are going to change everything, from computers to nanotechnologies to new medical devices. And we are often told that we must find ways to…show more content…
Unfortunately, humans do not pay enough attention to the kinds of technologies that are developed and deployed; instead, we seem to be "sleepwalking" into a future we have not considered carefully. But whether as "hard" or "soft" determinists, these commentators focus directly upon technology as a central, even dominant, shaper of society and culture. Other scholars reject determinism altogether. Instead of technology driving social change, they argue that social forces shape technologies. Often critical of modern, industrial capitalism, scholars such as David Noble (1977, 1984), Thomas Misa (1988, 1994) and John McDermott (1993, 1991) assert that the kinds of technologies we have reflect the different degrees of social, political, and economic power possessed by the sponsors and the opponents of particular technologies. Most often, they say, the group with the greatest wealth and political clout -- usually wealthy industrialists and capitalists -- is able to foist its preferred technologies on the rest of society. And most often, these groups select and sponsor those technologies which work to keep them wealthy and powerful, and to keep others dependent and vulerable. For these thinkers, talk of "technological determinism" is just a smokescreen, camouflaging the real use of coercive power that determines the kinds of technologies we have. A third group tries to capture the truth found in both these positions.
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