Technological Determinism: Thinking inside the box.

I can see where supporters of technological determinism are coming from, in that technology is a driving force of society, but I also find many flaws with aspects of this theory. I think it would be hard to argue that technology has not been a driving force in our society (at least not after the 18th century). Technology absolutely has changed our lives, thus transforming society.

However, to say that it has done so outside the constraints of culture, politics, and human agency, is to me ludicrous.

If I have learned anything in my communication studies, it is that culture, politics, and the imagination and desire of humans are the deciding factors in whether a technology becomes known, much less used and adopted.

The second part of this argument I am more likely to consider. This is the idea that technologies come about because of inventors, engineers, and scientists, following an “internal, technical logic that has nothing to do with social relationships”. This could be argued either way, but there are certainly technological advances that are a result of research and experimentation in a vacuum, without regard for society or their potential uses for said technology.

This is true in some cases, but the fact that a technology is invented free from human agency, politics and culture does not mean that those very things will not effect how the said technology is adapted to society and used by it. Technology can be created in a vacuum, but it cannot create change within it. It is those very things (human agency, politics, culture etc.) that determine if and how a technology is used. Just look at the Internet, which was created for military communication (and is now used for…well everything).

The other interesting argument that technological determinists make is that we define epochs of time and countries by their dominant technological artifacts. I am somewhat ambivalent towards this point, and although it is true, I don’t know that it really says anything concerning the direction of causality.

In theory, technological determinism seems viable and logical, but once considered outside of a strictly historical sense, we realize that it just does not work. Technology is not a changing force, the people who use it are. “technological determinism is as dangerous as historical determinism”. As Karl Popper stated in Volume Two of The Open Society and Its Enemies concerning historicism, “human progress, can be achieved only by…become more fully aware of the fact that progress rests with us, with our watchfulness, with our efforts, with the clarity of our conception of our ends, and with the realism of their choice”. I think the same applies for technology and the society.

 

Ali Ramee

 

edited by Grace Marlette

 

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