Social Shaping of Technology and Technological Determinism

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Regardless of whether one subscribes to the Technological Determinist or Social Shaping of Technology perspectives, it is evident that technology has a substantial and autonomous impact on society. The power and progress of technology are remarkable, with limitless possibilities constrained only by our imagination. We are currently witnessing a swift evolution of technology, regardless of our choice to embrace or resist it. As Paschal Preston (2001, p. 109) contends, technology has always been an integral part of human society since its inception, irrespective of its electronic nature. However, the question remains whether technology controls society or if societal forces drive recent technological advancements. In this discourse, I will explore this proposition in relation to two theories: Technological Determinism and the social shaping of Technology.

I believe that both of these theories were suitable for the times they were established. However, I do not fully agree with one theory. One theory, which was once widely accepted but is no longer put into practice, is Technological Determinism (TD). According to Yates and Van Maanen (2001), TD represents a belief that social and cultural changes are determined by technological forces. TD was introduced in the late 1960s and proponents of Technological Determinism saw technology as the foundation for all human activity.

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According to the theory of technological determinism, society is shaped by the technology it possesses. This external force greatly affects society. Although this theory is not completely false, I believe that both theories were valid during their specific time periods. Technological determinism also assumes that people in society will naturally adjust to new technology because it is considered the modern way of doing things (Raymond Williams, 1983). To exemplify this concept, we can examine Johannes Gutenberg’s creation of the printing press.

The printing press had a profound impact on society and its surrounding towns and cities, as it was a groundbreaking invention. Before its creation, people relied on scribes to obtain copies of books. However, the printing press revolutionized this process by allowing for mass publication of books, political views, and news. This facilitated easy distribution among the people. According to Dr. Steven Mizrach in 2000, the invention of the printing press sparked societal reform and transformed people’s way of life. It also reignited interest in classical arts and sciences, as well as in learning and the natural world. The printing press played a significant role in spreading literacy, further confirming its categorization within the theory of TD. Its transformative nature during its time can be attributed to being the first of its kind with no competition. Although TD theory may not fully encompass the impact of the printing press due to its broadness, I believe it is too limited to fully capture its significance.

The impact of identical technologies on societies and cultures varies. Technology exists in various societies and cultures, but its effects are not uniform across all of them. Hence, if technology does not have absolute dominance over society, humans must assume control over it. The idea of Social Shaping of Technology proposes that social factors greatly influence every aspect of the technological innovation process – from design and development to adoption, application, and use (Paschal Preston, 2001, p. 112).

We live in a society where we have the ability to control technological advancements and provide consumer feedback, which ultimately influences the final outcome of a product or service. According to Paschal Preston (2001), the social shaping approaches challenge the belief that technological change is an independent and autonomous process that drives social change. In the past, initial technologies were often not user-friendly. However, current advancements in technology make the concept of TD theory seem absurd.

In today’s society, products are being specifically designed to meet the needs of users. For instance, let’s consider the mouse on a standard personal computer. Initially, during the early days of personal computers, wired mice were used to control the computer’s pointer. However, these square-shaped mice did not fully satisfy consumers and there were no alternative options available at that time. Consequently, even left-handed users had to make do with what was provided.

Fortunately, as time passed and users provided feedback to the supplier, improvements were made to the design of the mouse. Eventually, it transformed into a wireless and ergonomic device capable of accommodating both right-handed and left-handed users.

It is evident from this example that society has the power to influence and regulate technology, using and modifying these products based on their needs, resulting in increased consumer satisfaction. In the following discussion, I will compare two theories and explain why technological determinism is no longer relevant. Technological Determinism (TD) and Social Shaping of Technology are two contrasting concepts – one revolutionary and the other evolutionary. TD emerged during a time of rapid disruptions that brought significant changes in a short span.

On the contrary, SST can be viewed as an evolutionary approach. The current technologies are advancing rapidly to meet the needs of users, and we are involved in shaping the final product. SST relies on consumer feedback from prototypes, making it different from TD. TD, on the other hand, does not require prototypes and is a revolutionary theory that brings about significant changes in society through technical creations. TD is a one-way linear process that does not involve any social aspects of research and development. According to Elizabeth Faint Doyle (1997), there is no further development of a product after the testing phase.

TD does not take into account the potential challenges faced by users with mental or physical disabilities, which is why it cannot impact all users equally. In contrast, SST relies on consumer feedback to create products and services that cater to all types of users. They often use free BETA versions of software to gather customer feedback on any bugs, issues, or difficulties encountered while using the software.

In the current era, there is intense competition among communication technology companies. They heavily depend on customer feedback to improve their offerings. However, during TD’s time, there was no competition as a few sellers dominated the market. As a result, customer feedback was not seen as important. This essay seeks to provide a comprehensive understanding of two theories: Technological Determinism and Social Shaping of Technology.

Although Technological Determinism once had some influence in the early stages of technology development, it is incorrect to assume that technology now dominates us. In reality, it is society and its needs that shape the present technological trends. In my opinion, technology is not an autonomous entity; instead, it relies on society’s perspectives and ideas to generate a finished product, thus establishing a connection between the two. Admittedly, technology does affect society – just observe its omnipresence around us. Nonetheless, I do not believe that this influence surpasses our ability to govern it.

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Social Shaping of Technology and Technological Determinism. (2017, Mar 17). Retrieved from

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