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Social Shaping of Technology and Technological Determinism

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“Technology is an independent factor impacting on society from outside society” Discuss with reference to both the Technological Determinist and the Social Shaping of Technology perspectives. The power technology obtains is incredible. In recent years it’s advanced greatly and I believe its limits is only our imagination. It is evolving at a quicker rate than ever and its happening right before our eyes, weather we like it or not. By definition, technology has always been present in human society, even from it’s very origins’ (Paschal Preston, 2001, p.

109), stating that technology has always been present in our lives a far as time begun, weather it be electronic or not. The question arises however is technology powerful enough to control society? Or is society the reason behind technology advancements in recent years? I will discuss the statement above with reference to two theories, Technological Determinism and the social shaping of Technology.

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In my opinion I believe these two theories are suitable for the times they were established, I cannot agree with all aspects of one theory however, a theory which was widely accepted, is now seen as a theory which is no longer put into practise, Technological determinism (TD).

‘Technological Determinism represents a belief that technological forces determine social and cultural changes’. ( JoAnne Yates/John Van Maanen, 2001, p. 10) TD was introduced in the late 1960’s and theorists who were true believers of Technological Determinism seen technology as a basis of all human activity.

They believe all societies are moulded from the technology, which surrounds them. They believe technology is an external force that has huge knock-on effects on society. This theory of TD is not entirely untrue. As I said earlier I believe each of the two theories were both correct in their own eras. TD also assumed ‘…that social actors will or must adapt to it (technology) in a specific fashion because it is the ‘modern’ way”. (Raymond Williams; 1983) Lets take for example the printing press created by Johannas Gutenberg.

The printing press was first in its kind, and it would be for many years to come. The printing press was a revolutionary creation that sparked a social reformation in towns and cities surrounding. Prior to the printing press, people relied on scribes to have a copy of a book. The printing press created mass publication of books, political views and news, which was easily distributed to the people of these towns and cities. This invention can be examined under the theory of TD. The printing press sparked a new sense of reform amongst societies, and ultimately changed the way people lived their lives. This creation ignited the revival of classical arts and sciences, the new interest in learning and the natural world’. ( Dr. Steven Mizrach – 2000) It also spread the art of literacy. Here we can see how this falls under the category of TD. This changes the way people lived and I believe this is due to the time it was created, there was nothing to compete with it and it was the first of it’s kind. I believe the reason the printing press fits into this theory is because of the time it was. TD may not have been entirely untrue, but in my opinion it is too broad.

You cannot say that identical technologies affects all societies and cultures the same way. TD cannot exist in current times, as we have such a vast number of different societies and cultures and technology is in its fullest. Therefore if technology does not control society as a whole, then we must control it? Social Shaping of Technology is…suggested that every moment or stage of the technological innovation process (from design, development, adoption, application and use or consumption) is largely or overwhelmingly shaped by social factors. (Paschal Preston, 2001, p. 112).

We are now a society where control the advances in technology and we provide consumer feedback , which in time shapes and forms the final output of a particular product or service. ‘The social shaping approaches reject the idea that technological change is an autonomous process or that it represents some kind of independent variable or force causing social change’. (Paschal Preston, 2001, p. 112). In the past, technologies which emerged as the first in their range were not the most user friendly. Current trends in technology advances make the theory of TD sound ludicrous.

We are now in a time where products are designed to suit the needs of the users within’ society. Lets take the mouse for example on a standard personal computer. When the first personal computer was introduced, users were given a wired mouse, which controlled the pointer on the computer. They were square and did not satisfy the consumer. However there was no alternative and we used what was available. Even those who were left handed, this was not an option. Overtime, as we provided the supplier with user feed back , the mouse eventually transformed into a wireless and ergonomical device, which suited both the right and left handed user.

From this example it is evident that we, as a society, control technology. Society is the consumer of these products, and the more they are equipped to our needs, the better the consumer satisfaction. I will now compare both theories against one another, and prove furthermore why technological determinism is a notion affiliated/associated with the past. Technological Determinism and Social Shaping of Technology can be seen as revolutionary and evolutionary respectively. TD emerged in an era which sparked revolution, which was quite sudden and caused huge change in a small space of time.

On the other hand SST can be seen as evolutionary. Current technologies are rapidly advancing to its users needs, and we play the part in shaping the final product. This is due to SST relying on consumer feedback from their prototypes. Unlike TD, they had no need for prototypes, a revolutionary theory issuing itself upon technical creations that sparked dramatic change within society. TD is a one-way linear process, which occurs ‘without any intervention from the social aspects of research and development’. (Elizibeth Faint Doyle, 1997) There is no further development after the test phase of a product.

No concern for the who the user of the product is and no thought of what difficulties the user may experience if one was mentally or physically challenged. This is another reason how TD cannot affect all users in the same way. SST for example relies on the consumer feedback of a product to help facilitate a product/service to all types of user. They often achieve this through BETA versions of software. Software, available to download free of charge, to receive customer feedback on glitches, faults or any hiccup’s the user may have encountered during their interaction with the software.

Technology nowadays, is very much in its full capacity, is faced with huge competition. Big communication companies are always trying to out do each other to be the best. Thus, relying of customer feedback to get there. During the times of TD, such competition did not exist, the market was a monopoly, or in some cases an oligopoly run by a small number of sellers. No feedback was required as huge competition did not exist. This essay has attempted to show a better understanding of both theories, Technological Determinism and Social Shaping of Technology.

I think some aspects of Technological Determinism stood for a brief while. This being because of the minor stage technology was at. The notion that technology controls us at this day and age is wrong. It is society, and societies needs, that shape the current trends in technology. I do not think that technology is an outside independent factor first of all, as it requires societies views and thoughts to develop a final product, therefore they must be linked. It obviously has an impact on society, look around, we’re surrounded by it. In my opinion however, the impact does not surpass our abilities to control it.

Cite this Social Shaping of Technology and Technological Determinism

Social Shaping of Technology and Technological Determinism. (2017, Mar 17). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/social-shaping-of-technology-and-technological-determinism/

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