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Social Effects Of Technology

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The interaction of technology and society may be the one thing more than any other that gives society a meaning and defines us a human beings. In recent years it has become popular to point fingers of accusation at technology as if it were "autonomous" and driving us all to perdition. I take other view.

No doubt the uses of technology and society interact strongly. I think it wrongheaded and very naive to think of aggressive technology affecting a passive society eroding away the things that give society value and leaving behind a rusted hulk. Admittedly there always the potential for abuse or misuse of a technology, but technology is not inherently destructive, I argue.

In the following we will consider ten effects of technology. No doubt many more can be thought of. Instead of, or in addition to the list below, we might include the effect of technology on health, on other technology or on the security of the individual and the nation. I consider these and other topics as too narrow in scope or able to be covered under one or more of the other headings. I believe the following ten can be used as a systematic first step into the study of technology and society.

Here is the list of effects. Following that I will discuss each briefly. Finally I will present a list of nine values regarding the interaction of technology and society to guide our analysis.

Ten Effects of Technology

Technology's Effect on Commerce

Technology's Effect on Social Systems

Technology's Effect on The Environment

Technology's Effect on Individual Psychology

Technology's Effect on The Rate of Change

Technology's Effect on Institutions

Technology's Effect on Individual Freedom

Technology's Effect on Our Perception of Reality

Technology's Effect on Our Mutual Dependence

Technology's Greatest Effect

In the following each of these are briefly discussed.

Technology's Effect on Commerce

The first field deals with the economic and commercial consequences of the technology in question, whether it is an existing historical technology or a burgeoning one that is just beginning to impact the society. This was not chosen without considerable thought. The impact of technology on the commercial aspect of human culture is a major one.

Most technological changes begin in the economic realm. Technology is a key factor in the supporting and developing of an economy, in the securing and maintaining of jobs for the population, and most certainly in determining the level of economic welfare experienced by the members of the society. What is the effect of the new technology on business and commerce? Does it represent new goods and services? Are we dealing with new products resulting from technological change? If so, how will the new products impact the economic structure?

One source of new technology is the search for increased economic efficiency and a sincere desire to reduce the cost that the society has to pay for the availability of goods. Whether the purpose of the technology is to improve its effective use of available natural resources or to increase or alter the supply of available resources, it will impact what people buy, what they choose to do with their time, what jobs are lost due to changes in the overall economic mix, and possibly the price of other goods that compete with the technologically changed function for raw materials, labor, and the limited capital resources that are available.

As a secondary effect, how will the new technology create changes in unrelated or distantly related markets? The computer was a fantastic new technology. Indeed, it still is. The changes that have taken place in the business world reach far beyond the immediate impact anticipated. On the surface, it was not difficult to realize that the computer would affect the market for mechanical devices designed to do tasks that a computer does, such as adding machines, typewriters, or even automatic mechanical control mechanisms. Yet this consideration does not begin to deal with the other changes that have taken place in the business world as a result of computer technology.

An entirely new industry had been born in the form of the microprocessor, a stepchild of the larger computer industry available only to big businesses with big dollars to buy big computing power. New skills and new opportunities for employment have come about as a result. The expansion of the computer market and proliferation of microcomputers into the mainstream of American life have increased the ability of the homemaker to run a household effectively; to shop and cook more efficiently; to learn about the true nature of family finances; and to create part-time productive jobs, and for a host of other things.

The nation has, in effect, stepped out of the industrial arena into the information arena. Here is a single technology that has so changed our ability to gather, store, manipulate, and disseminate information that the entire economic structure has been transformed, And all from a single technological change, albeit with a highly sophisticated and extensively proliferated collection of applications. The computer and its impact on the economic structure is no less startling and dramatic than that of the steam engine; electric power; or for that matter, fire and the wheel.

Through the computer, the efficiency and expansion of the economy have been so greatly accelerated that we are hard pressed to keep up with the changes. It is indeed revolutionary in nature and explosive in the speed at which it is altering our economic lives. Answer two questions: Ten years ago, how many people did you personally know who had access to a computer or dealt with one? How many do you know now? If you answer honestly, you will be astonished at the manifold changes that have taken place in just a single decade. And the next decade promises to outstrip the last by far.

Technology's Effect on Social Systems

Briefly, the extent to which a technology affects social systems has to do with basic patterns among social groups and the changing patterns of needs and need fulfillment resulting from



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