Culture and Technology



Like language, ritual, values, commerce and the arts, technology is an intrinsic part of a cultural system. It shapes and reflects that system’s values, but it also is shaped by them. It’s the combination of these two forces that make the word “technology” such a challenging concept to pin down.

For instance, when television became popular in America, it exponentially scaled the behavior of zoning out in front of it, hypnotized by its constant visual stimulation. But, for some, the same technology can have a negative effect on social relationships.

While individual inventiveness is essential to technological innovation, it’s not sufficient. Social and economic forces determine which technologies will be paid attention to, invested in, or used in a given society at a particular time. These factors may include government policies, patent laws, the availability of risk capital, media attention, environmental concerns, economic competition, and tax incentives.

Every engineering design operates within constraints that must be identified and taken into account. Some of these constraints are absolute (e.g., physical laws), while others have some flexibility: financial (only so much money can be spent), political (possible public opposition to a new technology), ecological (likely disruption of the natural environment), ethical (disadvantages to some people or risk to subsequent generations). An optimal design strikes a reasonable compromise among these constraints. Moreover, it takes the cultural context into account as well. This is what gives a specific technology its identity and value.

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