Technology and human society

Technological manifestations do not perform their tasks in a vacuum.

  • Whether a technical solution works or not depends not only on the correct application of technological expertise/principles but also on other support systems in a society.

"building a dam successfully would not only involve hydrology, geology, etc. but also knowledge of the location's techincal support systems (ie: suppy of material and skilled workers, electricity, etc..)"

  • A technology's success also depends on its cost and economic gain; in otherwords its economic viability
  • Other systems will also influence the success / failure of a project; such as tax policy, cultural tradition, fashion

The phrase built environment refers to the man-made surroundings that provide the setting for human activity.
All organisms change their environment simply by existing within it (forest adjusting to the micro-climate of the surroundings, birds spreading seeds, etc.)

For a long time humans were quite like other species; as a hunter-gatherer society humans collected what they needed/wanted from nature. In recent history the scale at which humanity has been able to change the natural environment has increased rapidly. Many layers of protection from natural elements (to make like easier/more comfortable) have been created. These include things like industry, infrastructure and social systems.

In a hunter-gatherer society food comes directly from natural sources.
In a modern soceity food comes from agriculture/fishing —> food processing industry —> retailers…

Technology and human values

Technologies can be described as amplifiers of human values. The reason(s) these technologies are created is to increase the standard of living - in terms of monetary wealth, power or self-fulfillment.
Ultimately technology is there to service human need or desire.

Technological design reflects the value(s) of the designer;

  • Aesthetic
  • Economic
  • Social

Technological design can also reflect the value(s) of the dominant class of the society (urban design, road networks, etc) or the social value of a society as a whole (wheel chairs, cars, PCs, etc).
Technological design can also reflect the cultural value(s) of a society; ie: aesthetic design in architecture.

Value enquiry

The difficulties of a value enquiry include:

  1. Value assumptions are often hidden
  2. Value questions are generally open-ended
  3. Value judgements aer partly independent from facts
  4. Different values can come into fundamental conflict

Technology and the built environment

Any technological system has to function within the existing built environment… The effect of a technological system can be straight forward, but rarely is:

  • Technologies interact with other social systems
    • Automobile / urban sprawl
    • Urban sprawl and obesity
  • Complex behaviours of technological systems ('the cost of complexity')
    • Boeing 747 has 6 million individual parts…

The 'Three Principles'

  1. Technological designs will not work unless they are appropriate to the wider system within which they are implemented
  2. Technological design reflect the values of the designer and/or user
  3. The technology we design and their effects upon the systems within which they are implemented are more subtle and complex than we intend them to be.
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