Technological Determinism (MSTU 4020; Week 2)

A deterministic view of technology suggests that technology has the power to influence social organization, that technology itself can be a "change agent". In Marx and Smith's "Introduction" they distinguish between a hard and soft approach of understanding technological determinism.

HARD: The idea that the power to influence change comes from technological advancements itself.

SOFT: A view that locates technology in a social, economic, political, and cultural matrix (p. xiii).

In the end, the authors argue for a redefinition of tech determinism that acknowledges our need to create a kind of society that invests in technologies with enough power to drive history (p. xiv).

Robert L. Heilbroner's piece "Do Machines Make History" also argues for a more complex understanding of how technology can influence social and economic systems, and conversely, how social and economic systems influence technology. He proposes a soft, or mediating, view of technological determinism.

Based on these readings, I wonder:

  1. If technology makes history, or influences social systems, can it also be said that technology defines a given society? If so how? Can we define ourselves by the technology we use presently, or must the defining be done in retrospect (in the future looking back)?
  2. Heilbroner writes, “If nature makes no sudden leaps, neither, it would appear, does technology” (p. 57). Who, or what, does nature describe?
  3. How might Heilbroner’s soft view of technological determinism work to explain the evolution and social aspect of the Internet?

Here now is your moment of Zin.

Until next post...