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Chapter One

The Nature of Technology

Main Idea: Technology must be understood as a system which is based upon attitudes and orientations that can be described as rational.

  • Defining Technology Technology: "A system based on the application of knowledge, manifested in physical objects and organizational forms, for the attainment of specific goals." From this definition we can make several observations:
    • Technology is more than just theory and ideas and knowledge; rather it is the application of knowledge and science that results in the production of objects. 
    • The production of objects is meant to meet a specific goal or perceived need. The production of devices is largely to help us do something that we could not otherwise do. 
    • The goals that we seek to attain are not always practical or obvious
    • Technology must be understood as a system. In addition to devices, technology includes organizational structures and skills.
    • Finally, because technology is often a complex, interdependent system, it often emerges in an uneven way. 
  • Technological progress is different from progress in most other areas in that it is dynamic and cumulative.  It is thus represented by the S-shaped curve. 
    • Dynamic: technological progress never ends because there is always room for improvement.
    • Cumulative: one innovation provides the basis for other innovations.
  • Technology depends upon rationality and optimism:
    • Rationality: Objective analysis of the problem and the selection of the appropriate solution
    • Optimism: Belief that solutions are possible  and that constant changes are necessary in order to realize them.
  • Problems with technological progress:
    • Technological superiority does not translate into moral superiority
    • Reluctance to admit that there are forces beyond logical/empirical scrutiny.
    • The objectivity of rationality can lead to a sense of detachment from the world (and others). 
    • Technological progress precludes direct involvement by most people and thus can lead to a sense of powerlessness and distrust.


Study Questions
1. How would you define "technology?"

2. How is technological progress different from progress in other disciplines?

3. Give an example of a goal of technology that is not practical.

4. What is meant by the term "rationality?"

5. List and give examples of some of the problems associated with technological progress.

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