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Unformatted text preview: SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa , Fall 2010 Textbook:
Volti, Rudi. 2009. Society and Technological Change. 6t h edition. Worth Publishers Inc.
REVIEW — CHAPTER 2: WINNERS AND LOSERS: THE DIFF ERENTIAL EFFECTS
OF TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE (19-35) Technological advance has been the greatest single sou rce of economic growth:
Boosted production of goods and services .
Created new products while improving qua lity of existing ones.
In 1950s, U.S. was analyzed through the use of sophisti cated statistical techniques. The major
source of economic growth was a “residual” factor — tec hnological advance was the main
element, although organizational development and impro
roved worker skills, together with
economies of scale are also key components (19).
A particular technology may be used for good or evil pur poses. But t
technological change is
often a subversive process that results in the modificatio n or destruction of established social
roles, relationships, and values (20).
There are many technological changes small in scope — and effects felt by only a few. A few
technological changes are massive — lead to vast socia l restructuring. But despite its benefits,
technology exacts a cost (20).
Technological changes — major and minor — often lead to restructuring of power relations,
redistribution of wealth and income, and alteration of hum relationships. Example: Read
experiences of the Yir Yoront (20-21).
Technological advances that may have benefited society as a whole have done so at great cost
to the people immediately affected, as when many place s of employment closed down due to
new products and processes replacing old ones – leavin g communities and their inhabitants in
desperate straits (22).
Groups threatened by technological innovation are not a lways helpless — many have defended
themselves against changes in the way of doing things. Examples: U.S. construction workers at
the end of WWII; 19th C. Chinese silk producers (23).
Read The Luddites (23-24).
19th C. saw replacement of small manufacturing establis hments by large factories — fertile
ground for development of labor unions and other organ izational veh
hicles for pressing the
interests of workers (25).
Neo-L u ddism — o pposed to modern
technollogy and its extension. Becoming more
aware of its consequences, people made
numero us efforts to prevent or restrict the
spread of technologies perceived as threats.
Examp le: C ompu t ers threate ned many
establis hed occupational roles and procedures
— led t o resistance to installation and use (25).
In 199 5, the New York Times and the
Washin gton Post published a lengthy critique
of mo d ern society and the pi votal role o f
techno logy in crea ting and m aintaining i t.
Page 1 of 2 SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa , Fall 2010 The author was Theodore Kaczynski (the “Unabomber) who from 1978 to 1995 was responsible
for 16 bombings that killed three people and wounded 2 3 others (25-16).
Technology does not proceed solely through its own mo mentum — its development is strongly
influenced by existing social and political arrangements.
Technologies do not stand or fall on their intrinsic
merits. Decision to develop and deploy a new
technology — often shaped by distribution of
power in a society (26).
Social and political arrangements affect the
course of technological change by influencing
(i) the kinds of inves tments that are made,
(ii) the research projects that are funded, and
(iii) the general priorities that are established.
Large organizations — corporations and government agencies — often wield disproportionate
influence over the process of technological
change (26). Technology may threaten
a group's interests... ... or advance iinterests of
a particular group. Why is there such a gulf between technological progress and social progress?
The list of technologies that have been or could be appli ed to the alleviation of social problems
is extensive. The list of technologies for the solution of s ocial problems resulted in varying
degrees of success because:
• Actual mechanisms through which technology produces a change — often poorly understood.
• Technological shortcuts also produce uneven results .
• Technological solutions only eliminate the surface m anifestations of the problem (27).
Social problems are fundamentally different from technic al problems — differ in their specificity.
They are directly concerned with human motivations and behaviors — exceedingly difficult to
change through technological intervention (29).
No problem, technical or otherwise, is every really “solve d.” Most solutions are incomplete and
generate new “residue” problems that are sometimes mo re intractable than original problem.
Consider rapid development of modern medical technologies: life-saving drugs, organ transplants,
sophisticated diagnostic techniques. Given the expense of many of these, it may be necessary
rationing — will this take place through
to spend more on medical care or attempt to ration it. If r
the price mechanism, or will it be done according to som e formalized procedure? In any event,
serious ethical issues are to be faced. Also, life-extendin g technologies have raised questions
about the morality of prolonging a life under conditions th seem dismal; a longer individual life
span leads to an aging population and the necessity for a wide range of adjustments to the
society, the economy, and even the culture (30).
Read The Appeal of Technocracy (30) and The Technoc rat’s Delusion (33).
Technological changes inevitably produce social change s and these do not affect everyone
equally. Not everyone benefits to the same extent and, i n some cases, certain individuals and
groups lose out completely. A choice of technology is oft a determination of who wins and
who loses; consequently, affected parties should have th e opportunity to participate in the
Technological development may make some aspects of our lives better, but it ca never
substitute for a just and effective political and social syst em (34). Page 2 of 2 ...
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This note was uploaded on 11/15/2010 for the course SOC 415 taught by Professor Swift,d during the Fall '08 term at University of Hawaii, Manoa.
- Fall '08