Technology in the Twentieth Century


Technology in the Twentieth Century

Technology is the collective term for a number of human activities and endeavors, including scientific development, cultural change, communication, art, information systems, computer systems, and many other aspects of modern life. Technological progress has brought many developments in the realm of communication and information systems. Examples include telecommunications technologies such as telecommunications equipment and networks, information processing, digital writing, and electronic information systems, desktop and laptop computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other devices that are connected via technology. Technological change occurs through the application of scientific, engineering, and software technology to enhance the performance, efficiency, quality, reliability, security, and usability of particular components of modern life.

Cultural Studies scholars have developed an interpretive category called “techno-cultural landscapes.” According to this category, which can be distinguished from technological landscapes by its focus on individual and group psychological processes and values, technological innovations are subject to cultural meanings and norms. These meanings and norms can vary significantly from culture to culture, even between nations and times, as social norms tend to evolve as human interaction and experience changes. Cultural studies scholars who have examined how different forms of technology influence cultural norms have produced a number of theoretical predictions about how changes in technology might alter social policies and institutions.

One such prediction has come from John Johann Beckwith, chair of the Department of International Relations at the College of Notre Dame. According to this professor, “the increasing concentration of power in transnational organizations raises questions about the nature of democratic government, national identity, and, especially, technological competence.” According to this analysis, in advanced nations there is a tendency toward centralization of power, especially economic and political ones, while in underdeveloped nations technology tends to be decentralized and competitive, resulting in a desire for various forms of innovation. As the globalization process moves forward, argues Mr. Beckwith, “the erosion of trust and openness to international association and the spread of technological competence have negative consequences for democratic societies and markets.” As this trend continues, Mr. Johann believes, “A democratic society will not be able to manage the increased concentration of power and technologies without changing its political system and institutions.”

Another prediction by social science analyst and PhD candidate Henry Spears presents a perspective on how increasing concentrations of technological developments may affect the welfare state. Dr. Spears goes so far as to predict, “As the power of technology increases, the political power of people will decline.” Such a hypothesis flies in the face of assumptions regarding the relationship between technological innovations and social investment, which holds that people have an interest in investing in information technology because it makes them feel good; moreover, technological developments make existing goods and services more available to more people, providing them with more opportunities for social interaction and welfare state intervention.

In World Value Systems, Alfred Schatzberg distinguishes two types of technological change. The first is ‘anarchy’; such technological developments produce wide-ranging and diffuse effects, with little in the way of clear separation of individual units, often referred to as ‘social capital’. The second type of technological change, referred to as ‘captive’, produces little wealth or societal value, with wide ranging and concentrated effects. Schatzberg characterizes these two kinds of technological change as “anarchical and decentralized” on the one hand and “captive and concentric” on the other.

The tendency towards monopoly in industrial arts and sciences has been noted throughout the history of applied science. The tendency towards capture, according to Schatzberg, is more pronounced during the earlier parts of the twentieth century. However, even during the later parts of the twentieth century there was room for innovation and diffusion of technologies. Industrialists saw the need to exploit the new sciences and apply them in new ways. Thus, while the term technology was originally used to designate the new developments in the scientific and technological domain, it has since come to refer to the ways by which previously unmentioned practices become integrated within industry.