What Is Technology?


Technology is the application of scientific knowledge to the practical aims of human life, including changes to and manipulations of the natural environment. It involves the design of tools, both tangible and intangible (software), that are meant to achieve specific goals. It includes both the specialized equipment used by scientists and engineers, as well as everyday objects such as refrigerators and toothbrushes that have a more pronounced effect on our lives.

Like the language, rituals, and values that make up a culture, technology is both intrinsic to and reflective of a system’s social structure. Moreover, the same processes that shape a culture’s technology also shape its meanings. This means that even small technologies, such as the tiny leakage of a refrigerator’s gas, may have significant side effects.

Most technology development is a step-by-step process, as each new advancement validates the underlying ideas and tests them against reality. This is why apparently promising early technologies often stall midway through their development.

It is also why, even when a technological invention proves viable, it is rare for it to be immediately adopted by society at large. Most new technologies require training of personnel to operate, maintain, and occasionally repair them. These activities also incur cost and they must be factored into the overall cost of a technology.

Schatzberg identifies two sharply diverging traditions of talking about technology, which he describes as ‘instrumental approach’ and ‘narrow technical rationality’. He argues for a third way, which he calls ’emancipatory technology’ and which he believes offers the possibility of shaping technologies to more human ends.

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