Technological Determinism

STUDY
PLAY
Some Key Aspects of 'technological determinism'
('determinism' meaning 'causal power', that which determines how something is).
'Technological Determinism'
In its crude form, technological determinism is a belief in the power of technological innovation to shape the world independently of any intermediate political, economic or social factors. Technology as the big (single?) cause of change.
'Technological Determinism'
The debate about it raises questions about how we fit 'technology' into our understanding of political, social, economic and cultural conditions and changes in these conditions.
'Technological Determinism'
In Media Studies, debate used to centre around Television but this has been largely displaced by the emphasis on 'New Media', on the large-scale changes introduced in relation to digital and web applications. Think about the mobile phone here since the 1990s.
'Technological Determinism'
Specifically, debate about TD is about what level of influence we see technology exerting upon change and about how that influence is 'filtered' (or perhaps even 'managed') through political and economic decisions.
'Technological Determinism'
Despite the limitations of the idea, too strong an opposition to technological determinism can lead to an insufficient recognition of the unpredictable and unplanned impact of technology upon change.
Marshall McLuhan and the Determinist Tendency
The distinguished Canadian media theorist Marshall Mcluhan set out a number of propositions about the relations between media and society which strongly indicated a 'determinist' view. Among his many pronouncements, we might take:
The Medium is The Massage.
'The medium, or process, of our time - electric technology is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing: you, your family, your education, your neighborhood, your job, your government, your relation to "the others. And they're changing dramatically."
The Medium is The Massage
"the wheel is an extension of the foot the book is an extension of the eye clothing, an extension of the skin, electric circuitry, an extension of the central nervous system"
Gutenberg Galaxy.
'The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village'.
Raymond Williams' Counter-views
Raymond Williams on Mcluhan and Technological Determinism. Television: Technology and Cultural Form. 1974. (Chapter 5).
'Technology as a Cause' and 'Technology as an Effect'
Raymond Williams
2 points of criticism.

The crudity of the cause/effect relationship proposed...'For if the medium - whether print of television - is the cause, all other causes, all that men ordinarily see as history, are at once reduced to effects. ....'
Overstating new togetherness and not recognising selection and control. 'From this wholly unhistorical and asocial base McLuhan projects certain images of society: 'retribalisation' by the 'electronic age', the 'global village. As descriptions of any observable social state or tendency...these are so ludicrous as to raise a further question. The physical fact of instant transmission...has been uncritically raised to a social fact, without any pause to notice that virtually all such transmission is at once selected and controlled by the existing social authorities.'
Williams cont.
While we have to reject technological determinism in all its forms, we must be careful not to substitute for it the notion of a determined technology. Technological determinism is an untenable notion...But the notion of a determined technology has similar one-sided, one-way, view of human process....

We have to think of determination not as a single force but as a process in which real determining factors, the distribution of power or of capital......set limits and exert pressures, but neither wholly control nor wholly predict the outcomes of complex activity within or at these limits or under and against these pressures.
Fleck and Howells on the 'Technology Complex'
Fleck and Howells (see weekly reading).

Locating 'technology' within the complex of factors surrounding different fields of production and consumption.
The interplay between 'social shaping' and 'technologically determined' elements within the 'technology complex'. Example of EFTPOS technology and Aircraft design.
We could follow Fleck and Howells and see how the 'technology complex' has affected university course design, delivery and assessment (the technology of teaching and learning).
Potts on 'Medium Theory'.
Communications emphasis - attempting to engage with the idea of 'medium'. The Mcluhan/Williams debate.

More recent contributions from actor network theory and the implications of digital reproduction and of cross-medium 'hybridity'.
A continuing debate
About the continuing 'impact' of communications technology on aspects of political and social change (including on the world of work as well as of leisure).

About the impact of the politics of public policy on aspects of technological research and development (eg low carbon technologies; national broadband policy; robotics).

About the impact of commercial contexts and priorities upon technological research and development (profitability within specified markets).

About what media technologies get developed, for what public and commercial reasons, and what don't.

Predictions about what new significant changes are in the pipeline and what their consequences will be for political, economic and cultural life (including, of course, for you).
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...