Is Technological Determinism Shaping Our World?

Written by Brent Colby

By definition:

"Technological determinism is a reductionist theory that assumes that a society's technology determines the development of its social structure and cultural values."


Melvin Kranzberg was an American historian who passed in 1995, however is still largely recognized and respected for his laws of technology.

Kranzberg's first, most famous, law argues that "technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral." This argues that technology has benefits to society, but it also has its drawbacks, and cannot be classified as a good thing, bad thing, or even neutral.


Kevin Kelly's book describes in great detail how technology benefits society but also has detrimental factors at the same time. For example, in chapter 2, Kelly talks about the cognifying factor and how AI technology is already and will continue to replace human jobs. He says that AI will benefit society by being able to perform jobs that humans do not want to do or physically cannot do, but AI will also be detrimental to society because people will lose their jobs and lose their income. This means that technology is not benefiting us, nor is it hurting us, it’s just simply existing.


It can be argued that ​necessity is the mother of invention​, but Kranzberg's second law states otherwise that "​invention is the mother of necessity."

By this, he means that technology inventions actually create new necessities that would have otherwise not have existed without the creation of new technology. Once a new technology is invented, that invention opens up new situations that create the need for more new inventions and solutions.

 

Kelly also writes extensively in Chapter 4 about Screening. Screening is when most surfaces will become screens - Written documents and print material will become obsolete. Screens will create a world-wide linked system - a universal library where anyone can go to access anything, all thanks to screens. Screening can be easily related to Kranzberg's second law. Since we are continuing to move more and more towards to putting screens anywhere we can, that has created new problems for society that need solving. Take self driving cars for example, they have been known to cause accidents and deaths. These situations are new to human society and has now created the need for new policies and regulations for driverless cars.


With newly invented technologies, come new questions, and with new questions come new answers. Once a new program has been created, that opens up potential new necessities that need to be taken care of, ranging from new inventions to update the software, or larger issues such as ethical standards, etc...


New technologies are great, but sometimes, those new technologies open a whole new can of worms where more new inventions are required to fix newly created problems.

In the book, Kelly also describes the eight Flow Factors that are better than free:


Immediacy, personalization, interpretation, authenticity, accessibility, embodiment, patronage, & discoverability.

All of these sub-factors are actively shaping our society as we know it. It is now the norm to expect a digital product to be delivered instantly to your device, it is the norm to expect that your product will be authentic and personalized. These sub-factors have a direct impact on how we act towards the flow of technology.


These factors are shaping how we function and act as a society and is determining how we act on the individual level. We have come to expect frequent new, updated versions of our tech, we want the tech to be smarter than ever, and we want it now.

This new mindset of ‘now and perfect’ has created an impatient version of ourselves whenever we do not get something the second we want it, and it leaves us frustrated and annoyed if the tech does not function properly. For context, the notion of being impatient and frustrated could easily spark an argument between two lovers with technology being the ultimate cause behind the fight. Situations like this and other black swans will continue affect society on a massive scale.

What's your take?

Does technology determine how our society functions? Or does society determine what technologies are necessary to function?


References:


Kelly, Kevin. “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future”. 2016. Viking Press


Kranzberg, Melvin. “Technology and History: ‘Kranzberg's Laws.’” Technology and Culture, vol. 27, no. 3, 1986, pp. 544–560. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3105385​.

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