Technological Determinism

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Information about Technological Determinism

Published on October 10, 2009

Author: Alan_Hook



This lecture looks at Determinism and Technological Determinism. This lecture is part of the Media and Cultural Theories module on the MSc and MA in Creative Technology and Creative Games at The University of Salford.

Technology and Culture Technological Determinism

Technology and Culture Complex relationship between culture and technology Pervasive influence of technology makes the issues pertinent to many disciplines “Any theoretical engagement with this thing called technoculture needs to be as dynamic as its object. Theory needs to be supple, not monolithic.” Murphie, A. & Potts, J., (2003) Culture and Technology, Palgrave Macmillan

How would we define… Are we talking about technology with a big T or a small t?

Technoculture Can we talk about culture without talking about Technology (with a big T)? Kulturetechnik refers to technologies that you must be able to use to take part in a culture. (It has no equivalent word in English).

Technology Shows how meanings change over time Current meanings of the word emerged in the second half of 19c (Marx never used the word) Use developed along with other terms like ‘industrial revolution’ to describe the radical re-structuring of western societies as a result of the industrial processes

Technology has now become so ubiquitous that it is said we now live in technology “Technology has been generalised to the point of abstraction: it suggests an overarching system that we inhabit” Murphie, A. & Potts, J., (2003) Culture and Technology, Palgrave Macmillan

Technology Is it about artificiality? Technology is not natural but made by human beings? “Technology can be viewed as that constellation of knowledge, processes, skills and products whose aim is to control and transform” Simpson, L.C., 1995. Technology, time, and the conversations of modernity, Routledge.  

Culture “one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language” Williams, R (1974) Television: Technology and Cultural Form, London: Collins

Culture “one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language” Williams, R (1974) Television: Technology and Cultural Form, London: Collins How would you define the word ‘culture’?

Culture Culture is dynamic not static Like technology it is conditioned by political and economic forces Notions of dominant and oppositional cultures – contradictions

Determinism Linklater, R., (2007). Waking life, 20th Cenury Fox.

Determinism It is said that there are two forms of Determinism “Hard Determinism” and “Soft Determinism” Theory is often said to be Deterministic or Non-Deterministic

Technological Determinism Termed coined by ThorsteinVeblen in 1920s Belief that technology is the agent of social change Technology moulds society and changes our behaviours and interactions ThorsteinVeblen (1857 – 1929)

Technological Determinism Still massively popular in contemporary post-industrial society Technological determinism suggests that society is shaped by its dominant technologies Considers technology as an independent factor

Technological Determinism Marx often seen as a technological determinist because of statements such as “The windmill gives you society with the feudal lord: the steam mill with the industrial capitalist” Marx, K., (2005). The Poverty of Philosophy, Adamant Media Corporation.  

Technological Determinism Technological determinism usually refers to the present projected onto the future ‘we have no choice but to adopt this technology’ Also a theoretical approach towards the study of cultural effects of technological developments – focus is on the way a new technology creates a new potential and possibility for human activities and thought

Technological Determinism So in short the term is contentious One of the most well known theorists promoting a determinism view was Marshall McLuhan whose premise was that all technologies are extensions of human capacities

Technological Determinism "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.” McLuhan, M. & Fiore, Q., (1967). The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, Bantam Books.   He has received renewed attention in the 1990s with the emergence of mass digital technologies Media are technologies that extend human sense perceptions

Technological Determinism His famous proposition “the medium is the message” argues that the cultural significance of media lies not in their content but in the way they alter our perception of the world The impact then of any technology is ‘the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs’

Technological Determinism The way they alter ‘patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance’ So McLuhan very much seen as a technological determinist defining history by technological change

Critiques Technological determinism as an explanation is monistic or mono-causal. Reduces the arguments to cause and effect It is however very suggestive and very appealing Lewis Mumfordargued that equating technology with tools and machines is itself reductionist

Critiques Baudrillard for instance argues that contemporary culture is increasingly determined by an array of technologically produced ‘simulacra’ which has come to hi-jack reality itself McLuhanhowever was optimistic while Baudrillard is pessimistic (TV is the ‘pornography of everyday life’ beamed back at us)

Cultural Text Stephen Hill in The Tragedy of Technology discusses the interplay of forces as the ‘cultural text’ “Technological change….is not, by itself, productive of social change. Instead, the direction of change is a product of the particular alignment between the technological possibilities and the society and culture that exists” Hill, S., 1990. The Tragedy of Technology, Pluto Pr.  

Can technology be neutral? Some critics both arguing for and against technological determinism have suggested that technology is neutral – awaiting deployment

Can technology be neutral? McLuhan denounces this position because for him the most important point is the way technologies structure us …other theorists contend that new media alters the ‘communicative relationship’ allowing for a diversity of relationships …or that a new technology creates a precondition for cultural change

Can technology be neutral? The Frankfurt School developed an influential critique of mass culture as an industrialised apparatus all part of a heavily administered social system Many critics (Marcuse, Adorno, Ellul, Mumford) argued against technology as neutral - rather that technology had become a powerful regulating system in itself

Can technology be neutral? Langdon Winner asked if in fact certain technologies are ‘inherently political’ Do some technologies demand political and cultural responses in themselves? Do technologies have ideology built into them?

Case Studies If Technology is Deterministic what effect could we say specific technologies have… @

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