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Technology and society: Realizing the effects of change

August 3, 2009

Technology and society: Realizing the effects of change

By Denise Scammon

Q2: Which technologies seem to confront the greatest amount of cultural lag? Why is this so? Are these necessarily bad, or do they serve some useful purposes?

One example in Rudi Volti’s book, “Society and Technological Change,” of technologies that seem to confront the greatest amount of cultural lag is “the expansion of public health services and modern medical technologies [that] have lowered infant mortality, but people in some parts of the world continue to have large families, due in part to traditional expectations that many children will not survive infancy” (p. 305).

I don’t think that large families are necessarily bad, but I think that the majority of large families face additional economic hardships because it is expensive to raise children and help them pay for college. The last time I read information about how much it costs to raise one child from birth until the age of 18, the cost was $200,000. That was probably 10 years ago, and that was without a college education included in the cost.

I did a search on the Internet for “cultural lag” and came across a research paper on Mercer University‘s site

that gave another example of Ogburn’s cultural lag. We have the technology for cars and we have the technology for roads, but we don’t have the technology to keep cars from “running off the road on curves.” Does this mean that cars are bad, or roads are bad? I don’t think these technologies are bad, but do one or both need to be modified to prevent driving off curves? What if it is the driver who needs more training? This is the tie between technological change and social change. Someone needs to think ahead of the curve and figure out the limitations of certain technologies. Sometimes figuring out every pro and con of a technology is not possible, at all. Pros and cons may not appear until a technology is put into use. Technologies may be extremely modified before negative effects get out of hand.

I think that both the example of medical technologies that have lowered infant mortality and the example of cars that go off the road on curves show that technologies aren’t necessarily bad and sometimes it is social changes that are needed in conjunction with technological changes.

Volti also notes the “hidden value judgement contained in the concept of cultural lag” (306). I agree because thinking of large families and the reasons people have so many children, it is easy to assume those parents are uneducated in medical technologies such as birth control. Also, it is easy to assume that the driver of the car that went off the road on a curve was a lousy driver or inexperienced.

I really liked Volti’s example of the Amish and how they don’t use electricity. People may assume that it is foolish not to take advantage of electricity particularly electric tools, but Volti notes, “this assumes that saving labor is a benefit of unquestionable value; those convinced of the sanctity of physical work would not agree” (p. 306). That is a great example because many people have such busy lives that time-saving tools are a good thing to them and to contrast that scenario with the Amish’s belief in labor shows how people can purposely snub technology, but it is not a bad thing for them.

Q5: In this module the assertion is made that engineers cease to act as engineers when they are involved in the selection of the goal to be pursued by their organization. Do you agree? How might the professional abilities of engineers make them effective participants in the goal-selection process? How might these abilities hinder them?

I don’t think that engineers cease to act as engineers when they are involved in the selection of the goal to be pursued by their organization. The engineers have the expertise in the technology of the industry in which they are involved. Volti states that engineers use their “specialized knowledge and talent essential to planning and decision-making” (p.313). Since engineers aren’t owners and aren’t receiving additional compensation for their technological innovations, engineers don’t have to worry about increasing the company’s profit. Rather, engineers are more interested in the success of their innovations, which affect the business’s reputation.

Volti states that “Engineering and management require different skills and orientations” (p. 315). The hindrance comes from the abilities used by engineers versus abilities used in management. Engineers use their creative abilities, mathematics and scientific knowledge when they are working on technologies, but when an engineer becomes a manager, the skills needed are more people-oriented. I don’t think that these two skill sets are incompatible. Many people use different skill sets on the job. For example, a chef may need to spend within a budget, be practical about the types of foods to serve and be creative in the presentation of the food.

Q14: Which emerging technologies will have the greatest impact on life during the opening decades of the twenty-first century? Will they have any unfortunate consequences? Should the government restrict or prevent any of them? Do you intend to exert any influence over these decisions? How will you do it?

Volti states that it is “dangerous to make predictions” about future technologies (p. 354). He then goes on to list some of the technologies to watch that may make significant advances in the future. Those technologies include “transportation, electronic communication, the Internet, the application of artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering” (p. 354). I think that there is always the risk of unfortunate consequences with any new technology because of the unknown factor. We can’t know all the changes that will be caused by a new technology. I think the government should restrict or prevent new technologies from falling into the hands of terrorists and criminals. But how is it possible to prevent that segment of society from using a computer somewhere and signing onto the Internet for criminal purposes? Perhaps a new technology will be created so that a person’s electrical field will signal a receiver on a computer that will prevent that person from accessing the Internet. I can sit down and list all the negative possibilities and why this technology may not work. I can also list why this technology should be implemented because it may work to prevent even one terrorist from completing a destructive act. I can see the holes in this technology, but I can’t say that I see ALL the holes. Technology and social changes need to work together. If these matters are brought to a vote, I would exert my influence over the government’s decisions by voting.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 3, 2009 10:56 am

    Comprehensive and good answers. Just one comment–Amish business owners decision not to use electricity (and technology) limits the growth of thier operation since many government contracts are posted exclusively online.

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