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Theory and Practice in the Study of Technological Systems Essay

1. Why does Cowan believe it is important to examine technologies in the context of technological systems? What advantages does this broader perspective give to planners? Give a specific current technological example (not in reading) in support of your answer.

Cowan believes it is important to examine technologies in the context of technological systems because current technologies rely on the interdependencies of many technologies other than nature or the technology alone. Individual technologies are now dependent on other forms of technology as well as the individuals that design, create and operate the technologies, to operate and perform a specific function(s). According to Cowan, technological systems “complex networks that are, at one and the same time, both physical and social” (p39 of text book).

The advantages this broader perspective provides to planners is that they understand the symbiotic relationship between technologies and with this knowledge can create contingency plans in the event of a malfunction or any situation that would stop the technology from functioning. Planners can perform a risk analysis to identify technologies (including humans) that are most vulnerable to malfunction (this would include component failure, act-of-God, and human error) and prepare accordingly by having back-up components. Additionally, in the event of component failure, the planners are able to more accurately troubleshoot the system by knowing what stage is responsible for what function.

A specific technology that supports these ideas is music. To begin, music starts with the musician who plays an instrument. The instrument and its components are designed and manufactured. Each part for the instrument can be designed and manufactured by different companies and shipped to the primary company for final production. This process also requires the packing and shipping and receiving of each component. These components may also utilize computer design programs and computer assembly, both of which require programmers, designers, and computers. Standard technologies are also required, such as electricity, communications (internet, cell phone), and construction of production, design, and office buildings.

After the instrument is completed, it must be sold. This requires shipping (mode of transportation and fuel) and a location to sell the item, such as Guitar Center. At GC, technologies are required to receive and inventory the instruments and record the sale of each item. Computer programmers are required to design POS software to meet GC requirements, training technologies is required to training the sales associates. Advertising may be required to inform customers of the instruments arrival in the form of mail, email, TV ad’s and paper ad’s, all of which have a technological systems in place to ensure the ad GC designs (requiring computer design programs) reach the designated customer.

2. Landes argues that there were cultural differences between the East and Middle East and West that affected the development and application of some technologies as the clock. Did these differences also affect the way these cultures approached information technologies such as the printing press? Can you make a comparison with the different approaches taken by Eastern and Middle Eastern and Western cultures today and current information technologies?

The cultural differences between the East, Middle East and Western cultures did affect the development and application of some technologies, such as the printing press. Although invented in China in the ninth century, it was better suited for Western culture than it’s native home.

The Chinese language, which is written in ideographs, was not easy to use with movable type. It was easier for the Chines to cut a block of drawings for printing instead of using the printing press. There were also cost and time considerations, which lead the printing press to be abandoned for some time. For Westerners, the printing press was ideally suited for English language. Publications in China depended on government initiative and the religious organizations discouraged dissent and new ideas (p. 32), therefore printing was not a priority. In the West, specifically Europe, the demand for books, papers, government records and documents ensured the success of the printing press, and scribes were unable to keep up with the demand. In the Middle East, Muslim countries were opposed to the idea of printing, specifically the Koran (p. 33).

Today we can see different approaches with today’s current information technologies, such as the Internet. In the West, technology is available to everyone and is not fully controlled by the government. On the Internet, we can freely (for the most part) write about anything we want and give every side to a story. In the East and Middle East, this luxury is almost non-existent. In China, the government controls the Internet and people can serve jail sentences for violating laws regarding the Internet. In the Middle East we can see other forms of technology control in the form of censorship of social media and the increase of terrorists communication and how anti-terrorist sentiment is dealt with. There is also dissemination in the Middle East. Although there is censorship in the West, it does not compare to the control the East and Middle East have and the severe consequences for trying to circumvent government control.

3. Do you agree with the assertion that we are now living in a third-great technological transformation – the Knowledge revolution? Have computers truly changed our lives so much that we can call this a revolution like the Industrial revolution of the 18th century? Support your answers providing specific comparisons from two periods.

The Knowledge Revolution (information age) is defined in the textbook as the use of computers, communications satellites, fiber-optic cable, and other developments, making global, high capacity, high-speed communications technologies such as the internet possible (p. 9). These advancements have profoundly changed the way we live and how we conduct business. Relating to this definition, I agree we now live in the Knowledge Revolution.

I believe that computers have truly changed our lives so much that we can call this a revolution like the Industrial revolution of the 18th century. The Industrial Revolution replaced animal and human muscle with machines, machines that were first steam and then gas operated. The machines were still operated and maintained by humans as there are many moving parts and not all production was fully automated. Many manual laborers lost their jobs, replaced by the new technology. The steam and gas engine became so important after years of being use (not at the time of introduction) that many of the daily tasks relied so heavily on these new technologies that we would be unable to operate without them.

For example, during WWII, had we lost the gas and steam engines and the technology that was required to operate the production lines (invented by Ford), we would not have had the ability to win the war. Not only did technology change our lives, but also it helped us preserve our lives and continue into the Knowledge Revolution where computer technology has become as important as the steam/gas engine. Electricity also played an important part of this new technology as it was used to allow workers in factories to work later, and helped propel us to the next revolution. Electricity changed how we work and eventually how we lived once it was added to homes and infrastructure.

Today, almost every part of our lives is run by computer technology. On the surface we see cell phones, cars, and home computers, but this technology stretches far beyond that. Computers, with some human assistance, control our infrastructure, which was once controlled by electricity only and operated and monitored by humans. Today, computers control traffic lights, toll road, train crossings, and public transportation. Computers also maintain our health and personal records, and can control our home and business environments. Computers have not only replaced certain elements in our lives, but without them we have no way to perform certain jobs. For example, if a steam or hydrologic machine on one of Fords assembly lines were to malfunction, due to the elements used to build the car, humans could use hand tools to continue to work on the car, this is not true today. Not only is the car a more complex machine, but also most of the assembly is performed by robots and cannot be duplicated by humans. This is true not only because humans do not have the technical skills to perform certain jobs, but also we c do not have the correct tools.

In present day society, many of the skills present during the agriculture age are almost lost as many tasks when from being machine assisted to fully automated, such as the art of shoe-making; there are very few companies that make shoes by hand. Many new skills were acquired as the need to design, create, and maintain computers and computer technology.

4. Explain in your own words your understanding of Wajcman’s critique of technological determinism. How does her reasoning compare with Winner’s argument that technologies can actually reflect political relationships? Provide example.

My understanding of Wajcman’s critique of technological determinism is she feels the relationship between technology and social change is interdependent (as she puts it: Symbiotic). She feels that the direction of influence is not unidirectional, but omnidirectional, meaning each influences the other. Technology, such as the cell phone, has influenced how we live and socialize (technology influencing society). After using the cell phone, society has required specific functions in order to adapt the technology to meet our personal and business requirements (society influencing technology). I also believe her critique dissolves the masculine/feminine characteristics of technology, meaning that technology created for a specific gender can be altered by how society uses it; such as in the case of the microwave which was produced for men but appealed to women.

Winner’s argument is that technologies can actually reflect political relationships stems from his suggestion that we should consider what “type of technological future we want to build and the extent to which it will be kind to human society” (p. 83). He feels that technology has changed freedoms, power, authority, community and justice. I believe Winner identifies technology as controllable and should be throughout in advanced and see’s technology as more than just tools we use, but as “forms of life” (p. 85).

To illustrate he ideas, Winner uses the “el cortito” as an example because to use one on the farm meant bending over and getting close to the ground and explains there is nothing political about the length of a wooden handle until it is used in this context. Winners three maxims are: No innovation without representation, no engineering without political deliberation, and no means without an ends; each demonstrate a one-way view of technology having to have a technology dictates approach.

Technology, according to Winner, can be used as a form of control and he comments, “For as we invent new technical systems, we also invent the kinds of people who will use them and be affected by them” (p. 88). Whereas Wajcman’s view is technology is used to enhance and assist society as much as society helps with the development of technology and is not depended on these three maxims. Wajcman expresses that technology broke down the walls of a gender specific world in which society can dictate who uses technology, such as the microwave example. The change from male usage to female usage could not occur under Winner’s viewpoints. They both agree that technology, society, culture and politics are no longer separate.

5. Both Winner and Joy explore the issues of technology and control. How would you compare their two views of current technological development? Focus the comparison on a specific technology, such as genetically modified organisms.

Winner feels that technology is controllable, meaning we can design it now to do what we want on the future. I believe Winner identifies technology as controllable and should be throughout in advanced and see’s technology as more than just tools we use, but as “forms of life” (p. 85). To illustrate he ideas, Winner uses the “el cortito” as an example because to use one on the farm meant bending over and getting close to the ground and explains there is nothing political about the length of a wooden handle until it is used in this context. Winners three maxims are: No innovation without representation, no engineering without political deliberation, and no means without an ends; each demonstrate a means of controlling technology and not allowing it to dictate how it is used. When it comes to GNR (genetic, nanotechnology and robotics), I feel Winner would see both their positive and negative of the technology, but because it was planned out and utilized his three maxims, which would mean society controlled technology and not technology controlling society.

Joy believes that technology can surpass human intelligence and make humans obsolete. To illustrate his point, Joy references the Borg from Star trek as an example of the path technology can take us (p.288). Throughout his article Joy uses the phrase “out of control” several times when talking about the future of technology and what can happen. He warns us of the dangers of GNR (genetic, nanotechnology and robotics), which is in reach of small groups and individuals and can lead to KMD (knowledge-enabled mass destruction) where the knowledge of GNR is enough to enable use of the technology and cause devastation to society. Concerning GMOs, he states on page 292 that, aside from the safety, moral and ethical concerns with genetic engineering, and this technology gives power “whether militarily, accidentally, or in a deliberate terrorist act–to create a White Plague.” Through the article, Joy expresses his concern that technology will cause destruction and dangers in our future. The quote from Thoreau (p.298) that Joy references truly illustrates how he feels about current and future technologies “We do not ride the railroad; it rides upon us.”

6. Identify two authors from your readings and compare their views on the impact of technology on a culture. To what degree does each author see the technology affecting social change? Were there special interests involved in the decision-making concerning the development and use of the technology? Provide specific examples.

Both Winner and Joy feel that technology can take on a life of it own. Winner believes technologies are not tools we can continue to pick up and use, they have taken a life of their own and should be considered “life-forms” (p. 85). Joy speaks about machines not requiring any human interference. They both question the future roles of human and machines. Winner states, “noticing the roles, responsibilities, and possibilities for action delegate to human beings within and around technological systems of various kinds” and “Does the human give orders or receive them” (p. 85) and Joy comments “The Machines might be permitted to make all of their own decisions without human oversight, or else human control over the machines might be retained” (p. 286).

They both see technology as a means of power and control. Winner did not associate any specific special interests in his decision-making concerning the development and use of technology, although he use answering machines and the story about Maevon Garrett (Garrett was fired from her job as telephone operator because a computer decided she was not efficient. The computer did not consider human social skills that Garrett employed) as examples of how technology can control and change society; it was a broad decision concerning all forms of technology. He did however feel we should ask the question “Does a computer in the workplace function as a servant, slave, controller, guard supervisor, etc.?” (p. 85).

Winner believes that technology is controllable and will change society. He comments, “For as we invent new technical systems, we also invent the kinds of people who will use them and be affected by them” (p. 88). Society will be changed to accommodate the new technologies. He feels technology and society are no longer separate, and many forms of social/human living are dependent on and shaped by all forms of technology. He states “Our useful artifacts reflect who we are, what we aspire to be” (p.84). The technology we use would no longer be considered tools as they “would be virtual members of our society” (p. 85), thereby changing the structure of society. I feel Winners viewpoint is that a partnership between society and technology should exist, as stated in his first maxim where he suggests the parts of society that will be using the technology should be involved with the decision making process (p.88).

Joy views on how technology will affect society originate from a concern of the dangers of technology controlling humans and the destruction specific technologies can bring about. He believes that the future will not need us as computers and AI will be superintelligent, self-replicating and able to perform their designed functions without human interference. Because of the GNR technologies (genetic, nanotechnology and robotics), Joy feels we increase the threat of enabling the creation of WMD (weapons of mass destruction), KMD (knowledge-enabled mass destruction), which is the basis of “perfection of extreme evil” (p. 289). Joy paints a picture in which we have no control over technology and live in a world not unlike the part of the galaxy in the Star Trek Universe where the Borg reside.

Although Winner and Joy see possible dangers in our technological future, Winner believes we have the ability to change the role of technology and create a better relationship between technology and society. Winner states, “Whether these changes are for the better will be determined by our commitment to building a society in which more people share the benefits” (p. 84). Joy seems to believe that if we continue down the technological path we are on, specifically the advancement of GNR, we are creating untold dangers that we may not be able to content with.

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