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Social Constructivism, Technological Determinism, Technological Momentum

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Social Constructivism, Technological Determinism, Technological Momentum

  1. 1. Social Constructivism, Technological Determinism, Technological Momentum
  2. 2. The Relationship Between Technology and Society Technological Determinism (Hard Version) Society is influenced by technology TECHNOLOGY SOCIETY TECHNOLOGY SOCIETY Social Constructivism (Hard Version) Technology is influenced by society TECHNOLOGY SOCIETY “ Soft” Determinism or “Weak” Constructivism Technology both influences and is influenced by society
  3. 3. Technological Determinism v. Social Constructivism <ul><li>Technological Determinism </li></ul><ul><li>Technology influences society, but society does not influence society </li></ul><ul><li>Only technological factors, not social ones, determine the success or failure of a technology </li></ul><ul><li>Successful technologies are inherently superior, and their success is evidence of that; failed technologies are inherently inferior, even if we can’t see how </li></ul><ul><li>Technology develops linearly—technologies are conceived, developed, and implemented </li></ul><ul><li>Social Constructivism </li></ul><ul><li>Society influences technology </li></ul><ul><li>Social factors contribute to the success or failure of a technology </li></ul><ul><li>Successful technologies may be technologically superior and failed ones technologically inferior, but even if so, that’s only part of the story of their success or failure </li></ul><ul><li>Technological development occurs recursively </li></ul>
  4. 4. A Common Misconception about “Social Factors” <ul><li>A common misconception is that a technology is socially constructed if it is developed to be used by people or to meet some human need or solve some human problem. But almost all technology is designed with these things in mind, so that’s not what STS scholars mean by social construction. </li></ul><ul><li>Rather, a way to think about social construction is to think about the meanings a technology develops. Is a Gameboy a fun electronic toy? a way of keeping potentially unruly children happy? an unhealthy and dangerous device that contributes to childhood obesity, squelches imagination, discourages social interaction, and shortens attention spans? STS scholars regard technological artifacts as having “interpretive flexibility”—the same technological artifact can be seen in very different ways by different people, and thus becomes in effect different artifacts </li></ul><ul><li>Developers of a technology often try to shape how a technology is used, but people can adopt, reject, or modify a technology, see it or use it differently </li></ul>Gameboys being played by a soldier in Iraq (top left), a boy on a car trip (top right), and three boys on a camping trip (bottom).
  5. 5. Technological Momentum <ul><li>Some regard it as a form of constructivism, some as a separate but intermediate position between constructivism and determinism </li></ul><ul><li>When a technology is new, social factors play an important role in its development and adoption </li></ul><ul><li>Once a technology becomes widely accepted, however, social factors diminish in importance </li></ul>Time  Importance of Social Factors Thomas P. Hughes’s books include Networks of Power: Electrification of Western Society, 1880-1930 (1983) and Human-Built World: How to Think about Technology and Culture (2004) Low High

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