Using Technology As a Focal Point in Social Theory and Culture


Using Technology As a Focal Point in Social Theory and Culture

Technology is the collective term for a number of human activities and systems, including scientific experimentation, information processing, design, manufacturing, economic development, medical devices, aerospace and space exploration, computer science, and computer software engineering. The word was first used by American linguist Jerrysels in his 1976 book Technological Systems Analysis. Technologists are involved in a wide variety of technological activities that contribute to advances in many areas. Technologists can be found in all fields of research and contribute to advancements in all these areas.

Technologists can be grouped into three major categories. The first category, known as applied science, includes sciences and technologies that have been developed primarily for other purposes, rather than for improvement of the body, mind, or society in general. Applied science is a broad term that includes a number of subcategories. Some of these include cognitive science, cognitive psychology, computer science, environmental science, engineering science, genetics and population studies, information technology, physical science, pharmacology, and physiology or medical science.

The second major category, known as the cultural approach, makes use of technology to study human activities, institutions, culture, and society. The cultural approach examines technological systems through the lens of culture and other related areas. Cultural approaches analyze a range of issues, from how technology affects human health and welfare to the production and consumption of different types of technologies. The third major type of technologist, the abstract technologist, makes use of technology in its broadest sense, to examine technological systems without making particular reference to any specific cultural context. A number of such abstract technologists work in the applied sciences, studying complex systems, but often with a broader point of view than those found in any of the other three major categories.

The three major types listed above are all descriptive of technological systems, and are therefore necessarily broad. Technologists, therefore, cannot be limited to any of these types. This narrow perspective becomes problematic, however, when we want to specify what science is. Science is a descriptive term, identifying specific patterns of knowledge production and explanation. Broadly speaking, then, science can be thought of as a more generic term, applying to a wide range of approaches to the natural world.

Therefore, a definition of science may be said to be broader still, in that it describes a wide variety of approaches to the natural and physical sciences. It thus includes technological systems as well as the methods by which they are produced, distributed, and analyzed. Technological systems are thus a subset of the larger field of scientific knowledge production. The narrower focus of this analysis becomes apparent, however, when we examine the most commonly used categories of scientific knowledge production. The list includes physical sciences such as physics and chemistry, which talk about the ways in which physical systems are structured and change over time.

A related but narrower group is comprised of information systems, including computer sciences, engineering, and the physical sciences. A third group, creatively named “medium technology,” includes human-directed technologies, including toys, computers, music, and film. All of these systems are part of the larger field of hi-tech industries. Many other approaches to knowledge production have also been lumped together under the broad banner of “technology.” For example, many social science and psychology journals and books cover the subject of technology and social change, sometimes with a implicit understanding of technology as a subset of these larger fields. Thus, the term technology has had an increased association with political and cultural contexts as the dominant means of explanation.

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