An Introduction to Technology, Culture and the Intellectual Freedom (Part 1)

Technology is described in many ways, so let’s get some terminology down on the ground floor. Technological change is the development of new and improved methods and/or products, which are capable of replacing older ones. Also, it is noted as a process or practice, rather than a product or technology. Technological change includes all the incremental changes and additions to the technological base over time. The definition does not include the application of knowledge in technology beyond the normal course of nature, however.

The study of technology is an ongoing one, with definitions changing each year to reflect society’s changing needs and interests. This has been a result of progress in technology being capable of providing greater capabilities for humans to do things that were previously only attainable via human effort. Technological change can be seen in many areas, ranging from communication to transportation, information to art, medicine to industrial production, government to education and beyond. Thus the scope of technological knowledge is seemingly limitless.

Schatzberg’s twelve categories of technological change, based on their identification with traditional cultural categories, are broadly categorized into five broad themes. These include proximal technological change, which refers to those changes which have immediate effects upon human activity; technological change which occurs through the development of new and often different technologies, such as communications and information systems, or which results from the adoption of new practices and attitudes, which are not directly responsive to or affected by the previous technologies; technological change that develops over time, developing in parallel with social and cultural developments; and, finally, discontinuous technological change, which refers to those changes which occur over time but whose effects are not immediately visible or measurable. All other categories, apart from proximal technological change, are viewed within their broad categories of proximal and discontinuous technological change. In Schatzberg’s model of cultural evolution, technological change is considered to occur through the processes of cultural evolution, which are directed towards achieving particular ends through means that are cultural, psychological, functional and technological. Thus for Schatzberg, technological change is determined both by the processes of cultural evolution and by the presence and effects of technological objects and practices.

Technology in Schatzberg’s model has been divided between two main areas: those that are functionally related and those that are independently creative. Those that are functionally related are grouped together under the term of ‘technological mediation’. Examples of such mediation includes architecture, cooking, music, sewing, household appliances, communications technology and so on. By contrast, those that are independently creative are grouped together under the term ‘non-technical mediation’.

Within the narrowest of the analytical category outlined above, technology is divided into two broad categories. One of these categories is defined by the schizotomy between technology and aesthetics. Artistic technology, according to Schatzberg, is a form of indirect and diffuse technology, which affects the aesthetic appreciation of the object or situation that it is a part of rather than directly influencing its production or consumption. Such techne can be found in architecture, painting, literature, music, dance, films and even the craftsman’s home.

The second broad category of technological change is characterized by the schizotomy between technology and culture. Culture, according to Schatzberg, is the ‘content of the human mind’, and technology is the ‘use of human faculties and human materials for action’. Such technologies as mass productions, information technology, automobiles and communications are examples of cultures. It should be noted that although Schatzberg conceives of technology as a complex of interacting technologies rather than a single explanatory category, he does make a distinction between technology and culture, thereby introducing a somewhat hazy line between the two.

In his ideas about technology and culture, Bernard J. Toynbee is interested in the limits of the term itself. In his essay ‘The Cultural Elements of Modern Tech’, he makes things clear (pp. ii). He distinguishes art from technology as a form of expression, thus emphasising the importance of culture in determining the quality of technological innovations. Furthermore, he suggests that there is room for both art and technology, seeing a parallel between literature and film.

Toynbee adopts a strong anti-intellectual attitude towards the significance of the twentieth century industrial arts in creating a sense of modernity. Despite this, he shows how the development of science and technology has affected society. In his view, the twentieth century’s explosion of new technological possibilities is bound to affect all aspects of life. He applies a social vision of science and technology, seeing them as agents of socio-technical change. As such, he critiques the methods and results of scientific and technological research, arguing that there is a lack of systematic analysis in these studies.