Why technology matters

Why technology matters? Because technologies are the outcome of social demands at certain periods, and eventually technology will reshape the entire society.

To better understand the history of technology, we are required to acquaint with the Society for the History of Technology, or the SHOT, began in the 1950s. Members of the SHOT can be divided into two streams, either internalist or contextualist. Studying of the two groups can well provide us with unique point that why technology matters.

The internalist, as the reading material addressed, “more closely fit stereotypes of the history of technology, although they are in the minority. Internalist reconstructs the history of machines and processes, focusing on inventors, laboratory practices, and the state of knowledge at a particular time. They chart the sequence that leads from one physical object to the next. Their approach has some affinities with art history, but it grew out of the history of science. Internalist establishes a bedrock of facts about individual inventors, their competition, their technical difficulties, and their solutions to particular problems.” They also “writes from the point of view of an insider who looks over an inventor’s shoulder. Such studies, whether of the light bulb, computer, or atom bomb, culminate at the moment when the device first works, and do not take as much interest in marketing, adoption, use, or cultural symbolism.” While on the other hand, the contextualist “see adoption of every technology as being deeply embedded in a continual reconstruction of the world. A contextualist eschews the Olympian perspective and tries to understand technologies from the point of view of people who encountered and used them in a particular time and place.” In another word, the internalist presents the existence of technology and the contextualist try to show us the reason why technology exists and how it thrives. This is critically important because a technology that does not hold up cannot exert influence on the society and it does not “matter”.


One examples can well illustrate the importance to understand the exigence of a technology. Whether a technology prevails or fails in the market could be attributed to many factors such as cultural difference, gender, period and so on. Take the electric cars in early 20th century, for example. When the electric cars first came in, it did not win the marketplace. We cannot simply contrast the merit between electric cars and other transportations, because obviously electric car is more superior than the horse. Still, many citizens back then chose horse or gasoline cars on electric cars. Why? Because if you are offered an interview in Washington D.C, you would, undoubtedly, take a car or plane to there instead of riding a horse, and gasoline cars would cost more money. Consider the following reasons: 1), horse has been using for more than a thousand years, and electric car is a new product. This is a very common phenomenon even nowadays, because few people would choose to embrace the new things at the very beginning. 2), as the reading material indicates that “The lack of an electricity grid in most countryside and the problem of the heavy, slow-charging battery counted against the electric cars”. 3), “American men chose to overlook the noise and pollution od gasoline cars, as they opted for speed and a lower price.” Overall, many reasons together made the new technology sank into insignificance. However, dose the gasoline car or steam engine hold up for a long time? And do the electric cars stop its way moving forward? The answer is no. A hundred years later now in the 21th century we restart the development of electric are and, hopefully, it will win the marketplace in a short future.


Other technology products, such as light bulb, computer, or atom bomb-while the atom bomb is a weapon of mass destruction and requires a lot of technics to make- “culminate at the moment when the device first works, and do not tale as much interest in marketing, adoption, use, or cultural symbolism.” That why, as Nathan Rosenberg addressed, “there is a long adjustment process during which the invention is improved, bugs ironed out, the technique modified to suit the specific needs of user, and the ‘tooling up’ and numerous adaptations so that the new product(process) can not be only produced but can be produced at low price.” That’s also why the refrigerators were not as welcome as today when it first showed up-because back then they often broke up and the supply of electricity was unstable.


But the failure of a certain technology at its birth does not guarantee its final fate. Considering the following facts: people used chose horse among cars, but now we even know that taking a airplane is a better choice over a car; we questioned the accuracy and reliability of computers at the very beginning but now we mostly do the calculation through a computer.


What we can learn from these examples is that a new technology may not obtain its reputation in the society as soon as it come up but might be prevailing in the future. That’s why technology matters. Though, inventions “cannot always be ordered like a pizza” even when society fervently desires, “technologies cannot be overlooked in any history that seeks to explain how we arrive in this present and what has been lost in the process.” A new technology, or invention, could be trivial at first but will ultimately change the society-as most of us would agree that we cannot live without the internet and the cellphone.




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