Friday, November 1, 2013

The relationship between culture and technology

I discussed previously what I understood culture and technology to be.  I'm mainly interested in how the two are related.  But what does this mean?  What sorts of relations are we talking about?

The relation between the two that interests me is causal.  Does technology cause changes in culture?  If so, how?  Likewise, does culture cause changes in technology?

I said culture is comprised of both positive and normative beliefs.  It's unsurprising that technology causes changes in our positive beliefs.  After the invention of the telescope, we believe that the surface of the Moon is uneven, as opposed to being perfectly spherical.  More interesting is whether technology causes changes in our normative beliefs.  Does technology, either directly or indirectly via positive beliefs, change what a society believes to moral, good, or beautiful?  If so, how?

Here's a minor example.  Suppose you're meeting up with a friend.  Before cell phones and pagers, there was no way to get in touch with your friend once they were on their way to meet with you.  If you were late, your friend would just have to sit their and wait without knowing what was going on.  Now, if you're running late, you can always send over a text letting your friend know that you're behind schedule.  It seems that this change in technology may have caused a change in our norms.  It seems that the ability to keep individuals updated has made them more tolerant of tardiness, whereas they may have been less tolerant of this behavior in the past.  Furthermore, not only are some tolerant, they think that it's within accepted social norms to be late to certain functions as long as you inform others of your delay.

I'm also interested in the other direction of this relationship.  Again, it seems clear how our positive beliefs affect changes in technology.  Discoveries in quantum mechanics paved the for technologies such as the transistor.  The more interesting relation is between our normative beliefs and advancement of technology.  Do our beliefs regarding what is good, moral, or beautiful play a causal role in determining the trajectory of technological development?

Here's an example in bioethics.  It seems that our beliefs about what is morally permissible play a causal role in determining (or preventing) technological development using stem cells.  Similar sorts of moral beliefs may have an effect on determined whether cloning technology is pursued.

So yeah, there are lots of interesting questions to pursue.  Usually what I'll do is mix and match certain types of technologies with certain areas of culture.  I'll ask, "How has technology of type x and aspect of culture y related over time?"

No comments:

Post a Comment