In this article we will discuss about the cause and effects of technology on social change.
How Technology Causes Social Change:
Ogburn has made an extensive study of the patterns of change in material culture. He refers to two basic patterns. First, mechanical inventions tend to accumulate, and, as a result, the material culture becomes enlarged.
Ogburn illustrates this process as follows:
“The use of bone is added to the use of stone. The use of bronze is added to the use of copper and the use of iron is added to the use of bronze. So that the stream of material culture grows bigger”.
Ogburn, however, notes that all material culture does not accumulate. As the use of some objects declines, the knowledge of making them is gradually lost. “For instance, we no longer chip flints to make stone implements for the chase”. Hence, the process of accumulation of material culture can be described as selective accumulation. Second, mechanical inventions become increasingly diversified and elaborated over the years.
Such diversification and elaboration becomes possible because “a basic invention makes possible may various applications of its principle”. For example, the development of the internal combustion engine has made possible many mechanisms driven by such power plants.
Ogbum has studied the process of social change that takes place under the impact of technology from three angles:
(i) Dispersion or the multiple effects of a major material invention,
(ii) Convergence or the coming together of several influences of different inventions,
(iii) Spiral or the circular cumulative accelerating process.
Any mechanical invention may have both direct and derivative social effects. Ogburn noted one hundred and fifty social effects of the radio: effects ranging all the way from entertainment, education, diffusion of culture to morning exercises. No invention is limited to a single social effect; its influence extends over a very wide range covering almost all aspects of society.
Besides these direct effects, a mechanical invention has some derivative effects as well. “When an invention has an influence on some institution or custom, the influence does not stop there but continues on and on, each influence succeeding the preceding one like links in a chain”. For instance, generation of hydel power has led in many cases directly to the spread of electric power in rural areas.
Availability of power, in its turn, is followed by gradual growth of cottage and small scale industries in the countryside. This might eventually lead to a change in the modes of life, attitudes, and beliefs of the people of these areas. In this way, various social changes may be linked to the spread of electricity in the countryside.
It should, however, be noted that the spread of electric power is not the sole determining cause of the growth of industrial units in rural areas. The industrial policy of the Government of India relating to the establishment and growth of ‘big’ industries also contributes to the emergence of rural industries as ancihary units of big industries.
Thus, “the primary result of an invention is itself only one of many factors producing the secondary derivative influence and so on”.
This brings us to the concept of convergence or the combination of several influences of different inventions. For example, the facilities of telephone, quick transport and of less expensive accommodation have led people to live far away from their place of work in the heart of the city.
This leads to the size of a city or town getting bigger and bigger and to the development of suburban areas. It is, therefore, clear that group of inventions may converge together and may jointly have a derivative effect in the same way as a single invention has a derivative effect.
So long we have been discussing only the derivative effects, that is, one social change leading to a number of social changes. But sometimes one social change leads to another which, in turn, reinforces the former change. Ogburn characterizes this as ‘spiral’. Gunnar Myrdal calls this process “a circular cumulative accelerating process” because the effects of a change accumulate and the social changes are accelerated.
The following example may be cited to illustrate this process. The industrial development of India is hampered by lack of capital. The government tries to meet this problem by stimulating and mobilising peoples’ savings and, at the same time, by drawing upon foreign aid.
The industrial development, which is an offshoot of added capital investment, leads to additional employment, greater income and, finally, to greater accumulation of savings and capital. Thus, the derivative effect of additional capital investment is turned back to stimulate the growth of capital.
It is interesting to consider in this connection the view of Myrdal “that the social systems of developed countries are spiraling more rapidly than those of unaided underdeveloped countries and that hence the gap is widening between the developed and the underdeveloped countries”.
Social Effects of Technology on Social Change:
That technology plays an increasingly dominant role in shaping our present day way of life is beyond question. Our modes of life and of thought and all our social institutions are influenced profoundly by mechanisation.
Modern civilization could not have developed in the absence of its technological base? Though technological and scientific advance has conferred great benefits on man, it has also created for him many problems.
For example, when the industrial revolution first took place in England, it greatly accelerated the tempo of production, but, at the same time, it forced men and women, particularly men, to stay away from home for long hours and thereby created problems not known before.
Similarly, the development of nuclear power has given man the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and, simultaneously, also the power to destroy all forms of human life. In fact, technological changes are followed by far-reaching social changes. We may discuss these effects from different angles.
The increasing use and constant improvement of machines have raised tremendously the productivity of labour, that is, output per man-hour. It is true both of industrial worker and of farm labour. Greater quantities of goods are thus available.
Most technological inventions have either of two purposes: either they are intended to create entirely new products for the direct satisfaction of human desires and needs or else their purpose is to produce familiar products more efficiently.
Thus, technology raises our standards of living by providing for our enjoyment both new kinds of goods and greater quantities of goods. Technological advance has improved conditions of life for the average man in at least two other ways also. First, it has given him more leisure. Second, it has greatly improved the quality of many of the goods which he buys.
Modern technology has brought into existence quite a number of jobs that require specialised skill and knowledge. Thus, “there are engineers who plan and design machines and factories, skilled construction workers, plumbers, electricians, and a great variety of machinists and mechanics who are engaged in making, operating and repairing machines”.
There are also people who are specially trained in the organisation and administration of industrial enterprises, in advertising and selling, in keeping accounts and records, etc. In other words, technology has brought into being new occupational classes and an open-class structure replacing the closed social system of old. Modern technology has in many ways accelerated the tempo of human life.
As illustrations, we may consider the following factors which contribute to the acceleration of the general tempo of living:
“The absence of adequate artificial light forced many projects to be confined to daylight hours; now they are carried on into the night.
The slowness of transportation gave much more leisure in travelling, though there was less comfort.
The slow rate of communication forced transactions to be spread over a longer period of time.
The dearth of professional entertainment—stage, screen, radio, and others—left time for meditation and thought.
The dispersal of a smaller population over rural districts provided fewer social contacts than are necessitated by today’s urban crowding”.
By destroying the domestic system of production, modern industrialism has radically changed the family organisation. Technology has placed man’s work, except in agriculture, wholly away from the homestead and has removed nearly all woman’s economic duties, except cooking, house-cleaning, sewing and laundering.
It has, therefore, been possible for women to come away from home to the factory and the office and have their independent earnings. The women have thus a new social life in this new environment.
Technology has affected man’s ideas, attitudes, beliefs, and philosophies. Scientific discoveries and inventions have changed the attitude of men and women towards many rituals, creeds, and religious practices. Space explorations may change these ideas more radically in the near future.
It is held that modern men and women are less serious, more inclined towards superficial excitements, and that wealth is esteemed more than cultural or intellectual attainments.
The qualities that assure quick material success in life are prized highly. Men have grown pragmatic in their philosophies. They refuse to accept anything on trust. Every idea, concept or belief is tested by reason and experience before it is found acceptable. In other words, functional utility, rather than abstract value, dominates man’s thinking in the modern world.
The government has also been affected by technology. By changing the family and the social organisation, technology has forced upon the government new functions and responsibilities in the form of social security measures and welfare activities.
Another byproduct of modern technology and industrialism has been a great expansion of government controls over business. Machine technology has brought into being large industrial enterprises which carry on production on a large scale.
These mammoth enterprises have a great deal of economic power. If they are left to themselves, they are likely to engage in unfair competitive practices or to combine with one another in order to create unhealthy monopolies. The government has, therefore, to take action in order to protect the public against these abuses and dangers.
Besides, there are various other changes that follow from technological changes. Some of these changes can be identified. Improvements in transportation have led to the disintegration of the neighbourhood and to the growth of towns and cities. There is, moreover, the undermining of local folkways and the increasing dominance of urban ways over those of the country.
Technology has also indirectly facilitated the growth of democratic ideas by transforming the position of labour from one of status to one of contract, and by bringing into existence the challenge of organised industrial groups, particularly the organisations of labour, to the older forms of authority.