An Introduction to Technology and Modern Society

Technology is the collective term for the totality of human knowledge and the means by which this knowledge is made available to other people in order for them to make use of it. In the modern era, technology has affected every aspect of our lives. The rapid growth of computers, telecommunications networks, and the Internet have made possible the instantaneous transfer of data and information from one place to another, from one industry to another, or from one country to another.

In 1844, German philosopher Martin Schatzberg used the term technology to describe the process by which human thought develops out of cultural practices. According to Schatzberg, technology is culture in action. Technology, he maintained, is the “order of the world”; it is the “overall arrangement of men”. And in his book Science and Medicine in Berlin (which remain important even today as a vital reference guide), he distinguished four main types of technology: technology of the mind, technology of the body, technology of the soul, and technology of the environment.

According to Schatzberg’s definition, technology pertains to the systematic development of various specialized systems for obtaining advantage, comfort, and variety in social and economic activity. His definition of technology in this context is thus a broad one, including all the more complex forms of technology developed in different fields throughout history. By contrast, according to Schatzberg, technology is not a culture-based concept. Instead, he contends, the two concepts are dependent upon each other and are to be studied separately.

For Schatzberg, science and technology are independent categories, each existing in its own sphere of influence. Thus, he denied the possibility of a relation between science and technology, a definition that is still widely accepted in the scientific community today. For Schatzberg, the relationship between science and technology was a relation between knowledge and the specific purposes of the human mind. In his view, knowledge is universal, regardless of the specific field of study in which it was garnered. The use of technology, on the other hand, arose due to the particular purposes to which humans put it to use. In Schatzberg’s words, “the use of technology as a means of livelihood was born”.

Schatzberg’s use of the term technology is therefore somewhat limited. He does, however, point out that the twentieth century has seen a number of important developments. He takes note, for example, of the tremendous progress made by the industrial arts in the twentieth century. The rise of the industrial arts, according to Schatzberg, was a product of the emerging discipline of applied science. Applied science, in Schatzberg’s definition, emerged as a discipline which, with the support of theoretical study, came to provide a well-grounded foundation for the advance of technical art.

Applied science and technology thus formed an important part of the German intellectual landscape during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In this regard, it is worth noting that the German scientists and engineers of the late twentieth century, such as Reinhold Voll, Hans and Siemens Frindrich, and Arnold Hertz, built bridges which span the Atlantic Ocean from North Africa to the Pacific Ocean by means of railroad freight. At the same time, Voll and others such as him helped to transform the German air force into an aerial undertaking, a development which came to be known as Vril. As is the case with many German scientists and engineers, however, the focus of their work did not remain confined to the operational environment but extended to the scientific understanding of how systems interact and how they can be optimized for a particular purpose. This led to a tremendous improvement in scientific thinking and the process of scientific explanation.

In the course of the last few decades, as technological systems have continued to develop and become more complex, the analysis of modern technology has come to rely more on the concept of complex adaptive systems than on the analytical category of technology. Rather than studying how new technologies produce their effectual results within an organization or society, the study of such systems becomes the paradigm in which managers, planners, researchers, technicians, educators, politicians, and other individuals look to determine what technologies are necessary for their particular purposes. While the categories of modern technology may change from time to time, the essential nature of these categories remains unchanged.

The first part of this two-part article looks at the relationship between art, technology, and science. The second part looks at how these three factors interact. The paper concludes with a description of the need for a more dynamic definition of technology that takes into account the presence of non-technological factors that drive its development and growth. Technology, according to the present-day thinker, should be seen as an integrating phenomenon, whose definition includes all of the various strands of knowledge produced by people throughout history. Further reading is available on schatzberg’s website.

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