stv 100 - society tech & values

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term: 2B

Society, Tech & Values: Financial Management for Engineers, taken in Spring 2019.


The machine cannot be divorced from its larger social pattern; for it is this pattern that give the machine meaning and purpose. —Lewis Mumford

This is about a handful of simple ideas by which we gain insights into how technology and society interact.

Technology Matters: Questions to Live With by David Nye


anonymous feedback survey

in class engagement

bridging the 2 cultures

do computers make you a better student??

Define “better”. Is more efficiency equivalent to better? Is convenience necessarily better? Is faster better? Is there a “worse” then?

There is no easy answer: it depends on the context.

Technology brings accessibility, and hence convenience. But now, we know how to search for things, not how to remember the things themselves. This isusing computers as an extension of memory.

using new technology: is it really a choice of the individual?

To study technology, we must first recognize technology and the environment around it. Need to analyze technology and society taking the context/perspective into account: the relationship between tech and society differs per context (different people have different understandings of technology).

Step back from your own perspective: ditch your own assumptions. Only then can you further understand society and technology.

a human should be able to do everything. specialization is for insects.

two cultures by Charles Percy Snow

The Literary Intellectual vs the Natural Scientist: avoid antagonistic interactions else we’ll never going to solve world problems if we lose the common language to understand each other.

Strive for intellectual bilingualism: cross-literacy to understand both groups.

Snow blamed literary types for this “gulf of mutual incomprehension”.

Are education programs too specialized? Why do we need specialization?

Something you’re expected to know but your degree doesn’t teach you? communication with efficiency and sensibility (i.e. Johari window), ways of interaction for management?

Explain course and its ties with your degree? STAT206, relates to ML field of learning.

stories as a communication tool

Use stories to paint a picture when explaining a point across. Jargon is confusing. Stories are more universal ways to share information across disciplines.

Stories are inseparable from technology. To be discussed.

the bronze rat

Dude looks for souvenir, buys a bronze rat worth $10, whose story is apparently worth $1000 according to the store owner. Rats chase the dude and the bronze rat all the way to the lake. Dude comes back and says “do you have any bronze lawyers”.


how to read a textbook & study

study guide on learn

Scribble insights. Highlight interesting words or ideas. Print out chapter in Nye???

skim back at readings after the lecture/before the tests

Make connections between the readings and lecture.

interesting chapters?

Audience of this book?

People who interact with technology frequently, especially as a career or as a specialization.

Large and general questions are hard to answer, so often we try not to answer them. BUT we need to live with these questions, because they’re important. (Questions to Live by)


Technology matters because it is inseparable from being human.

Technological toys to shape their own imaginations and imagine oneself in a creative relationship with the world. Playful imitation. Modern day computer games.

Thinking systematically about technology: who shapes who? What is the relationship? Does it enrich us? Impoverish us? Undermine or enhance democracy? Do we better or worsen the world?

This is only a book with provisional solutions, until you find better ones. Wrestle with questions, see the complexity of technology, including its side effects and unintended consequences.

Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heard and try to love the questions themselves… Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing, live along some distant day into the answers.

Letters to a Young Poet, Norton 1954

some questions to think about

Don’t avoid large, general questions as a specialist, even if it’s hard to give definite answers.

Nye ch 1 : can we define “technology”

Define in terms of evolution? It is thought that humans differ from animals by the tools that we use. But some animals do make tools with forethought.

the technology narrative

Homo sapiens have used tools for 400,000+ years; technology is inseparable from human nature. It wasn’t for survival, technology was used for social evolution. Animals are atechnical: they are satisfied with the simple act of living.

Tools and hence technology express larger sequences of actions and ideas: they cannot be separated from the stories that surround it.

technology includes the skill that is required with the tool

Tools are the skills and knowledge that come with using them, the contextual analysis and cultural context, its manufacturing history, its position in a particular time period and place… embodied in the human narrative.

It is easy to imagine human beings as pre-literate, but it is difficult to imagine them as pre-technological.

imagine a perfect society

Francis Bacon: imagine a society whose king is advised by scientists and engineers organized in research groups called Salonman’s House. There is a domination of nature (predicting weather, refrigiration and preservation of food, flying machines to travel, medical procedures), with no bad side effects (abolished poverty, eliminated injustice).

He founded the Royal Society: the origin of modern research.

chicken or the egg: tech vs pure sciences

It’s a misconception that practical discoveries emerge from pure sciences, and that technology is only the application of scientific principles. BUT many technologies came first, then came the understanding of the theory.

i.e Newcomen’s steam engine emerged from trial and error of practical experients, not from reading the Latin publications or seeing its laboratory setup. BUT further improvements were made based on scientific knowledge.

technological determinism

Technological determinism is a reductionist theory that assumes that a society’s technology determines the development of its social structure and cultural values.

It tries to understand how technology impacts human action and thought.

what is technology?

“What does it do” is a limited way to understand technology.

Paul Edwards about infrastructure: the most salient characteristic of technology in the modern (industrial and post-industrial) world is the degree which most technology is not salient for most people, most of the time.

It’s more than just gadgets. What’s missing in this list?

do animals use technology?

YES: animals use technology to better guarantee their survival. It’s a tool or solution to a problem. Given their circumstances of living, it’s sometimes necessary to learn, think and evolve to use more efficient tools to pass on their genes and have higher chances to survive.


NO: animals don’t employ technology intentionally or naturally. The status quo is enough given good conditions of survival. Their nature will push them to find new ways or technologies if it’s necessary for their survival. But when animals are satisfied with their state of living, they will not use new tools if there is no problem to be solved. They are atechnical: so there is no nature nor nurture to push them to do things better when the current life is okay.


is technology a physical or tangible thing?

YES: technology is a physical thing. Just because we’re improving it or doing it in a new creative way, doesn’t mean that it’s now technology. It could be just a description or an idea: until it gets implemented.

Without the skill to manipulate it and achieve a goal/task, it’s not technology.


is technology applied science?

Have to be careful about this. The practitioners of science and technologies somewhat overlap: but they are not the same (i.e. differently valued in society).

YES: engineering is becoming more scientific, and technologies are better improved when knowing the concepts behind it. Iterations to better the technology apply the science.

There is a scientific underpinning for technology.


grain of salt: characterizing a certain methodology called science. There is too much lack of rigour before a couple centuries ago. What is science??

NO: technology can be improved or created simply by tinkering, without having discovered the scientific models or theorems that exist behind the technology. Often, the outcome and improvements can happen through experimentation: technology can exist without ever knowing science.

technology bias: what is a “tech” company

definitions and history

Technology shapes our imagination and how we in the world. Technology matters because it is inseparable from being human: by playing with technological toys, we imagine ourselves into a creative relationship with the world.

Technology is a complicated, contextual human activity, not just a device or a gadget. Do we shape them? Does tech shape us? Are we enriched or impoverished??

the linear model

Different points in time, different groups have valued things differently. Engineering == applied scientists, deliberately relates themselves to science. Society have long believed that science is more important and respectable: it ranks higher than technology.

But practitioners of science != creators. Different motivations… but there is clearly a relationship.

Linear model: hierarchy of prestige of the different faculties/areas of study. I.e. the Greeks thought that working with your hands was inferior to philosophical speculation.

technology is the production of superfluities

Even though arts and such have superfluous purposes, there is a high order of acuteness of intelligence that reveals the richness of human nature.

= Recognizing that we do more than animals.

Uniquely human technology: such as fire. We envision new technology (creativity) and use technology to build further technology.

Technology for humans is universal. This argument does not apply to entire series (maybe certain subspecies).

Some animals do something, but not all animal technology is comparable.

there are different types of technology

Differentiate between animal technology and human technology.

technology as a method to manipulate our environment

technology is how things are commonly done or made

It needs a skill behind the physical object or tool. There’s process and knowledge behind technology.

Stories are intimately connected with technologies.

hence: “technology” is not well-defined.

First usage: Technology, an application of science, to the useful arts.

One cannot be distrustful of political or social change without being distrustful of technological change. […] We demand the strict moral-political supervision of inventions; the good and wise city will determine which inventions are to be made use of and which are to be suppressed.

Leo Strauss

latin roots:

Techne: useful arts, crafts or skills. Has a definite end point

Logos: knowledge of, the study of.

@ greeks

“Techne” is the skill in the arts. Aristotle: “a rational faculty exercised in making something, a productive quality exercised in combination with true reason”

The business of every art is to bring something into existence

@ romans

The human ability to transform is of second nature, to be praised.

bigelow’s definition

Technology is the study of the useful arts: the principles, processes and nomenclature. Not things.

What does this exclude in Bigelow’s definition:

What does this include in Bigelow’s definition:

Nye ch 5 : cultural uniformity, or diversity?

Opinion: Industrialization and improved communications annihilated cultural differences and become more homogeneous

Counter-opinion: Machines create choices and possibilities; highly technological culture might become more diverse.

Technology is a social construct.

does the internet create cultural uniformity, or diversity?

views on convergence and diversity

Thorstein Veblen

Assembly lines create uniformity and identical goods. Workers become interchangeable and replaceable. Consumers become the same.

” The machine pervades the modern life and dominates it in a mechanical sense.” Veblen

Mass production is a metaphor for standardization and machine domination.

What specific technologies might be good examples?

Johan Huizinga

The disappearance of the “active man”;

The progress of technology compels the economic process to move toward concentration and general uniformity at an ever faster tempo. The more human inventiveness and exact science become locked into the organization of business, the more the active man, as the embodiment of an enterprise and its master, seems to disappear.

He also said:

Americans want to be like each other; only feels spiritually safe in what has been standardized.

The similarity of U.S. cities by end of 1st World War made travelers sad because everywhere was alike.

Frankfurt School

Modern communication is the primary means of creating uniformity and social control; human complexity is trivialized.


David Riesman & the Lonely Crowd (195)

Modern humans no longer directed their own lives: we’re simply shaped by forces outside ourselves.

George Grant

Differences between humans are only in regards to private activities:

Institutions (churches, restaurants, schools) in which much human activity takes place are the same from coast to coast.


Jules Henry & Culture against Man (1963)

Modern people had destructive technological drives; technology and science are the centre of culture and death.

The 1960s college student revolt against standardization:

Why was there a student revolt in the 1960s against “values of efficiency and standardization”? (p. 70)

As a student, do you ever feel like the “raw material” of a factory that churns out new parts of a vast machine?

Theodore Roszak

The best strategy for technocracy is to level down to a standard of living that technical expertise can cope with, to claim an intimidating omni-competence.

government and corporate attempts to use tech to standardize and manage daily life. Identical citizens with identical childrens living in identical little boxes, who continue the cycle of living in little boxes…

Levittown, NY: the reshaping of cultural uniformity

Said to be a city of little boxes: all the houses are mass-produced. Buyers who lined up to purchase these homes.

But today, homeowners took their identical little boxes and personalized it: garages, pillars, different colors, gardens, landscapes… And the people were more than just middle-class white people too.

evolution from mass production to individuality.

There are limits of mass production: people like to be different.

ford cars vs GM cars


GM won.

AT&T telephones: collective to individual

AT&T designed their telephones to be long-lasting and functional, and rented them out. Became the world’s most extensive system.

But had began to offer more colours and styles by the 1960, pushing the sale of different designs per room.

Once owning a phone became bigger: other phone service companies boom.

demand for variety at the department store

Competition of price AND selection. Consumers’ taste change rapidly.

“Supply does not create demand, but demand determined supply”

Department stores could not stock mass-produced goods.

“The consuming public imposes its will on the business entreprise.”

hence: there is a shift in view from technology causing standardization to technology leads to differentiation

Mass production, did NOT create cultural uniformity. That worry was over stated by Neo-Marxist social critics.

Technology is not equivalent to standardization.

Computers seemingly represent the ultimate negation of the individual. But now, is an engine of diversity, due to the shift from giant centralized units to the personal computer.

But is there a digital divide?

McDonadization and the technological values of ethnic food and variety


George Ritzer: Western mass production of food as a sign of convenience, is impersonal standardization, and is transforming rich cultural variety into the single, bland, McWorld.

Roland Robertson: cultural appropriation keeps diversity alive. i.e. in India, McDonald does not sell beef (cows are sacred).

= Glocalization. (or creolization)


Ethnic variety in the supermarkets is driven by capitalism. Even ethnic restaurants cater to Western tastes: decrease the difference between foods to reach a wider customer base, not authentic.

Customers eat meals quickly in the informal American manner.

tech momentum and the liberation/differentiation

it’s easier to select among many telephones than to do without one

There are choices, but the choice to use it has already been made by society for you:

It’s difficult to refuse the rules. For our society, it’s all about efficiency.

Up close, it’s individuals making choices. But from afar, the big picture and overall trends have dominant values and themes.

Demassification of production increase differentiation, but doesn’t deviate far from societal structures.

Technology sets limits to how much difference we can express.

elevated pedestals of single technology drivers

The common and problematic flaw in understanding technological changes associated with elevating a single person to heroic status.

tesla and the lone inventor myth

perspectives about technology

2 aspects:

  1. relationship between tech and society (this is not predictable, the impact isn’t easily anticipated)
  2. change comes through revolution


What people think: point of view or bias, a preferred way of understanding the world, where they stand, when they stand, who they are, and how does that context change about technology.

There is no right or wrong. Bias doesn’t mean wrong.

There is no single correct perspective.

But there are many bad ways (weaknesses of points-of-view)…

changes of technology

Is there a direction? Are the expectations about technological changes?

Does it converge or diverge? Uniformity or diversity?


But hard to pinpoint, tend to attribute

Steps are all they are: it’s categorized but really just labels. Generations overlap, and there’s a transition. Everything has an ancestor.

example: the steam engine

Used to be designed as pumps for mines: a giant tipping machine driven by humans or

Very gradual process into mainstream use.

genuine discontinuity is hard to find

titans are not really titans

Wozniak instead of Steve Jobs. And all the engineers of Apple.

Sergey Brin and Google.

None of these happened in a vacuum.

Also the consumer, the investors.

Don’t overestimate their contributions, in terms of how resources are allocated.

revolutions are everywhere: are they really revolutionary?

No they’re just trying to feed you or sell you an idea. Think about it objectively.

Genuinely discontinuous? New? Impactful??

technological changes

Can be discontinuous. Can be accumulative and gradual…

But even if the tool’s material is changing, technology is continuous.


stories, context and artifacts

manchester mart 1 vs the iphone xs

Comparison of technology:

therefore: to know more of a technology, you have to go beyond what the technology is or what does it do (beyond the functionality)

obsolescence not because of functionality

Why do we give up/phase out some technology??? Not necessarily just functionality.

Function matters, but is only the starting point.

technology changes

iterations of changes, until there’s a technology that works well. Lots of versions, precursors, successors.

The people involved, where they came from, what training they had…

Nye ch 6


Mastery of technology ensures abundance:

Progress requires the extraction of a surplus.

the extent of a society’s possessions measures its advances

Society is measured in its technological advances (i.e. agricultural progress, succession of landscapes)

BUT: Some social scientists proclaimed that control of increasing amounts of energy was the measure of civilization.

Exploration and the search for new knowledge expressed the spirit of liberal capitalism. (i.e. space exploration conquered through corporate research and development)

Although social classes persist, the life of the average person continues to improve.

Technological advances equal greater efficiency and prosperity for all:

These views persisted well into 20th century.

j b jackson: landscape is cultural, is dynamic

defines landscape as: “a composition of man-made or man-modified spaces to serve as infrastructure or background for our collective existence.”

Landscapes are part of the infrastructure of existence, and they are inseparable from the technologies that people have used to shape land and to shape their vision.

what appears to be natural to one generation is often the product of a struggle during a previous generation

herbert marcuse

one of the most prominent members of the Frankfurt School or The Institute for Social Research

In advanced industrial societies, there is no longer a problem with acquiring the resources need for existence or even the optimum life for members of those societies. The problem is with the fair and just distribution of resources.


henry ford: the symbol of man’s mastery of the environment

the machine. the development of power

modern mastery of power “would increase and cheapen production so that all of us may have more of this world’s goods”

technological optimism

nature is a source of raw materials to be exploited for human development.

technological optimism

seen in World Fairs

reached its peak in the middle of the twentieth century: 1955 Congress was “told by union leaders that automation threatens mass unemployment and by business executives that it will bring unparalleled prosperity.”

promises of cornucopias of good:

values and landscapes

test: location RCH 305

Good test answers:

landscapes are not natural

how values relate to technology choices

values are what we decide are important to us.

technology challenges us to assert our human values, (how computers get in the way of our sense of identity/values) which means that first of all, we need to figure out what they are.

– sherry turkle

values are hard to spot unless we force ourselves to look:

natural or not: niagara falls

what’s natural:

what’s natural:

what is interference:

why do we alter and interfere with things. values related to human activity:

the falls are an icon of artifice



marvel over power dominion

Nye ch 2

technological determinism


This is a perspective/bias.

technologies used differently in different backgrounds/societies

Technology driving society (but differing slightly):

= convergence in a technological determinism perspective

what happened to google glass

Looks weird Security concern Privacy

(see steve mann the dude with the hardwired glasses to his nerves)

the concord

A supersonic jet.

Russians tried copying.

Americans did a similar thing. The project collapsed: socially driven. 3 reasons:

  1. society rejected the idea of the supersonic boom
  2. people were getting fed up that the gov and private corporations being too tightly knit
  3. military also behind the project, but it was during a costly vietnam war = the project was dropped

Hence society can halt technological progress

inevitable technology that ended up failing

lagging technologies due to laws, regulations and heavy control dragging it down

i.e. copyright laws came after the fax machine

technology moves faster than the regulations in some cases

hence determinism is incomplete and unsatisfactory as an explanation

technology does not completely define us, we can control technology.

Nye ch 4

alternative understandings

to determinism. Determinism is the default, normal thinking. Doesn’t explain everything (possible holes, counterexamples to the 3 elements). Deterministic thinking means that other people or technology itself control technology for you. If technology is necessary, then we have no free will: technology set us on a path that we cannot get off of.

As soon as we accept that technology is always here, then we are controlled by it. (?)

Why does technology change?? Causes??

How can society influence technology???


Think about the non-technological changes.

bicycle changes

Due to social forces

Penny farthing bicycles is a notorious death trap. Really fast but hard to ride and dangerous.

Many social changes were needed before the technological changes.


there was no need to change the technology, before people changing their attitudes

Lots of possibilities: velocipedes lol

tandem side-riding for women, not very satisfying because women wanted the social freedom. If it was as simple as switching long skirts for pants.

Lots of ridiculous mocking.

Maybe it isn’t that hard.

Social aspect of bicycles. Sunday leisure riding for women to ride with men.

social shaping: thinks about non-users

Art critic about the bicycles.

The safety bike came back due to social changes. Lacking the crossbar so that women could ride with skirts.

= A compromise

Satisfied the riders

Hence, bicycles were originally a rich toy. But then became cheap transportation for the working class.

Eventually, everyone agreed on the new form, which is closure on the technology.

systems are disgustingly complex

From a deterministic perspective, we have to look so high up and abstractly that we lose the idea

technological momentum

from shaping to momentum to determinism

Railways are phenomenally expensive, so we wanted parts of rails to be standardized (took decades)

4’ 8.5” is because queen victoria took 2 engineers and made them decide. It’s not optimized in any way.

Plenty of early variations, but as the system grew momentum, fewer choices are available later.

Cant get rid of standard even if we wanted to, because too much is affected.

Collingridge paradox

young system:

old large system:

same as bicycles: reclined bicycle can’t fight old mature system


writing technology

Nye ch 7

technology and work

Nye ch 11

technology and progress

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