The Technological Society by Jacques EllulThis book is another truly remarkable exposition of the relation between technology and society, along with Mumfords, Pentagon of Power. This book, as with the latter, goes far beyond a mere criticism of technologies. It examines the nature of Technique, which is the collective organization of a society mediated and, in the end, increasingly driven by technology. The ideology of efficiency which drives technologies becomes incorporated into every aspect of the social structure.
This book is much more pessimistic than Pentagon of Power. It is also quite a heavy read. Ellul, perhaps even more than Mumford, thoroughly destroys the deluded notion that technology is somehow neutral. He painstakingly lays out the ways in which technology underwent crucial and fundamental qualitative shifts during the industrial revolution. This means that technologies before and after cannot be meaningfully compared, except in very general ways. This explodes the usual arguments that hammers and computers are both tools and are therefore essentially the same. These simple-minded arguments ignore the rest of Technique - the social and economic machinery that goes into their creation and production. Needless to say, the technologizing of our culture may not be so healthy.
This book really changed the way I think and caused me to question my environment in a serious way. I think it should be read by everyone who can understand it! I formed a discussion group based partially around it back in the early 90s, though I must admit the response was somewhat disappointing. It is not an easy book to wrap your mind around and it challenges such basic assumptions that it can be hard to come to grips with. It is also a bit dark and scary. Nonetheless, I think it is essential reading for our times.
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Here at UW Bothell, we think of STS as being the study of how science and technology are made, and how they form part of social and political life. The students who will most enjoy majoring in STS are those who are curious about the history of science and technology, who are concerned about ethical and policy issues related to new developments in science and technology, who want to understand the technical controversies they hear about in the news, or who are committed to making complicated technical subjects comprehensible to others. STS majors take courses that examine science and technology from a broad range of perspectives. For their remaining STS courses, students choose classes that examine how social, scientific, and technological factors intertwine in areas ranging from environmental restoration to global health. While students graduate with an excellent understanding of scientific reasoning and practices, the STS major is not designed for students wanting to work in a laboratory or go to graduate school in the natural sciences. Rather than mastering the principles and findings of a technical discipline, students learn the skills of social scientific analysis and how they can be applied to science, technology, medicine, and mathematics. STS majors are ideally suited for jobs that require the ability to both understand technical reasoning and analyze human behavior and social interactions.
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The setting was ideal for this theme. The Senate House is a towering structure in the art deco tradition with a futuristic feel that prevails more than eight decades after its construction. Other topics included the future of British science in light of Brexit, with a focus on funding and immigration; how to get more women in STEM; and how to get children excited about science. You can read more about the panel discussions here. Graeme Reid to share their visions for the future of science. I asked them five seemingly simple questions that are actually quite challenging.