The Social Shaping of Technology

Essay by emanaHigh School, 10th grade February 2007

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Studies of the social shaping of technology (SST) show that technology does not develop according to an internal technical logic but is instead a social invention, propelled by the conditions of its creation and use. Every stage in the generation and implementation of new technologies involves a set of choices between different technical options. Beside technical concerns, a range of social factors affect which options are selected, thus influencing the content of technologies and their social implications (Williams and Edge, 1996).

The SST approach was a response to the technological determinism which prevailed in information systems research. Technological determinism sees any technology as being implemented as a 'black box', meaning that external factors (e.g. social or political) do not affect what is in the box, so the technology cannot be analysed or altered. SST, however, states that these factors do change the implementation and use of technology and vice versa.

Thus, technical innovation is not linear and deterministic, but organic (Mulder, 2006); the users of a technology can flexibly understand how it is used, putting it to different uses from those envisaged by its creators. Therefore, they affect how the technology is used, within certain constraints imposed by the technology itself. It must be assumed that no technology is entirely unbending or perfectly flexible.

In other words, choices are available throughout the development and use of any technology; these choices have social origins, so society is seen as shaping technology, just as much as the reverse.

Within society, it is 'relevant social groups' of people who have most effect on the choices made concerning development, implementation and use; furthermore, the relative power of one group over another is thought to affect the choices made. This adds an essentially political element to the technological and social mix.

4.3 Socio-psychological and technological...