13. Reflections on Technology: Scholarship and technology


Technology has had an enormous impact on human civilization.  It has revolutionized human life styles in innumerable ways.  In particular, changes of great moment have occurred in human history in the past cen­tury or so.  Some of the major technological additions to society and to civilization were unheard of and undreamt of just two or three generations ago.

Commentators on society and civilization have reflected on the impact of technology on society,  In recent years considerable amount of scholarship has gone into detailed and scholarly studies of the impact of technology on civilization.  Educational institutions, specialized journals, research centers, international bodies, conferences, all have be­gun to take great interest in this matter.

Generally speaking, society as a whole gets deeply interested in a given subject for one of two reasons: Either there is some poten­tial in the subject for adding to human joys and pleasures; or, the subject poses a threat to our safety and security.  Thus, in the l9th century when it was realized that technology could accomplish useful things and make life easy, the study of science and engineering became popular in educational institutions.  Now, when technology seems to be causing some unpleasant problems, the study of technology as a phe­nomenon in human societies is becoming a topic of great concern and interest.

One may consider the impact of technology on society from different points of view.  One may explore the effects of specific technologies on specific aspects of life.  Or, one may discuss the overall effect of technology on civilization at large.  Or again, one may refer to the positive impacts of technology, or one may list some of the grave dangers to human life that have arisen from the development of technology, etc.

Many authors and research teams have spent considerable time and energy studying the hundred facets of the impact of technology on society.  Between 1964 and 1972, for ex­ample, a group of scholars under the direction of E. G. Mesthene explored the subject in great detail and issued the famous Mesthene Reports which provided some insights into this complex subject.  It is interesting to recall his fourth report which was published in 1967-68: If religion was formerly the opiate of the masses, then surely technology is the opiate of the educated public today, or at least of its favorite authors. No other single subject is so universally invested with high hopes for the improvement of mankind generally and of Americans in particular. The content of these millennial hopes varies somewhat from author to author, though with considerable overlap. A representative but by no means complete list of these promises and their prophets would include: an end to poverty and the inauguration of permanent prosperity (Leon Keyserling), universal equality of opportunity (Zbigniew Brzezinski), a radical increase in individual freedom (Edward Shils), the replacement of work by leisure for most of mankind (Robert Theobald), fresh water for desert dwellers (Lyndon Baines Johnson), permanent but harmless social revolution (Walt Rostow), the final comeuppance of Mao Tse-tung and all his ilk (same prophet), the triumph of wisdom over power (John Kenneth Galbraith), and, lest we forget, the end of ideology (Daniel Bell).”

In meetings, symposia, books and articles many specialists discussed and debadte the theme from a variety of perspectives.

September 21, 2010

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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