• Tech & Society

    A Blog by James Cusick

Introducing the Tech & Society Blog

Getting Started

Welcome to the Tech & Society Blog hosted here at the Henry George School of Social Science. By definition, a blog is a regularly updated web page written in an informal style often by a single person. The Henry George School is all about social and economic thinking which provides a wide territory to explore. In starting this blog on Tech (Technology) and Society we will bring focus to the interplay of technology (which we will define) and our society (a community of people).

But first a reasonable question might be why and why me?

Exploring Tech and Society is a natural. As we shall see, technology is all around us and it shapes us just as we shape it. Thus, it makes perfect sense to examine its relationship to society.

As for my having something to say on this subject, I have, for most of my life been fascinated by technology. From watching the first moon landing as a child to spending the last 35 years designing and building software solutions, I have been an observer, researcher, and designer of technology. Every time I fly from Asia to NY, for example, when we land on a dime after 8,000 miles in the air, I just shake my head in admiration for all our technological society has accomplished. How did they do that?

At the same time, in my travels from Japan to India to Jakarta and all across Europe including just outside my front door in NYC I witness empirically a social imbalance which cannot be ignored. So how do we interpret all of this? How is it that we can touch the stars but yet our society’s children can remain hungry? These are mighty questions, yet they are the very essence of what Henry George contemplated so many years ago when the telephone and the light bulb were new. In this blog we will discuss such issues within the context of a wide range of technical marvels.

So, You Think You Know Technology

Define Your Terms

As a freshman in college one of my professors insisted that as a first step, we had to define our terms. In this case, consider the definition of technology. Actually, like most words, there are many available definitions, and the word has a history of evolving use.

Which definition do you prefer? The root of the word is Greek and means “craft”. Historically, technology referred to an array of useful arts but then took on a more specific meaning in English during the 20th Century. With the rise of advanced engineered products and solutions the term technology was widely adopted to reference any and all of these products and even the processes that produced them.

For purposes of this blog, it will be useful to separate out three key ideas: Science, Engineering, and Technology. We will consider Science as the methods of investigation to understand the natural universe. Engineering includes the practices to convert such Scientific knowledge and any practical experience available into desired applications. And, finally, Technology represents the resultant products, processes, and solutions driven by defined Science and applied Engineering.

The First Technology

I also find it is helpful to start at the beginning. For technology this starts 3.3 million years ago in what is today Kenya. There we find the oldest known tools made by human ancestors (see Figure 1). These tools were used for cutting and as hammers. So, if you have a hammer or a chisel on your workbench or in the basement it is a direct descendent of the tools shown here. Yes, our ancestors were unable to send emails, but they knew how to fashion tools to hit with and to scrape meat from bone and they did so through a trial-and-error means now known as Science and an Engineering approach known as best practices.

Figure 1 – The oldest known human made tools dated 3.3 million years old

The First Science

When these ancestors of ours matured from hunters and gatherers and settled in villages they did so because of primarily one capability – agriculture. This happened some 12,000 years ago in several different regions around the globe from Mesopotamia to China. In order to facilitate the rise of agriculture many technologies were mastered but the first Science was invented – astronomy. It was through the “watchers of the sky” who observed and documented the movements of the heavens that as a society we conquered the timings of the sowing and harvesting cycles. It was also through agricultural surpluses which became available that new forms of economic wealth could be generated, and stable cities created supporting art and culture.

The First Engineered Solutions

To support the expansion of agriculture some of the earliest engineering solutions came to the fore. These included irrigated farming, canals for shipping crops, and eventually pumps for moving water through these systems.

The Legacy of Technology Today

Reaching back across the millennium these technologies and Scientific advances and all their cousins speak to us every day. The lattice of our technological society at times both recedes into the background as an assumed white-noise and at other times intrudes upon us with their beeps and flashes and annoying ethical dilemmas. Some prefer to ignore technical change as it can be overwhelming while others plunge into the daily waterfall of the new as if a drug. What of you?

In this space we will continue to explore a variety of technological topics and their impact on society and ask the question – how would this relate to the perspectives left us by Henry George.

References

  • Morelle, Rebecca, Oldest stone tools pre-date earliest humans, BBC News, 20 May 2015
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