Commenting on the role of technology in social change, Ogburn writes “Technology changes society by changing our environment to which we in turn, adapt. This change is usually in the material environment and the adjustment we make with”. ………. Technology affects society greatly in that a variation in technology causes a variation in some institution or custom. The introduction of machine technology as a result of the discovery of the new sources of energy has had such far-reaching consequences that it is often described as a “revolution.”

Invention and discovery are significant characteristics of our age. The present age is often called the “age of power”, the “scientific age.” It has been well said that, “the most novel and pervasive phenomenon of our age is not capitalism but mechanization, of which modern capitalism may be merely a by-product.” Mechanization has changed not only the economic structure of society but has also led to a steady devaluation of old forms of social organisation and old ideologies.

Our attitudes, beliefs and traditions have crumbled before technological advance. The spirit of craftsmanship, the divine ordering of social classes, traditions regarding the spheres of the sexes, the prestige of birth all have felt the shock of mechanization. ……….Take a familiar example of the status of women in the industrial age. Industrialism has destroyed the domestic system of production, brought women from the home to the factory and the office and distinguished their earnings. It has meant a new social life for women. The invention of gunpowder changed the very technique of war.

  1. Standardization of goods, an evident consequence of modern technology, has made possible not only cheap production of goods but highly organized, efficient, mass distribution of goods. The textile plant has brought about organisation of labour, and a complicated system of production and distribution. Increased productive efficiency in industry released a considerable proportion of the population for service functions. A large body of men, such as engineers, bookkeepers, buyers of raw material and sellers of finished products, not actually engaged in doing production work grew.
  2. Changes in production and trade posed new problems of political regulation. The functions of law expanded. The number of law-makers, of bureaucrats to apply the law, of lawyers to interpret the laws increased. The application of science to industry, agriculture and health gave rise to a host of new service activities. The industrial worker went down in social status and the social functionaries rose to a high status. If we just look around us we will realize the enormous change that is going on in society owing to technological inventions.
  3. The most spectacular invention of our age, the atomic energy, has vastly influenced our life. As an agent of war it brought about the most appalling annihilation of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As an agent of peace it may bring an unprecedented era of plenty and prosperity. We can see how the automobile expands the range of social relationships and reduces the communal character of the neighborhood.
  4. The rise of standard of living, the transformation of class structures and of class standards, the rise of middle class, the undermining of local folkways and the disintegration of the neighborhood, the breaking up of the old family system, the increasing dominance of urban ways over those of the country, the improvement in the conditions of women: the birth of new conceptions and movements like communism and socialism, are the result of the changes in production technology. Men have grown pragmatic in their philosophies. They are more devoted to quantity than to quality, to measurement than to appreciation. Their attitude is mechanistic. The life of reflection is at a discount.
  5. Changes in the agricultural techniques have affected the rural community. With the invention of new agricultural tools and chemical manures, agricultural production has increased there by raising the standard of living of the rural people. Fewer people are now needed for agriculture. Consequently many agricultural labourers have shifted to cities to find employment.
  6. Not only the techniques by which the members of a society produce the necessities of life have changed effecting a change in the social relationship, the changes in the means of communication also have affected social life greatly. Changes in the techniques by which modern communication devices are produced, have the same social implications as do the changes in the production technology. But changes in communication devices have additional implication because the uses to which they are put have by themselves profound social significance.
  7. The basic function of all communication devices is the conquest of time and space. The techniques of communication limit the scope, and to a considerable extent the character, of the organizations that man can develop. Communication is an important factor determining our social life. Its techniques definitely limit the kind of organized life that a people can have. The primary techniques of communication are speech and gesture since these techniques provide the base upon which all other modes of communication are built. Writing is speech put in graphic form; radio communication is the transportation of speech through space. Gestural and linguistic differences are a significant deterrent to the growth of intimacy and understanding between people of different societies and groups. In the past few centuries significant developments have taken place in the field of secondary techniques of communication. These developments have been encouraged by technological change.
  8. Alphabetical writing is superior to ideographic writing, the first form of graphic symbolization in point of historical developments. A flexible and simple system of writing permits the rise of secondary forms of political organisation. Where men are wholly dependent upon primary techniques of communication, no enduring, complex and highly integrated organisation can exist. The alphabetical writing facilitates the invention and diffusion of cultural elements
  9. .The invention of the printing press made possible for the first time in human history comparatively cheap and easy reproduction of cheap matter. The rise of science was in large measure stimulated by the development of the printing press. The recording and printing of scientific findings has resulted in the accumulation of locally unusable knowledge. The printed records have thus become a storehouse of wisdom upon which the would be inventor can draw at will.
  10. The printed word also makes for a wide and rapid diffusion of inventions and discoveries within the members of a society and between societies. It gives to many what would otherwise have been the monopoly of the few. The rapidity, with which cultural changes have been occurring in modern age can be attributed to the greatly increased use of the printed word as a means of communication. The press has influenced entertainment, education, politics and trade. It has brought to the country dweller knowledge of the urban life and has often led him to want the things of the city or go to the city.
  11. Similarly, the invention of radio, telegraph and telephone has influenced the business, recreation, public opinion and furthered the development of new modes of organisation. Ogburn has listed 150 both immediate and distant social effects of radio on uniformity and diffusion of culture, recreation and entertainment, transport, education, dissemination of information, religion, industry and business, occupations, government and politics and on other inventions.
  12. The changes in the modes of transportation have variously affected our social relationships. Transportation is the physical conquest of space. The methods and means of transportation determine how easily men can move themselves and how easily they can meet peoples of other places or other societies to exchange goods or ideas. The importance of transportation in modern social life can hardly be stressed. Modern man lives so much on wheels that he would not be able to live in suburbs and work in the city were it not for the local transport, that he could not leave home for the station with only a few minutes to spare were it not for the automobile, that he could not use many a thing for breakfast were it not for the ships and trains that tie the many places of the world together commercially. If the wheels of transportation were to stop for a single day, the life of the modern society would be put out of gears.
  13. Transportation is an important factor in the determination of spatial aspect of social relationships. As the means of transportation have changed, the spatial relationships of the members of the group have also changed. The rapid means of transportation now available have encouraged the growth of intercontinental trade and the interdependence of countries. The intermixing of people belonging to various countries led to the removal of much of misunderstanding and feeling of hatred and jealousy were replaced by sympathy and co-operation. This assisted in the progress of the sense of universal brotherhood.
  14. The latest invention in the field of transport, the airplanes have brought swift delivery of good. The growth of cities with their consequent problems of urban life is another important result of the development of the means of transport. There is a greater mobility of population today in which the modern rapid means of mobility of population today in which the modern rapid means of transport have played an important part. They have broken the barriers to cultural isolation. A people, who because of physical isolation are culturally isolated, may under the modern means of transportation technology become a host for all the world.
  15. The new modes of transportation have played significant role in the diffusion of cultural elements. The steamship, the railroad, the automobile and the aeroplane may, in short, be regarded along with the printing press and the radio as devices that have lessened cultural isolation and paved the way for cultural uniformity. The transportation developments of the past few centuries, most especially of the hundred years just past, have played a vital role in the economic integration of the peoples of regions, of nations and of the world at large, though social integration is yet to develop.
  16. Family ties have broken and there is a movement away from family and community loyalty, to a movement towards individualism. They have also intensified social and psychological uprootedness. They have promoted hedonism. Individualism has supplanted traditionalism. Bureaucracy has grown in number and power. Human relations have become impersonal and secondary.
  17. It may also be noted that when an invention has an influence on some institution or custom, the influence does not stop there but continues on and on. Ogburn gives us an example to explain the point. The influence of the cotton gin in the United States was to increase the planting of cotton, since it could be processed more quickly and with less labour. But cotton production could not be increased without more labour, so additional Negroes were brought from outside; and slavery grew very rapidly. The increase in slavery was a second derivative influence of the cotton gin. The increase in slavery led to the Civil War, the third derivative influence of the cotton gin.
  18. However, as explained by Ogburn, the addition of the gin should not be regarded as the sole cause of slavery system and civil war which were caused by many other factors. Therefore, to get a correct picture of the influence of invention it should be noted that a given invention is only one of the several factors producing a particular result and similarly the primary result of an invention is itself one of many factors producing the secondary derivative influence. It is common knowledge that a social phenomenon is almost never produced by one factor alone.
  19. The derivative influences of inventions become often quite slight when the second and third derivatives are reached. The influence of the inventions producing cheap fibres in breaking down class barriers through the cheapness and abundance of fibres is overshadowed by other factors. Indeed we should not go too far in tracing the influence of a single invention of distant derivatives.
  20. When a number of inventions converge or accumulate on the same place, their influence becomes significant. Manufacturing, transport and communication inventions, like factory machines, the electric railway, the telephone, the radio, the cinema brought about the city. These inventions are all very different material objects and have different uses, yet all are centred as one result, namely, the creation of cities, whatever may be other purposes they serve. The purpose of the telephone inventor was not to create the cities, nor was that the aim of the maker of electric railway. But the social forces have grooved the uses of these inventions to aid the development of cities.
  21. Just as a single invention has a derivative effect, similarly, a group of converging inventions may jointly have a derivative effect. Thus, the growth of urban communities, a more or less direct effect of manufacturing, communication and transportation inventions, posed such technological problems as that of providing safe and efficient means o artificial lighting. The development of modern lighting technology led to the development of kerosene. A bye-produce of the distillation of kerosene was gasoline which was a tempting source of power and led to the invention of internal combustion motor. Around the internal combustion motor was developed the entire automobile complex. And as developments in lighting technology reduced the demand for kerosene, the surplus kerosene encouraged further developments in technology. It was converted into gasoline and led to the production of better motor fuels. The motors using this fuel were devised.
  22. Thus changes in one system of technology have led to changes in other systems. Moreover, the city is the cause of crime; family disintegration, suicide, ugliness and expanding State control. The social workers need keep this point in view that crime a phenomenon of city life, in fact flows from the power invention that made the cities. Many of the evils of city life are truly the effects of the newer transportation and communication inventions of the twentieth century.

Thorsten Veblen has summarized the impact of the technology in terms of following points:

  1. Impact on social life:
    • Individuality
    • Problems of housing
    • Disparity of sex ratio
    • Crime, corruption and competition.
    • Decline of community life
    • Psychic conflict and disease
  2. Impact on family life:
    • Disorganization of joint family
    • Employment of women
    • Decrease in the function of the family
    • Love, inter-caste, late marriage and divorce
  3. Impact of economic life:
    • Development of capitalism
    • Large scale production and development trade
    • Division of labour and specialization
    • Economic depression and employment
    • Higher standard of living
    • Industrial dispute, disease and accident
  4. Impact on religion:
    • Secularization
  5. Impact on rural society:
    • Migration
    • Agricultural Development
    • Mechanization of Agriculture
    • New Class Formation

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