What is science and technology? How do they change? How do they relate to each other? These questions seem straightforward; however, to answer these three questions, one would essentially need to tell the story of human history. It is impossible to generalize with these terms because, as Oberdan states in Science, Technology, and the Texture of our Lives,“ the terms ‘science’ and ‘technology’ are used to mean different things in different contexts” (2011, 23). Over time, science and technology have always been changing, but their role in society has remained mostly the same; they shape the direction of society and play a crucial role in virtually every aspect of it. As history has progressed, innovation has been vast and widespread across many different categories. Some of the main areas of innovation that will be covered in this book include communication, travel, medicine, the study of science itself, weaponry/military technology, and manufacturing advances. Although the list of innovations, discoveries, and developments is extremely long, it is important to focus on the visible themes or trends—both short-run and long-run—that exist.
Theories of Science, Technology, & Society
This textbook deals with the study of Science, Technology, & Society (STS) – an interdisciplinary area of research that seeks to examine how scientific discoveries and technological innovations shape society and vice versa. There are several theories associated with STS to include modernization theory, social constructivism, and path dependence. It is helpful to look at the development of science and technology via a theoretical lens as it allows researchers to understand more about patterns and predictors for future development.
“…the terms ‘science’ and ‘technology’ are used to mean different things in different contexts…” (Oberdan, 2011)
Galen’s work on early anatomy relates to both science and technology because he created the first understanding of organ location throughout the human body. This lead to his creation of the surgical procedure of vivisection, both of which are now used as a basis of understanding for all medicine and medical operations. Additionally, after studying events like the black death, which killed more than 25 million people, scientists and city planners alike put more research into sanitation, clean running water availability, and other (now common) amenities.
Modern urbanization requires accounting for the impact that an easily spread illness outbreak can have, like the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918, which was “the most severe pandemic in recent history” (CDC, n.d.). The discovery of Tuberculosis and the development of antibiotics to combat it, as well as the MMR vaccine, both relate to Science & Technology in Society (STS) as they depict how innovation in our society has increased life expectancy and quality, and will prompt research into the future as the disease continues to become resistant. Without the development of vaccines, penicillin, and the discovery of DNA-along with its related research-it is highly unlikely that the world would have been able to develop into what it has.
TECHNOLOGY & the Military
Gunpowder, invented in the late 9th century in Asia, is a prime example of how new innovations spread rapidly and caused widespread changes in the world’s development (Whipps, 2008). Prior to the weaponization of gunpowder, most members of European civilizations lived in small villages or towns, and some near castles for protection. The evolution of weapons had already begun with respect to the evolution of armor and tactics. Weapons became all but obsolete with the emergence of chain mail. In response, soldiers began using swords designed to pierce, with a more acutely angled point. In response to this, plate armor was developed, which rendered those weapons relatively ineffective. Thus the soldiers needed to utilize heavier weapons to deal mortal damage. Gunpowder, or more specifically the development of the cannon and musket, changed the nature of civilizations
and their wars against each other, forever. It increased the fear common people had of outside invaders, it exponentially increased death tolls in wars, and it led to the necessity of developing much larger and more expensive fortresses to protect civilizations—known as star forts (Burns, 2019). With the increased need for security, and the massive diffusion of gunpowder technology and weaponry across the world, the role of kings/governments saw major increases. Much more money was required to protect civilizations, as well as to mount campaigns of imperialism across the world. While imperialism primarily focused on growing empires, one of its main functions was to spread ideas and inventions across the world. The study of science and technology in some countries led to minor breakthroughs at first, and later played a crucial role the development of new inventions, as well as the speed at which new innovations were made.
As weapon technology became more
advanced and civilizations united for protection and financial security, more innovations were created, such as the steam engine. The Transcontinental Railroad relates to the topic of Science and Technology in Society because the railroad system advanced all of America and developed the Western United States by leading to the emergence of factories. This ultimately led to economic prosperity in America. These major creations spurred an era of unprecedented urbanization known as the first major industrial revolution, which was led largely by several key innovations. As transportation of people and things became easier, and the manufacturing industry boomed, the world saw an increase in both output and consumer spending like never before. To meet the massive increases in population, consumer demand, and general social activity/interactions, technological innovation was absolutely critical. In less than three centuries, train lines, telephone and other instant-communication devices, as well as television, were developed, and the world began to grow more connected than ever before. Although urbanization in general led to the development of many innovations, sped up their transition into market, and created the demand for new ones, it also had downsides in terms of sustainability.
PRESENT DAY IMPACT
Today, scientists and companies work to power our societies using cleaner methods like Green, or renewable, energy, and to feed the earth more efficiently with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO‘s), like pest resistant crops. Private companies like Tesla promote scientifically better and renewable solutions for transportation, and across the world research is being done on solar, wind, and bio-fuels, among others, to solve our energy needs for the future. All of these advancements are due to the impact of Science and Technology at work.
Technological innovation has never ceased, and if anything, it has only increased its pace. From the development of cuneiform as a system of writing in ~3000 BC, to telephone communication in 1876, to now having almost an entire world’s news at our fingertips 150 years later, we have come an incredibly long way, very quickly (Morris, n.d.). This textbook will serve as a resource that describes many of the important inventions, events, and ideas that shaped both the history leading up to today, as well as the approaches and schools of
thought that guide today’s innovators. Clemson University states a long list of reasons why STS is important, some of which include: to understand that the world is interrelated-nothing occurs in a vacuum, to understand that social and political change can be driven by technology, and to convince students that citizens need to understand and be engaged in these decisions (Clemson University, n.d.). The objective of this textbook is to help readers not only analyze and explain the ways in which science and technology has effected society, but also be able to form logical and ethical ideas about STS.
- Short Answer: Why are Science and technology a crucial part of the development of modern society?
- Short Answer: What is one example of a technological and/or scientific innovation (old or new) that has changed your life today?
- Short Answer: Explain one role that science and/or technology plays in our society today (This can be either positive or negative, and can be linked to modern political debates as well).
Burns, J. (Spring, 2019). Notes of John Gressette from Hist 1730.
CDC. (n.d.). 1918 Pandemic (H1N1 virus). https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html.
Clemson University. (n.d.) “Welcome to Science and Technology in Society.” https://www.clemson.edu/academics/sts/.
McCullers, Johnathan A., and Jeffrey D. Dunn. “Advances in Vaccine Technology And Their Impact on Managed Care.” Advances in Vaccine Technology And Their Impact on Managed Care, vol. 33, no. 1, 2008, pp. 35–38. PMC, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2730064.
Morris, J. (n.d.). History of the Telephone. https://www.nationalitpa.com/history-of-telephone.
Oberdan, T. (2011). Science, technology, and the texture of our lives. Tavenner Publishing Co.
Whipps, H. (2008). How Gunpowder Changed the World. https://www.livescience.com/7476-gunpowder-changed-world.html.