In the 21st Century Media technology and Telecommunication Technology has undergone tremendous changes in its technological advancement. In the 1990’s this technological innovation has given birth to the World Wide Web and the Internet technology.
Many writers in this field in many theoretical perspectives have analyzed the impact of media technology on society. In this essay I will discuss the theory of “technological determinism and its inevitability” using primarily the theoretical and historical evaluation of Media technology on society advocated by Burnett & P. David Marshall in their book “Web Theory: An Introduction”. In addition I will also use examples of Radio and Television on Western Society and the forces, which shaped the Medias impact on Society values and culture and, way of life as well as how it supplemented or whether it replaced the earlier Media technologies such as Television, radio, News papers and print technologies.
Brief history of Internet
The origins of Internet are in the Military Institutions of USA. It was an incidental development to gather Security information and assimilations within the defense bureaucracy. It was in the public domain as government was involved in its early development. Later the Universities recognized its potential to share information within the universities and they adopted this technology for their research work.
As a result of this process the bulletin boards appeared first for science fiction and then for personal and other reasons by many user groups who had common interest. After the Internet was commercialized and independent service providers entered the market and e-commerce was introduced by the private sector and the control of web past from the public sector to the private sector. (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall, 2003, pp: 11-12)
Definition of the theory of “technological determinism and inevitability
The theory of technological determinism can be defined as the major influence of the dominant technology to have a major impact on society and its inevitability and its transformation power and the replacement of older technologies and social practices. It assumes that people react to technology and economic, social, institutional and political factors is not that important and the major force can be reduced to technology as a major change agent for the societies advancement and enlightenment. (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall, 2003. pp: 10-11)
Origins of the theory of “technological determinism and inevitability
The origins of the theory were due to several writers who promoted this theory as well as powerful people in politics and in Commerce promoted it. These writers attributed just like other media technologies the Internet also will have a revolutionary impact on society. (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall, 2003, pp: 7-8)
The ideology of technology and its effects
The ideology of technology means is a representation is completely normal and natural for the culture as well asappropriate. That is the new technology not only natural and normal bur also what is needed to make the society better. It reduces the debate to a functional level rather than public debate and becomes a cultural reality in every day lives and we accept new technology passively. It promotes that we cannot be happy without the latest model of technological equipment or model. (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall, 2003, p: 9)
Evaluation of Technological determinism based on Web Theory
As discussed above from the brief history of the Internet and noticing other factors has also played a part in the evolution of the Internet such as institutional and social patterns it is obvious that new technology alone may not bring about a revolutionary change in society. As well if this theory stifles public debate it may not produce positive outcomes and can be detriment for societies progress. In addition it does not take in to account social, economic Institutional and political factors as important and it may oversimplify how technology impacts society and gives in appropriate weight for technology as a major factor for social betterment.
However some writers of technical determinists have shed some light on the actual development of web technology, which in itself can be a major social change factor in limited situations. They are H.A. Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Lewis Mumford (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall, 2003, P: 12). According to H. A Innis
A dominant communication medium can be time-based or space based. (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall, 2003, P: 13) According to him time- based communication system will produce a close society and a space based communication medium will produce a more open society. (, Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall 2003, P: 13) Web technology is an active play with space and time and its diffused and web does not have a center however as it originates in America on the other hand it may create a centralizing model of communication. (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall, 2003, P: 14-15).
Another interesting question. which arises from Inns insight is how the space is defined through the web? Does the control of virtual space control the geographical space? (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall 2003, P: 15) The virtual space is discontinuous with the material world of countries and geopolitics. (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall 2003, P: 15) However there may be new divides across
Evaluation of Technological determinism based on Web Theory geographical boundaries in the virtual world grouping activities and interests which may relate to power groups that may be not coordinated with the interests of empires if multinational companies do not control the cyberspace. If they control the cyberspace then it will have repercussions in the international geopolitics of work, economy and culture. (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall 2003, P: 15)
In the perspective of Marshall McLuhan he theorizes technology as a medium. In the Web Theory of Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall they highlight the utility of seeing web as a medium rather than its content because it points in the right direction how a technology incorporates other technologies in the early stages and evolves on a long-term basis rather than replacing past technologies as web uses voice, text, visual and graphics to convey messages and linked with other networks and similar sites.
(Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall. 2003 p: 17) In addition McLuhan saw the expansion of television and other communication technology internationally he came with an idea of global village. (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall. 2003 p: 18). According to Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall this idea of global village in respect of television internationally a least for 80 years in their view television as a media technology has been a major force for the culmination of nation state and nationalistic cultures as well they concluded in some circumstances the television and other media technologies can have similarities for example the death of Kennedy televised across the world may have produced a kind of global village.
However they rejected that these events did not produce sense of community like a village, which depended on interpersonal knowledge to make sense of the world. (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall. 2003 p: 18)
Evaluation of Technological determinism based on Web Theory
McLuhan also has theorized technology can produce electronic collective consciousness. (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall. 2003, p: 19). In the view of Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall this idea is utopian however they concluded that in smaller ways web technology can produce collective consciousness because of its nature and accessibility to information learning in schools and beyond has become to retrieve information and transform in to knowledge and action rather than route learning and memorization in western societies before advent of the web. (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall. 2003, p: 19).
As well Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall point in page 20 that technology can shape our behavior in particular ways so that we often become unified with the technology and give examples of driving a car and it has to become automatic to drive the car with confidence.
According to Mumford technology has become out-of control and poised to ask question whether web has become out-of-control and a channel for further centralization of power or web is an extension of general human interest and democratizing knowledge and power? As well on an individual level one can ask the question does the web intuitively an extension of self in to kind of collective network of knowledge or information or the individual is absorbed in to the web technology which produces technological rationality that does not allow the individual to examine the system the individual is using.
(Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall, 2003, p: 20). According to Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall these questions are complex and there is no simple answer and it depends on the web culture and the kind of information and knowledge it generates. (Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall, 2003, p: 20).
Examples of existence of Radio and Television in the advent of web Technology
In the western world even in the era of web technology some groups get news and other information as a medium as opposed to web technology because of its appropriateness to some groups and in some contexts. For example if say a politician wants to convey a message then Television and radio is preferable to web technology as web technology is not accessible to may people and it has to have some interaction than the other medium and web technology is diffused than has a central point. That is the older technologies have their niche markets even in the advent of web technology and web technology supplements the other older technologies and they don’t replace overnight these technologies but in an evolutionary manner they enter in to our lives. The technology in itself has an impact on society.
However as envisaged by the technological determinist theorists the dominant technology does not change in a revolutionary manner the society and other factors such as economic, Institutional, social patterns and cultural factors shape the use of technology and they play a part in shaping the society as a whole. In addition all previous technologies loose their transformation power after some time. For example Radio when invented promised a kind of utopian future for human knowledge, education and enhancement and change society in a revolutionary manner but radio did not realize this vision as envisaged by many technological determinist writers and powerful leaders at that time. It applies to Television as well.
In addition news papers and libraries still exist side by side with web technology but they use web technology
To advertise their services and to deliver services efficiently and expand markets as web technology is more spatial than the other technologies.
As discussed above technology definitely to some extent shape our lives. However it does not shape our life in a revolutionary manner as proposed by the technological determinist theorists. Other factors play a part in shaping the technology itself and social, Institutional, political and cultural factors affect societies development and progress as well. In addition the new media technology as discussed above do not replace it but supplements and converge. It is also from the above discussion some theoretical insights in a limited manner applies to web technology as well in terms of its collective consciousness in some contexts and seeing web as a medium and the human-technological interface as theorized by some technological determinist theorists.
In my view the Technological determinist theory is applicable in some circumstances and context but it is not applicable to web technology or any other technology that technology itself will transform society. However web technology compared to older technology has a potential to be in our day-to-day life in a long-term trajectory because of its versatility and its special communication medium.
Robert Burnett, P. David Marshall, (2003) Web Theory: An Introduction, Chapter 1: Web Technology, London & NY: Routledge, pp7-22