This is Part 2 of a series of four posts about Technology education. You can find Part 1 here.

Technology has Impacts and Consequences; it Evolves

Supre - Jingle My Bells
Are these shirts appropriate for pre-teen girls? Why or why not? And what about the petition against it? Is the petition appropriate? Why is thinking about the appropriateness of technologies important?

There can be no doubt that technologies have impacts and consequences across various domains: social, cultural, environmental, ethic, aesthetic, functional and economic. When we think about how a technology / technologies have impacted on our world, we are really asking what has changed as a result of the product. Furthermore, there can be positive and negative impacts and consequences across the entire lifecycle of the technology, from its design, to production, to utility or function, and finally to its disposal. Appropriate technologies are those that in their creation and use meet human needs while considering the short- and long-term consequences for society and the environment.

Think about some technologies that may have positive or negative impacts or consequences as you consider various aspects of appropriateness of technologies.

How is this bicycle culturally appropriate? Environmentally appropriate? Aesthetically appropriate? Functionally appropriate?

Consider cultural appropriateness:
Who is being included or excluded by this technology? How will this technology affect different cultures?

Consider environmental appropriateness:
Is it sustainable? Is there minimal consumption of resources, including energy? Can it be repaired/maintained? Can recycled materials be used? Is it recyclable?

Consider ethical appropriateness:
Who controls this technology? Is it fair to use it? Can it be used harmfully or destructively? Is it beneficial?

Consider social appropriateness:
Will this help, or force, lifestyle change? What social groups will benefit or lose out? What sort of organisational system is needed to use it? Are stereotypes being challenged? Who is included or excluded by this technology?

Is this technology culturally appropriate? Environmentally appropriate? Ethically appropriate? Socially appropriate?
Is this technology culturally appropriate? Environmentally appropriate? Ethically appropriate? Socially appropriate?

Consider aesthetic appropriateness:
Does this add to users’ self-esteem? What values are upheld by the aesthetics of this technology?

Consider functional appropriateness:
Is this technology safe in its functioning? How does the function of this technology affect its user? How does the function of this technology change the context? How does the function of this technology affect the environment? Is the function of this technology sustainable?

Consider economic appropriateness:
How will this technology be traded? Who benefits from its distribution? How does this technology participate in the current economic context? What impact will this technology have on the local/national/global economy?

Science and technology are intricately interwoven. Sometimes, a scientific discovery will lead to a new technology, and the new technology gives us access to new scientific discoveries, or gives us better accuracy at measuring or investigating a scientific phenomena. This leads to new discoveries…

On a much larger scale, technology has been instrumental in our own evolution. Technologies change our behaviours, our social and cultural requirements and interests, and our ability to interfere with our environment. We even name our historical periods after our ability to work with or access to technologies: The Stone Age, Copper and Bronze Age, Iron Age, the Agricultural Revolution, Dark Age (so called because there was limited technological development, although this is disputed), the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery, the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, Space Age, Information Age…

An example of this can be seen with the printing press. Prior to the invention of the printing press (which is seen as the trigger for the beginning of the Renaissance), few people were literate. Books were hand-copied, and those that could read them were largely clergymen or monks. Emerging capitalism in the west necessitated an increase in literacy among the middle class. In 1450, Gutenberg invented Europe’s first movable-type press, which immediately increased access to books for the middle class. Increased access to books led to increased literacy. The steady democratisation of knowledge and dissemination of texts meant further increases in literacy, leading to the invention of the industrial printing press. The invention of the industrial printing press led to the invention of newspapers, and further literacy.

Incidentally, the printing press also led to the establishment of a community of scientists who could more easily share their discoveries, thus leading to the scientific revolution…

The evolution of the mobile phone.

Another example can be found in Hans Rosling’s TED Talk – The Magic Washing Machine. Entertaining (fictional but plausible) examples are also detailed in Max Brooks’ World War Z. A discussion of our reliance on manufactured technologies is the focus of Thomas Thwaite’s TED Talk – How I built a toaster — from scratch. We can also reflect on how common technologies such as mobile phones, devices for playing musical recordings, and televisions have evolved from analog to digital technologies.

Why is this important?

You have to know the past to understand the present.
– Carl Sagan

When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.
-John M. Richardson Junior

Which would you like to be? Which would you like your students to be?

Continue to Part 3 of Four Ways to Consider Technology Education.