SO245 – Social impact of technology
Assignment 8 – Five-Paragraph Essay on Technology Evolution
29th July 2019
Comparative Analysis of Different Hypothesis Regarding the Evolution of Technology
Historically, anthropologists and sociologists have long debated the evolution of our society and the impact that technology has on it. To better understand the development of our civilizations, we will be observing the perspectives of different individuals. Although Lenski, White, and Toffler share similar opinions on the relationship between technological advancement and culture, they had different views on how these technological advances evolved. Gerhard Lenski suggested that for humans to advance and evolve, information is singularly important. Lenski also suggested that technological advancement’s motivity has been the evolution of civilization. Simultaneously, Leslie White thought that channeling energy is the primary objective and goal of any culture. In contrast, Alvin Toffler suggested that we are suffering from “information overload” due to the concept of “future shock” While all three individuals make excellent points in their convictions, careful analysis is required to determine what remains true in our society today. Let’s consider their perspectives as they relate to the nature of technological progress.
Profound sociologist, Gerhard Lenski (1924-2015) maintained that technological advancement and civilization share pervasive characteristics. Moreover, Lenski proposed that access to information is the key to human evolution and advancement. In his hypothesis, Lenski drew a close correlation between communication, technological advancement, and the progress thereof. According to Lenski, four stages of human communication exist. Stage one introduces biological communication; whereas, genes are passed from one generation to the next. Stage two refers to “sentience” or awareness of our surroundings and the ability to use our senses such as “touch and feeling,” perceptions and different experiences. Stage three demands our capability to understand and apply logic to our daily lives. Stage 4 suggests that we have reached a level where we are capable of communicating using symbols and advanced language skills. In addition, Lenski added that there are also varying levels of technological advancement, which can be broken down as follows. First, physical labor is required at the hunter-gatherer level to secure food production. Next, horticulture and agriculture are useful in establishing food surplus and social order. Finally, the “industrial revolution” replaces food-based economies that establish a new kind of social class inequality and new processes of production. According to Lenski’s perspective, the more knowledge we have about how to acquire and utilize the natural resources, the greater our ability for technological progress and advances.
In contrast, anthropologist Leslie Alvin White (1900 – 1975) also supported the idea of cultural evolution. Although he had similar ideas, he also had a different perspective and approach to the concept of human development. Moreover, White proposed that the function of any civilization is the means to control energy. Furthermore, White established different stages of human development. First, human muscle power supplies energy, followed by, that of the harnessing of a domesticated animal such as the horse for transport. Then, food energy is supplied by the engagement of agriculture and additional energy by harnessing natural resources such as coal, gas, and oil. Finally, although optimistic, nuclear energy can be harnessed for use as an energy source. A formula that remains useful today and developed by White is used to calculate the efficiency of energy produced by measuring the amount of energy consumed. The formula would be applied as follows:
P = E * T
In the formula above, “E” is the measure of energy consumed, while, “T” is the measure of the efficiency of technical factors that utilize said energy. “P” is the result we get when we calculate these two values.
Like Lenski and White, journalist and social critic, Alvin Toffler (1928 – 2016) offers an entirely different point of view than that of his counterparts. Although he also supported technological progress, his point of view was different in many ways. Coining the phrase and concept of “future shock, Toffler suggests that “too much change in too short a period of time” can lead to a large portion of individuals finding it overwhelming. Moreover, Toffler indicated that many individuals feel disconnected and that we suffer from “information overload,” another term that Toffler coined. Toffler identifies multiple stages of social advancement. First, the Neolithic period or “New Stone Age.” Beginning with the invention of agriculture, Toffler drew a parallel between the agricultural revolution and moving from barbarity to civilization. Next, the industrial stage beginning in England with the industrial revolution. Toffler suggests that important evolutions alongside this period include machine tools and steam engines. Finally, Toffler brings us to the post-industrial stage. Starting in the second half of the twentieth century, it includes automated manufacturing, robotics, and technologies such as the computer. During these years, the need for manual labor has decreased while the need for intelligent thinking has increased.
While anthropologists, sociologists, and other deep thinkers of our time debate over the impact that technology has on our cultural practices, society, and civilization as a whole, it is important to remain circumspect and find respect for all opinions. Comparatively, all three individuals thought that society had made technological advances in leaps and bounds, all three individuals shared the belief that as the creation and acceptance of technology increased in our culture, so did human civilization. However, Toffler maintained that some advances are being pursued at a speed that seems to be too fast for society to feel comfortable with; thus, overwhelming society into future shock which he believes is responsible for most of our current social problems. Furthermore, White found that controlling and harnessing energy would be the best course of action to advance and develop our society. Although I can appreciate the theories of all the individuals discussed above, I believe that Gerhard Lenski offers the most useful insights into the evolution of technology. He demonstrated his views of the stages of technological development from nomadic properties to the industrial revolution. Furthermore, he also explained the steps of communication that assisted in the process of technological evolution.