Assignment 1 – Determinism

A few exemplary responses that we discussed in class:

If we use the Internet instead of Television in Williams’ 9 examples, they do not become more convincing, and thus prove that his arguments are still valid. We can replace television and the internet with any technology in the first five examples, and they would still be accidental. We could put any other technology in the last four examples and they would still be symptoms of change in a society. Internet, like any other technology, is simply a result of change in society. So my view here is there is no such thing as technological determinism. Change makes technology, not the other way around.
Heilbronner seems to argue against this view but in fact, some of his reasons actually support this idea of “symptomatic technology.” For example, Heilbronner states that “the course of technological advance is responsive to social direction,” which means that the direction of technological advance is partially the result of social policy. In other words, technology could be the result of social policy, which supports the “symptomatic technology” view. In another example, he states that the period of early capitalism provides a compatible setting for the rise of science, and science gives rise to technology. So in this case, we could say that change makes technology, as the new capitalist society is responsible for the rise of new technology. -Christy

Regardless of the technological advances that are made there is a pre-determined need and intention for each and every new discovery. Williams is absolutely right when he says, “technology is developed with certain purposes and practices already in mind” (14). Things aren’t invented out of thin air. The light bulb wasn’t created for no reason at all; there was a need for an everlasting light. Indeed many things can be an accident, but in each and every case there is a motivation to begin working. Heilbroner ignores this fact and in turn his analysis seems to fall short. His general claims about the relationship between technology and society cannot be directly applied to reality. It’s almost as he has misunderstood Marx’s idea, in a sense the steam-mill does give us society with the industrial capitalists, but the effect in two-fold. An innovation is created with intention and once perfected applied to an ever-changing world. In Heilbronners defense, certain groundbreaking technologies set off an explosion of newer technologies in direct relation to it. (Computer à Internet à 3G, 4G etc…) these new technologies do change the way in which a society functions. To sum it up, a shift in society gives way to new technology that itself can change that society once again and so forth and so on. No technology can be directly pin pointed for the change of society, the complex shift in socioeconomic behavior is one that fills up until it spills over the top and explodes with something that just so happens to be a great new innovation. -Ramez
Williams argues that his nine definitions of the technologically deterministic television are “sterile” due to the fact that they abstract technology from society. If we instead consider the Internet, I believe his argument no longer holds. In particular, interpretations (iv) and (v) now carry more weight: Developed as a method of augmenting existing communications technologies, the Internet enabled intermingling, and therefore inherent changing, of various societies. The Internet (rather, ARPANET) did not grow out of isolation, but as a means to unify the existing but segregated networks and media of the world, and as such, cannot be considered a self-acting force; Heilbroner’s view of incremental progress as a social activity more accurately fits the development of the Internet Protocol. Heilbroner writes that the success of industrialization “is attributable mainly to government support and to its appeal in society,” so that social interest is a catalyst for technological progress. This accurately details the history of the Internet, the conceptual development of which was funded by government organizations like the DoD and DoE, institutions like NASA, and corporations like AT&T, with separate networks but common goals, needs, and profits, a key argument against the isolation of technology from society, and against Williams’ dismissal of the nine definitions, with respect to the Internet. – Jon Ko.

Raymond Williams opposes the widely accepted view of the nature of social change known as technological determinism, where “new technologies are discovered… which then sets the conditions for social change and progress” (Williams, 13).  On the other hand, Robert Heilbroner accepts this concept, illustrating his point with a passage by Karl Marx, “The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.” If the Internet is used instead of the television in Williams’ nine examples for how television has altered our world, then I believe the arguments do become more convincing, thus proving Williams wrong.  In the specific case of the Internet, Heilbroner’s approach makes more sense because the Internet’s development is on a sort of set course and seems to be “bounded by the constraints of knowledge and capability… a determinable force of the historic process” (Heilbroner, 340).  While I would normally support William’s belief that both technological determinism and symptomatic technology are not wholly accurate because they fail to consider intention in the process of research and development, for example, the development of new weaponry in response to warfare, Heilbroner would most likely agree that it is the Internet’s profound impact that has determined and altered the nature of our current socioeconomic order.  The internal process of research and development which led to the Internet was a determined path, yet the way the Internet is applied and used in people’s daily lives is fundamentally a reflection of social influences. -Elise

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