Technology is a broad concept that covers the transfer of scientific knowledge into practical applications. This includes everything from using smart robots in manufacturing to the internet and satellite networks. The word is also used to describe any electric-powered device that processes information and transmits it to another electronic device. This includes your computer, tablet, television, and phone.
Technology improves the human environment by solving problems and making things easier for people. It has propelled many societal changes, from stone tools to steam-powered ships to nuclear power and rockets. It is an ever-changing world, and new technologies are constantly being developed to help us in our daily lives.
The term “technology” comes from the German word Technik, which means ‘the useful arts’. It entered the English language in 1860 with the publication of a book called The Useful Arts by William Barton Rogers. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology took its name from this book, as did the British Royal College of Technology in 1885. The book influenced a wide range of writers, including social scientists. Some of them challenged its claims about the causal relationship between science and technological change.
One such argument was advanced by Thorstein Veblen in his 1911 essay titled Technology and Culture. He criticized the notion that technology was determined by its material form and by the values it represented. He argued that this was the case whether we considered the sublime end of planetary science or the mundane task of brushing teeth.
A more recent critique of technology focuses on the role of human agency in deciding what technologies are produced and adopted. It is based on the idea that the invention and development of technology is not simply an automatic process fueled by a race to create better tools for survival. It is a conscious, rational choice to order and transform matter, energy, and information in a way that realizes valued ends.
These choices are shaped by the circumstances and values of a society at a given time, and they take into account a wide range of factors, such as consumer acceptance, patent laws, government policies, availability of risk capital, social and political pressures, media attention, economic competition, and tax incentives. It is often the case that different technological options are pushed to the forefront or suppressed in favor of others, depending on the particular situation.
It is also important to understand that technology is a cumulative, combinatorial phenomenon. Each new technology builds on the previous ones, and each new combination leads to further combinations. This is why it is often difficult to pin down exactly how much of a specific technology is active at any given moment, and why the active set always increases over time. The only thing that may stop this process from continuing is a fundamental shift in societal values or the discovery of a more efficient alternative. This has happened several times in history, and it is likely to continue.