Technology is the combination of various practices, tools, machines, and concepts utilized in developing products or services or achieving goals, for instance, scientific research. The term “technology” was first used by J.M. Sweeny in his book “The Techno-economy.” The dictionary definition is “applying scientific knowledge to practical ends such as improving quality of life, through the effective use of new techniques or machines, or the facilitation of certain processes.” By this definition, technology could only be applied to things that fall within this domain.
In the late nineteenth century, the term technology was used to define a range of new sciences, including anthropology, botany, physics, sociology, and engineering. It was also applied to a range of new disciplines, including communications and mass culture. In the twentieth century, the term technology was increasingly used to refer to different approaches to different areas of applied science. For instance, while the name technology was once again used to define airplanes and automobiles’ engineering, the discipline became identified more with aeronautics’ specific engineering practice.
Technological systems tend to be defined as systems built around particular technical objects. Thus, it is not surprising that the definition of technology changes over time. While the eighteen-seventeen Article of Rights guaranteed the right to freedom of expression for all individuals, the twenty-first Amendment bars protection of any technology unless such technology is regulated by law. Additionally, technological objects are defined as those that can be custom made, manufactured, assembled, disassembled, stored, or designed for specific purposes. Other essential distinctions include:
Aristotle’s definition of technology in his Topics of Ethics (fourth century BC) is divided into three main categories. According to Aristotle, technology is a collection of skills and knowledge forming human activity. Humans can learn how to produce their understanding through experimentation, design physical objects, utilize human and animal muscles, make and manipulate information, communicate, build and develop means of transportation, and manage military strength. The goal of Aristotle’s ethical theory is to understand how technological systems come into being and what technology plays in constructing a society. Aristotle also maintains that technical systems have three primary stages: technology first in the production stage, technology second in the usefulness stage, and technology third in the societal role stage.
In the period immediately following the Second World War, America experienced massive manufacturing and business competitiveness growth. As industrialization increased, so too did the number of patent offices in America from which most innovations would be sought. Thus, between the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries, more patent offices in America than textile mills in Europe and Asia combined. This was a period of tremendous technological change and progress in virtually every sector of the economy, but, surprisingly enough, there was very little political attention to the idea of industrial arts policy and the creation of a system for industrial planning or industrial policy.
By the middle of the twentieth century, the focus of attention on American industrial policy had become far more sophisticated than it had been at an earlier time. One of the most critical people credited with having the foresight to realize that industrial policy was necessary was Herman Schatzberg. He received his doctorate in mathematics at Harvard University and then spent twenty years working as an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, specializing in applied mathematics. After retiring from the university in 1950, he went to work on developing computer software, working as a consultant on the development of the Ethernet.
In his later years, while still a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Schatzberg developed his ideas into a much broader academic treatise entitled “The Expanding Circle: On Metaphors and Metrics,” which remains a classic economic and social geography and political science literature. In this treatise, he develops his material means theory, positing a relationship between material means and cultural behavior, also referred to as the artistic approach to technology. According to this theory, technological systems are the outcome of cultural systems. Both being of a social nature, they tend to institutionalize and reproduce existing organization and behavior patterns.
According to the classic example of this literary Aristotle, Tiresias, in his famous book the Essays, there are three types of technological systems: conservative liberal or democratic. According to Schatzberg, technical systems can either be progressive, which is to progress toward greater complexity levels, or classical, which tends to return to the more basic organization and behavior forms. As a result of their differences in nature, he claims a tension between the technological and cultural manifestations of life. This tension, according to Schatzberg, must be resolved for progressive change to occur. The only solution he suggests is to find an agency by which to regulate and the tension through technological mediation.