Technological Momentum and Education

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Hughes presents a case for talking about technological momentum as a point between two opposite ideas; social constructivism and technological determinism. This raises questions as to what exactly the relationship is between technological momentum and soft determinism. Both ideas deal with the effect society has on technology and the effect that technology has on society. I will argue that while both ideas seem to be the same, there are important distinctions to make between the two. One is that Hughes’s idea of technological momentum is time dependent. So it is sensitive to society, culture, and the changes that occur to a technological system as it matures. On the other hand, soft determinism doesn’t distinguish between when a system will tend to be affected most by society, and when that technological system will have the most influence on society. In his essay, Thomas Hughes presents a case for technological momentum. The idea of technological momentum lies between the extremes of social constructivism and technological determinism. Social constructivism is when social or cultural forces determine technological change. Technological determinism, on the other hand, is the idea that technical forces determine social and cultural changes (Smith, 102). Within his essay Hughes points out how technological systems evolve during their lifetime to fall under either of these extremes. According to Hughes, the maturity of the system often times dictates its influence on society and the impression the society itself can have on the technological system. One might point out that the idea of technological momentum is similar to the idea of soft determinism. The soft view of determinism is the belief that technological changes drives social change, but social pressures also influence it. Both of the ideas use the view that technology effects society, and that society effects technology. The ideas of technological momentum and soft determinism are very similar in the ways that they view the relationship between society and technology, as both state that social development shapes and is shaped by technology (Smith, 102). However there are important distinctions between the two that prove that they are indeed different. One important distinction to make between technological momentum and soft determinism is that Hughes’s technological momentum is time dependent and takes into account the multitude of changes that a technological system undergoes during its lifetime. Hughes emphasizes that a young or less complex system will be influenced more by society than influence society, which maintains the social constructivist’s view that it is primarily society that influences technology and technological change within the system. Ultimately, technological momentum and soft determinism are not two concepts referring to the same idea because of the emphasis Hughes puts on time and the maturity of the technological system, and how that plays a role in whether it’s technologically deterministic or socially constructed. In his essay Technological Momentum, Hughes uses examples of various technological systems to help support his claims. His example for a system that both shaped and was shaped by society is EBASCO. The Electric Bond and Share Company (EBASCO) was an American electric utility holding company of the 1920’s. EBASCO provided financial, management, and engineering construction services for the utility companies. There are multiple instances of social construction within EBASCO’s history. Hughes begins illustrating the social constructivism side of the spectrum by showing the technological forces that helped shape the EBASCO system. “The spread of alternating (polyphase) current after 1900, for instance, greatly affected, even determined, the history of the early utilities that had used direct current, for these had to change their generators and related equipment to alternating current or fail in the face of competition. (Smith,...
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