As long as there have been people, there has been technology. Indeed, the techniques of shaping tools are taken as the chief evidence of the beginning of human culture. On the whole, technology has been a powerful force in the development of civilization, all the more so as its link with science has been forged. Technology—like language, ritual, values, commerce, and the arts—is an intrinsic part of a cultural system and it both shapes and reflects the system’s values. In today’s world, technology is a complex social enterprise that includes not only research, design, and crafts but also finance, manufacturing, management, labor, marketing, and maintenance.
In the broadest sense, technology extends our abilities to change the world: to cut, shape, or put together materials; to move things from one place to another; to reach farther with our hands, voices, and senses. We use technology to try to change the world to suit us better. The changes may relate to survival needs such as food, shelter, or defense, or they may relate to human aspirations such as knowledge, art, or control. But the results of changing the world are often complicated and unpredictable. They can include unexpected benefits, unexpected costs, and unexpected risks—any of which may fall on different social groups at different times. Anticipating the effects of technology is therefore as important as advancing its capabilities.
This chapter presents recommendations on what knowledge about the nature of technology is required for scientific literacy and emphasizes ways of thinking about technology that can contribute to using it wisely. The ideas are sorted into three sections: the connection of science and technology, the principles of technology itself, and the connection of technology and society. Chapter 8, The Designed World, presents principles relevant to some of the key technologies of today’s world. Chapter 10, Historical Perspectives, includes a discussion of the Industrial Revolution. Chapter 12, Habits of Mind, includes some skills relevant to participating in a technological world.