Technological determinism is a phrase that describes how technology influences human evolution: how who we are is determined by the tools we invent and use. I’d like you to start using it to understand why the world is what it is today.
A perfect example of technological determinism: cell phones. Twenty years ago there were none; today they’re everywhere. We’ve witnessed a few ways that they are influencing our evolution.
First, they’ve made the world much smaller, by making it possible for people to connect just about anywhere, anytime. This connectivity has enhanced the homogenizing effects of economic globalization, while also making it easy for governments and corporations to track our movements; conversely, they have made it possible for whistleblowers and revolutionaries to get their messages out while cultural change is occurring, while increasing the speed of that change.
Second, the connectivity-aspect turns most cellphone-carrying youths into texting addicts, a kind of human being we have no previous record of: a new kind of human.
Third, driving has become noticeably unsafer because many drivers lose their concentration as they use their cellphones.
Marshall McLuhan was one of the clearest thinking and most enthusiastic proponents of technological determinism, and is famous for saying “the medium is the message.” Rightly, he concluded that technology—such as the printing press, radio and TV—created new “spaces” for humans to inhabit and exist mentally and physically in; and as people adapted to these new spaces, they changed: they evolved. The printing press gave us the Gutenberg Bible, which gave us Protestantism, etc etc. Radio gave us popular music, Hitler & FDR. TV gave us JFK and couch potatoes.
McLuhan, by and large, was a booster, a technological utopian; he put a positive spin on technological determinism, because the arrival of new technologies seemed always to open new “spaces” and therefore, new frontiers where freedom-lovers could dash to escape the strictures of older, crowded, stagnating “spaces.” He was writing in the 1960′s when Apollo missions were increasing the presence of humanity in the solar system, MLK was leading our nation to end racism, and the green revolution was reducing the cost of food while bringing all kinds of new foods into the supermarkets.
Because new technologies opened “spaces,” McLuhan thought that technological was a “neutral” force of human evolution. It was, “objectively” considered, neither good or bad—for example, the same cell phone technology used to trigger car-bombs is also used to call an ambulance.
I am not so sure, and will write about how, since it is the result of humanly-made economic decisions, technological determinism is not “neutral.” My goal is to explain 1) how technological determinism gave us the Fukushima meltdowns at the exact same time that president Obama insisted that we must have 30 new nuclear power plants (& the BP gulf spill at the time he was extolling offshore drilling), and 2) how many of the “spaces” sired by technological determinism have turned in exitless traps.