The History of Technology

The history of technology encompasses the invention and development of tools and techniques. These can range from primitive stone tools to complex genetic engineering and information technology that emerged in the 1980s.

The earliest technological innovations began during the Paleolithic Period (15,000 to 20,000 years ago), when people first acquired various tools and techniques for everyday use. It was during this time that these first people acquired their vast array of tools and devices which would later become essential in their daily lives.

This period in history marked a pivotal turning point for humanity. It marked the transition from gathering, processing and storing plant food to one based on animal husbandry, marking the start of many great civilizations around the world.

In the Neolithic Period (5,000 to 6,000 years ago), more materials became accessible for construction. Notable innovations of this time included clay and brick building materials as well as fire as a reliable power source.

Additionally, the discovery of metals and other materials which could be worked manually or in a furnace led to further innovations in tool design. Notable examples include the stone-headed spear, harpoon, and bow.

From this period on, there was an exponential growth in the invention and application of new techniques. By the Industrial Revolution, there was an incredible variety of products in use and steam engines had revolutionized production.

Despite this rapid pace of technological progress, many societies remained stagnant for extended periods, particularly after the Industrial Revolution. This was mainly because, as with other social sciences, accumulated technologies weren’t passed on to future generations as they are today.

In the late 1980s, a major shift occurred: social construction of technology (SCOT). This approach to technology history had become popular since its inception and was eventually coined.

This research asserts that technologies are the product of negotiation between various groups, rather than being determined by an internal technical logic. This goes against the traditional view of technological determinism which held that one individual (i.e., an inventor) could determine the outcome of a technological project.

Another revolution occurred in the mid-80s, when Pinch and Bijker initiated a program of historical analysis of social construction. This perspective suggested that technical artifacts were created within an overall social and political framework (Bijker & Law 1992).

In addition to this focus on technology’s social construction, an overall interest in science and technology was growing. This was partly due to philosophers of technology such as Houkes and Latour who sought to open up this black box of technology by exploring how knowledge is generated.

This academic movement has seen great success in several countries, particularly the United States and Britain. It sought to enrich academic curricula with theoretically and sociologically informed questions about issues such as scientists’ social responsibilities, risks associated with nuclear energy, proliferation of nuclear arms, and environmental pollution. This area of work – known as Social Shaping Technology (SCOT) – encompassed disciplines like industrial sociology, technology policy, and economics of technical change.

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