The Social and Economic Importance of Technology


Technology is the use of tools to achieve ends. The tools may be simple, such as sticks or stones for hunting, or complex, such as computer equipment. Technology has been essential to the advancement of many lines of scientific inquiry. For example, it enables the study of weather systems, demographic patterns, gene structure and other large-scale processes that would be impractical or impossible without its assistance.

While individual inventiveness is critical to technological innovation, social and economic forces strongly influence which technologies are embraced, promoted, paid attention to, invested in and used. They do so both directly, as a result of government policy and regulations, and indirectly through the circumstances and values of particular societies at any given time.

Most technologies also require the investment of money to build, operate and sometimes repair them. In addition, the materials used to create them must be harvested, and the waste products disposed of safely. Some technologies also demand considerable training to understand and use them.

Moreover, technologies must prioritize some routes and ends over others, and that prioritization necessitates neglecting other routes and other ends. For example, as digital cameras became more common, the pathway to photographs that went through film and darkrooms was deprioritized, along with inefficient, but gratifying workflows and a culture of physically retouching images for hours on end. This, and other trade-offs, is an inherent feature of any technology. It is for this reason that it is often difficult to predict what future a specific piece of technology will yield, and why apparently promising early technologies can stall midway through their development.