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Influences on Society
Michael Novak stated that there were three influences on any society: Political influences, Economic influences, and Moral\Cultural influences. The political influences consist of the governmental body of that society and the laws and regulations set by this governing group. The moral\cultural influences consist of the "voluntary associations" of a society: the churches, media, education systems, the people in this society. The final influence being the economic influence, which is the rate of employment, GDP, incidence of poverty, and structure of economic activity. Novak made this theory into an object, a "triangle" of sorts, with each influence being a point on this "triangle." Novak goes on later in his theory to deal with other influences, but as other dimensions. What Novak appears to have missed in his theory is another very important influence on society that influences, and is influenced by the other points of this "triangle," technology. The Middle Ages did come up with a few inventions, such as windmills and horseshoes, but technological process was imperceptible compared with what is happening now. Very soon, a fiber the diameter of a human hair will be able to transmit, in less than a second, the contents of every issue of The Economist magazine that was ever printed (Economy Survey 4). Since Adam Smith, economists have recognized that technology is important for growth, but only in the past two decades have they been studying this subject in earnest (7). There pioneer was Joseph Schumpeter, one of the few economists who tried to explain growth mainly in terms of technological innovation. In the 1930's, he presented a model that postulated growth through the interaction of bursts of technological development and competition between companies (8). His evidence pointed to history. First, the 1780s to the 1840s, which brought the steam power and drove the industrial revolution. Second, the 1850s to 1890! s introducing the railways. Third, the 1890s to 1930s with electrical power. The fourth, the 1930s to 1980s with cheap oil and the car. Now, today it is argued that Schumpeterians' would label this period of history as being powered by technology in all areas (9). Then there was "new" growth theory, hatched in the mid 1980's by the work of Paul Romer, an economists at Stanford University. His theory attempted to incorporate technology directly into models of economic growth by explaining how knowledge in the shape of both technology and human capital is created and spread through the economy (8). This essay will attempt to use evidence created by economic research and show how technology is influencing and influenced by political, economic, and social/moral issues; creating a fourth point on Novak's triangle. Technology throughout history has been a major influence on governments in many different societies. It has caused wars, and prevented them too. The invention of the cotton gin played a major factor in leading to the Civil War. Because of the cotton gin, production of cotton rose and the export of cotton from the United States to other countries rose too. The need for more workers, slaves at the time, rose too. This influenced the government by pushing the need for slavery, and look what happened as a result. Sputnik help lead a governmental race between two countries to see who could reach the Moon first. The invention of the A-bomb led to the end of a real war and the start of a cold one. Just recently, technology has been a major factor in the fall of several Communist governments. With the invention of the television and satellite dishes, as well as the Internet, many people could have access to media, propaganda, and information not available in their own society! and learn how their governments really were not all that great, leading to a fall for those governments. Just recently, the Chinese government was influenced by technology and decided that many Western ideas could cause the same result of government failure via the Internet. They banned over 100 sites or links on the Internet to prevent this (Chen 1). The idea of terrorism has been around for many years, but the idea of cyber-terrorism has not. With the technological advances in communication lines overseas. Terrorist hackers could cause more damage on a governmental body's computer system than could a nuclear missile and at a cheaper price. This has forced many governments to spend money and create protection from these types of attacks. Technology has also been influenced by governments as well. With the railroad movement in the late 1800s, governmental rules and regulations helped technology to be used as a catalyst for competition. Technology, in the form of television and radio, are both heavily regulated in the United States and in other countries. Currently, the Supreme Court is making the decision if cable systems must carry all the local channels. During the "Great Leap Forward," Mao's government helped stop technological process by making the Chinese do nothing but farm or make iron of no value. Government's also influence technology by imposing restrictions on what can be invented to better society (or so they say). For example, if it wasn't for government restrictions on environmental issues and car technology over the past decade, the car could be as cheap as $100 and get 100,000 miles per a gallon (tempting, isn't it) because of less money spent on regulations and more on research. Other ! policies have prevented the continuation of genetic cloning and other "black" medical projects. Without adequate funding from a governmental agency, new technologies can not be invented or even thought up. With the technological influence and governmental responses to these technologies, economies can get stronger or weaker. This leads to the other point on Novak's "triangle," economics. Falling prices, one of the best measures of the speed of technological progress, confirms the impression that the pace of changes has accelerated. The rapid decline in price also encourages more people to buy more technology, allowing it to be distributed more widely (Economy Survey 10). Technology has greatly influenced many economic systems of the world. Japan is a prime example. One of the many great boosts to its economy after W.W.II, was the innovation of new technologies that other countries would like. With these new technologies, Japan has become one of the strongest economies of the world. A look back at American history can show that technology was a great influence on the economy. During the Industrial Revolution, trains helped pave the way for small business in towns formed by these railroads, and trade among cities and other countries increased at a rate of almost 40% a year. With the help of Henry Ford, the idea of the production line (which is still cons! idered a technology), helped lead to production of thousands instead of hundreds of automobiles. The PC and communication revolution of recent years has caused almost every company small, and large, to incorporate the use of computers in order to make these companies' goals more feasible. One advantage of technology's influence on economies is that it reduces communications and transaction costs, helping markets to work more efficiently (10). Technology also follows Says Law of supply creating its own demand. VCR's, PC's, contact lenses, Super Nintendo's, etc., are good examples of creating markets out of thin air and in turn, helping the economy. At the same time, rapid technological change is confusing and rapid forecasts are easily hyped, which can cause some negatives for the economy too and adversely, affect technological progress. Technology is greatly influenced by economics in the form of funding and demand for new technologies. Imagine what would have happened if the PC was invented during the Great Depression. There would not have been any "PC Revolution" during this time period because of the state of the economy, as no one had the money to afford to create or buy PCs. The same is true for many countries today. Africa's economies have never been that strong and technology has not been much help to these countries because of the economic situation. Until recently, India was pretty much the same way. With a stronger economy, there is now more money being spent on R&D, resulting in more technological progress for the future in India. How much money is placed in R&D (Research and Development) greatly influences how technology will evolve. The stronger the economy, the more technology that comes out of this economy. Of course the economy is also strongly based on the people and their desire for! this technology, which leads to the final point: moral\cultural influences on technology. What would life be without TV? Automobiles? Nintendo? Ask any kid these questions in a developed country and they would respond very negatively. Most people know what these technologies are because their society has been influenced by technology. Imagine what life would be like without the invention of the boat or airplane! These are just some of the technological innovations that have influenced society. American history can tell many stories of how technology has influenced society, but most people can just look around and see it's affects (both positive and negative). Some of the positive influences of technologies on a society's social/morality can be seen by the medical advances and healthcare. Some negative influences are the increase in violence and illiteracy. Before the TV and Radio, many children read classic novels and their homework. Now, the overall education of these children is pathetic. One advantage to the new technology is the vast amount of informa! tion available to people that was usually not available. China's governments actions can show how much these technologies have influenced its society in a "negative" way for a Communist government. The best way to see technology influencing societies is looking at other societies that are not as developed as the West is. For example, India's society has just recently been greatly influenced by technology in the form of cable television and consumer durables, such as washing and dryer machines. Their society now has machines that can do the work of what many had to pay someone else to do or do themselves. The idea of a machine doing the work of a human scares many societies and causes a backlash against technology. This leads to the influence of societies' moral and cultural standards upon the pursuit of technological growth. Unemployment due to machines has been the greatest fear of many societies. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, people have predicted that machines would destroy their jobs and their lives as well. The book, Frankenstein was the result of a technology gone astray. The author wrote the story to keep people from inventing all these new technologies. Karl Marx himself said that, by investing in machinery, factory owners would create a vast army of the unemployed. In the late 1940s, Nobert Weiner, a pioneer of computing, forecast that this new technology would destroy enough jobs to make the depression of the 1930s looks like a picnic. With all the negative publicity of new technologies, many societies choose not to invest in some technology and without a demand or the ideas for technology, progress is slowed. Unemployment is not the only driving force behind the influence of society on technology. There are many groups against technological progress. These g! roups help stop a technology by petition, debating, and by any means necessary (as did farmers with burning the cotton gins in 1840s). Technology can not progress unless there is someone that thinks up an idea, but that idea can be stopped very quickly by a societies' view of that idea. John F. Kennedy was quoted as saying: "If men have the talent to invent new machines that put people out of jobs, then they certainly have the talent to put these people back to work." (Unemployment 21) Kennedy's speech was based on the idea of creative destruction: new jobs are created, while others are rendered obsolete. Societies must learn that to complain is human; to adjust essential. Either way, technology is influenced by this point. Michael Novak stated that there were three influences on any society: Political influences, Economic influences, and Moral\Cultural influences. As seen by this essay, there are many reasons that there should be a fourth point added to this "triangle." Throughout history, technology has seen to influence and be influenced by political decisions. These technologies also have helped build economies and destroy those that chose not to use technology. Society has also been greatly influenced by technology in positive and negative ways, and society has greatly influenced technology as well. Technology as the fourth point of a triangle? How about a square or trapezoid? --- Works Cited Mowery, David C., and Nathan Rosenberg. Technology and the Pursuit of Economic Growth. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989. McKenzie, Richard B., and Dwight R. Lee. Quicksilver Capital. New York: The Free Press, 1991. Rosenberg, Nathan. Inside The Black Box: Technology And Economics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Chen, Kathy. "China Bans Internet Access To as Many as 100 Web Sites." Wall Street Journal 5 Sept. 1996: 1-2. "Technology and Unemployment." The Economist 11 Feb. 1995: 21-23. "Technology In Finance." The Economist 26 Oct. 1996: 3-22. "The World Economy." The Economist 28 Sept. 1996: 3-4, 7-10, 19-23, 43-45.


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