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What should Technologists know about society?


There are various societies, which live on this planet, and they differ widely as much as the distance that separates them in real life. With the advent of the Internet, this physical divide has been obliterated and many different cultures and their ideas are present in this new technological age.

A technologist, especially in these days of globalisation, should have a good insight into the entire human race as well as the society in which he/she works. Thus I will break my paper into two parts. The first will deal with what a technologist should know about a particular society and the second will deal with what a technologist should about the human race. Together it will describe what a technologist, in an ideal world, should know about society.

Part One: A Particular Society

The Culture of the Society

A technologist should have some knowledge of the culture of a society. He/she should experience some of the Art of the society. Art is the drainpipe of the ideas that a society has developed over the years. A technologist should experience this Art through paintings, sculpture, literature and music.

Something of the history of the society should also be known. History shows how the society was formed and how it has developed through time. By studying the history of a society, a technologist can look at past example of how new technologies affected the society in the past. How the society embraces it or didn’t and how the society changed and adapted because of this technology. This in turn can lead a technologist to better understand how the same society will be affected in the present climate of new technologies, which are spreading at a phenomenal rate.

The Priorities Of The Society

A technologist should know the dominant priorities of a society. Such priorities could be family or work or indeed past-times, to mention a few examples. These priorities and their order are a factor in the mentality of a society and can thus cause it to differ greatly depending on the priorities. They help to determine how a society functions and therefore thinks, which is needed by a technologist to design a product.

Morals & Ethics

Another factor in the mentality of a society is the morals and ethics that are prevalent in it. A technologist should know of these prevalent morals and ethics an also be aware of them.

All this information can show to a technologist, the character and mentality of a society and can lead to a greater understanding of the society. All this leads to a greater insight into a society. This insight into how a society thinks will lead to better analysis and design of technology with respect to how a society will use the technology or product and will help with making it user-friendlier. Such insight can also provide the technologist with a better understanding of the effects and influence that a technology will have on a society. This understanding of the mentality of the society can also provide a technologist with an insight of what a society may need or indeed may not need computerised or ‘technologised.’

Part Two: The Human Race As A whole

Besides knowing certain things about a particular society, a technologist should also have a good understanding of the human race, the society of the world.

Human Nature

There are some traits of mankind, which are present in all societies; they can be covered by the umbrella term of human nature. This human nature is a strong influence in all societies and in this age of globalisation, it makes sense that a technologist should know about it and indeed understand human nature.

One thing that a technologist should realise and know is that mankind is curious. The human race will use a technology for all possible uses, perhaps not even the use for which it was designed for in the first place. This will lead a technologist to better understand the influence or effects that a technology may have on society.

A technologist should also know the power of novelty. A technology, which on its first emergence, may be quite popular and successful because of the novelty factor. A technologist should know that society might snap up a new technology because of its novelty and later discard it. A technologist should know this and be able to see which technology society will see as a novelty and which society will see as being more of a long-lasting product.


This leads me into the idea of the Practical Vs the Impractical. A technologist should see from his/her understanding of society, what is a practical technology and what is not. Society will reject a technology if they deem it to be impractical and useless. A technologist should know which ones are useful and which ones aren’t. From this understanding he/she will be able to better design technology so that society will easily see the usefulness of it.

There is also the possibility that many technologists may want everything to be computerised when it is not needed nor wanted.
“In the home in the short term future there will be speaking bathroom scales, freezers which remind you to restock them, cookers which tell how the meat is coming along, telephones that tell you how many people have rung in you absence, doorbells which inform you how many visitors you have had thermometers that advise you what to wear before you get up.”i
Some of these ideas are useful and practical others are not and display the idea of a technologist who wants everything to be computerised. Technologists should always be aware that society does not need everything to be computerised, just some things.

Social Interaction

Social interaction is a major factor in our lives. A technologist should know the importance of social interaction in society and should understand it and be able to use it in design and analysis. If he/she does not understand the importance of social interaction then the technologies that they design run the risk of coming across to the user as being too mechanical and cold. This is of real importance in the industry of software engineering, where the end product will be used by a wide selection of consumers of varied computer experience and confidence. The group of consumers could vary from one of the most experienced computer scientist to the most green computer user. If the program appears too mechanical it can frighten away new users. This would increase the divide in society of the computer literate and the computer illiterate.

In Conclusion

What a technologist should know about society is a broad range of subjects, which should deepen his/her understanding of society and how it thinks and functions. A technologist needs to have a good insight into society and this will lead to better analysis and design of technology. In an ideal world all technologists would be trained as Paul Goodman described; they “should know something of the social sciences, law, the fine arts, and medicine, as well as relevant natural sciences.”ii However this is not an ideal world and many technologists “focus their professional reading on technical handbooks”iii rather than reading “broadly about the social aspects of computerisation.”iii However in my opinion for them to do their job correctly technologists need to know about society, they should never lose sight of humanity and shouldn’t become one of the machines that he/she designs or analyses.

i) Excerpted from The Might Micro, Christopher Evans, 1979.
ii) Excerpted from Teich, 1990 pp. 236.
iii) Excerpted from “Information and Computer Scientists as Moral Philosophers and Social Analysts.” pp. 34 of “Computerisation and Controversy: Values Conflicts and Social Choices.” Rob Kling , 1996