Technoloqy and Change
Technology is an important force for change, in some ways, technological development has made our lives much easier. Advances in communication and transportation havean,a, eous communication possible but have also brought old belicr systems and the status quo into question as never before. Today, we are increasingly moving information instead of people-and doing it almost instantly. Advances in science and medicine have made significant changes in people's lives in high-income countries. The light bulb, the automobile, the airplane, the assembly ne, and recent high-tech developments have contributed to dramatic changes. Individuals in high-income nations have benefited from the use of the technology; those in low-income nations may have paid a disproportion-ate share of the cost of some of these inventions and discoveries, Scientific advances will continue to affect our lives. from the foods we eat to our reproductive capabilities . Genetically engineered plants have been developed and marketed in recent years. and biochemists arc creating potatoes. rice. and cassava with the same protein value as meat (Petersen. 1994). Advances in medicine have made it possible for these formerly unable to have children to procreate; women well beyond menopause arc now able to become pregnant with the assistance of medical technology. Advances in medicine have also increased the human lifespan. especially for white and middle- or upper-class individuals in high-income nations; medical advances have also contributed to the declining death rate in low-income nations. where birth rates have not yet been curbed. Just as technology has brought about improvements
in the quality and length of life for many. it has also created the potential for new disasters. ranging from global warfare to localized technological disasters at toxic waste sites. As the sociologist William Oghurn (1966) suggested. when a change in the material culture occurs in society, a period of cultural lag follows in which the nonmaterial (ideological) culture has not caught up with material development. The rate of technological advance at the level of material culture today is mind-boggling. Many of us can never hope to understand technological advances in the areas of
artificial intelligence. holography. virtual reality. biotechnology,cold fusion, and robotics. One of the ironies of twenty-first-century high technology is the vulnerability that results from the increasing complexity of such systems. As futurist John L. Petersen (1994: 70) notes, "The more complex a system becomes, the more likely the chance of system failure. There arcare unknown. secondary effects and particularly vulnerable nodes:' He also asserts that most of the world's population
will not participate in the technological revolution that is occurring in high-income nations (Petersen. 1994). Technological disasters may result in the deaths of tens of thousands. especially if we think of modern warfare as a technological disaster. Nuclear power. which can provide energy lor millions. can also be the source of a nuclear war that could devastate the planet. As a government study on even limited nuclear war concluded, Natural resources would be destroyed; surviving equipment would be designed to use materials and skills that might no longer exist; and indeed some regions might be almost uninhabitable. Furthermore. pre-war patterns of behavior would surely change. though in unpredictable ways. (U.S. Congress,
1979. qtd. in Howard. 1990: 320) Even when lives are not lost in technological disasters. families arc uprooted and communities cease to exist as people are relocated. Tn many cases. the problemis not solved; people are moved either temporarily or permanently away from the site.