Technological determinism rightly explains cultural and social changes

Technological determinism is a body of theory that argues that changes in technology are responsible for cultural and social change. The relationship between technology and culture is a dynamic one.

Somebody said, “ The world is not changed by revolutions. The world changes in laboratories.” Technology has been the biggest determinant in the cultural and social changes that  have been witnessed over the years.

It is said that the modern age started with the development of printing press. Industrial revolution in the 18th century was the next big change driven by technology which changed the very nature of human existence and civilization. Industrial revolution was followed by colonization as newly industrialized countries like England, France and Holland started colonizing far-flung countries in their quest for raw material. This colonization was accompanied by transfer of technology to the colonized nations. The introduction of technology brought social and cultural changes in the native societies of the colonized countries. This kind of colonization would not have been possible without technological elements like : ships, clocks, trains, weapons and compasses to navigate.

Actually the term technology was developed along with the phrase “ Industrial Revolution” for describing the radical changes that were taking place in Western countries like England, France, Holland etc, in the eighteenth century because of the spread of industrial revolution.

Technology now not only refers to the technological system as a whole but also to individual items of technology like radio, television, phone etc.

Technology influences and is in turn influenced by cultural and social values and economic status of a society. In the relationship between technology and culture, technique is the central component. Technique is the way in which a culture or society uses and imbibes technology in its very structure.

Technology affects the ways of thinking and psychology of a society. By influencing the way of thinking, technology affects social values and cultural customs in a significant way. Technology in the past two centuries has been the biggest driving force in the replacement of old ideas and conventions by newer ones. Actually the emergence of technology has made culture a dynamic process all over the world. No longer is culture a static process that remains fossilized in time and space.

The interplay between technology and culture has been one of the chief characteristics of human civilization. The needs for communications and transfer of information and knowledge to posterity gave birth to writing. The development of writing technique was a revolution and it changed the dynamics of human civilization. The Greeks by inventing alphabets invented literacy and the literate basis of thought. But this literacy, invented by the development of language, couldn’t be leveraged on a massive social and cultural scale until printing technology was invented somewhere around early 12th century . Printing made communication in written language possible on an unprecedented scale, hitherto unseen (Crowley, David and Paul Heyer, 2011).

Printing was a major cultural and technological transformation not only in the history of Europe but also of the world. The printing revolution gained full momentum around the middle of 15th century5. Texts in vernacular languages started getting printed in large scale and this drove the spread of literacy to near and far corners of Europe. Technology soon became responsible for the development of a literate and educated society in Europe. The educated human resources of Europe was the major reason behind Europe’s emergence as a global leader in the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries (Crowley, David and Paul Heyer, 2011).

The spread of knowledge caused by the printing revolution also created an environment which was conducive to further technological innovation. Scientific research got a boost as education spread and knowledge could be stored permanently in printed form.

The next big technological change which had a major impact on society and culture was the invention of electricity. Electricity made possible new forms of communication like telegraph which made possible communication over distances (Havelock, Eric, 2008).

The old adage is that Necessity is the mother of invention. There was a strong social need for communication over distances and this need finally gave birth to the invention of telegraph. The process is that an existing or latent social need gives rise to technological inventions for fulfilling that need. This technological invention by fulfilling the need of the society affects the culture and society in the most significant way.

The creation of a wide society brought by technological inventions in communication led to the creation of a mass society. Mass media which came into existence with newspapers- after the invention of printing press – reached the next stage with the coming of television. Mass media played an important role in creating a more homogeneous society where consumption patterns were more homogeneous (Havelock, Eric, 2008).

The expansion in industrial economy because of sustained technological progress increased productivity per capita which resulted in per capita increase in income. Higher income meant higher disposable income and this gave a new thrust to consumption and consumerism. As consumption and consumerism gained momentum, society and culture started changing in an important way. A more individualistic society started taking shape. Large department stores started coming up, which changed the way of product consumption in a significant way.

Another major technological change which changed culture and society in a big way was that of motion pictures. The magical experience of watching life moving on screen was nothing like anything humanity had ever seen before. Motion picture started affecting culture in a big way. It gave birth to new kinds of fashion which were soon imitated by the audience. Motion pictures both influence and are influenced by contemporary zeitgeist (Mumford, Lewis, 2006).

Technological progress increased per capita income to such a level that a large and critical mass of middle class came into existence. This middle class wielded significant influence on social and cultural values. Movie stars and sports men became idols of this burgeoning middle class which found the embodiment of their aspirations in them .

Somebody said that the three greatest inventions are: fire, wheel and the central bank. It would be appropriate to add computers and internet to the list of the greatest inventions. The birth of fast computing was preceded by the invention of micro-chips. Micro-chips became integral component of electronic consumer durables. Consumer durables became handy because of the use of micro-chips and this gave a tremendous boost to their usage at a massive scale.

Computers increased human productivity further. Because of the use of computers capital-output ratio declined significantly and this higher productivity resulted in higher per capita income. The higher per capita income enhanced living standards in both developed and developing countries.

Computers made possible storage and processing of massive information in real time. This supported innovation in areas like medicine. Internet democratized information and what was only a privilege of the elite soon became the indulgence of the masses. The spread of information brought by internet is having a tremendous affect on society and culture around the world. Internet has succeeded in penetrating even the least developed countries of the world4. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa which lack access to decent public and social infrastructure enjoy access to internet. Facebook, a social networking site has around 1 billion users. Search engine site Google is affecting contemporary society and culture in a way few things had done before .

The year gone by saw a phenomenon it had never seen before. A surge of revolutions against dictatorial regime started sweeping Middle East Asia and Africa. What started as a small wave of discontent in the small nation of Tunisia soon snowballed into a tsunami of revolutions on the back of dissemination of information and images of protesting crowds through internet media and satellite television channels. This surge of revolutions eventually came to be known as the Arab Spring and it brought down firmly entrenched dictators like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Technology has played a major role in the spread of democracy from a few developed countries to developing and least developed ones.

Information technology has dramatically changed the way in which individuals relate to information. The process of globalization has got wings because of development of internet and information technology.

Actually globalization is an empirical evidence of the theory of technological determinism. Without transport and communications technology globalization would not have been possible. In turn globalization strengthened and intensified technology affect by increasing technology transfer from developed countries to developing and least developed nations (Samuelson Paul and  Nordhaus William, 2000)..

Globalization has molded local social and cultural values in a major way  and is giving rise to a global culture and society. This homogeneous global culture and society is likely to have a positive impact in future in the form of reduced socio-cultural frictions and clash of civilizations. On the wings of technological innovations the world is slowly but steadily moving towards the ideal of one world, one planet.

The emergence of a homogeneous global society and culture is not killing local cultures. Actually local customs and values are coexisting in the subtext of the global culture. The spread of technology is making life richer culturally and socially.

The technological transfer has resulted in cultures of developing countries getting exposed to the cultures and social values of developed ones. Hollywood movies and stars have become a global phenomenon and American movies like Titanic and stars like Al-Pacino and Robert De Niro are being adored and idolized in countries as far-flung as India and Sri Lanka. No wonder then movies are America’s second biggest exports after aero planes.

Technology has underpinned the economic growth of our civilization over the years. The jumps in productivity brought by technology increased per capita income and disposable income.  Economic evidence shows that technological changes and innovations have contributed the most to growth in productivity (Samuelson Paul and  Nordhaus William, 2000). The growth in individual and national productivity has resulted in unprecedented rise in standards of living. The rise in standards of living has changed social and cultural structure in a big way.

Technological progress has caused opening and widening of mental horizons. A superstitious and conventional culture and society is giving way to open and unconventional cultures in nations around the world. Technology is creating a more skilled and educated society on a global scale (Mumford, Lewis, 2006).

Technology has also made cross-cultural interaction possible. People are being exposed to foreign cultures and values. This exposure not only enriches them but over time it increases their tolerance to other cultures.

A great social change has come because of increased life expectancy in almost every country of the world. The increased in life expectancy has been caused by technological developments in the field of health and medicine. As individuals live longer and healthier lives they get more opportunities for making a positive contribution to social well-being.

Technological changes in future will contrive to drive social and cultural changes. By reducing the asymmetry of information between the different social groups technology is likely to contribute to the creation of a more just and open society.

The biggest technological change of near future will be that of 3D printing or additive printing. The Economist has gone to the extent of calling additive manufacturing as the third industrial revolution – the first industrial revolution was in 18th century England while the second one occurred in 20th century America when Henry Ford invented division of labor and assembly line came into existence. The third industrial revolution, like its first two predecessors will also bring other social and cultural revolutions.

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that the world is what it is today because of technology and technological innovations. And in the socio- politico- economic- technological process technology is playing the most important role. The world is teeming with empirical evidences that support the theory of technological determinism i.e. changes in technology are responsible for cultural and social changes. As long as technology will continue to evolve, societies and cultures will too continue to evolve. And the world is definitely changed in laboratories where technologies are developed. Technological revolutions make much more profound impact than social or political revolutions. And as the example of last year’s Arab Spring manifests political and social revolutions too are being driven by technological ones.



  1. Crowley, David and Paul Heyer, 2011,  Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society. 6th ed.Sydney: Pearson
  2. Havelock, Eric, 2008 “The Greek Legacy.” In Crowley and Heyer, Communication, 38–4
  3. Mumford, Lewis, 2006, “The Invention of Printing. In Crowley and Heyer, Communication in History.74–77.
  4. Murphie, Andrew and John Potts. Culture and Technology. New York: Palgrave, 2003.


  1. Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Routledge, 1982.
  2. Samuelson Paul and  Nordhaus William, 2000, Economics, Prentice Hall


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