8 Pages

Technology as Self-Determining

Discussions of revolutions in communication are often built on and/or foster a kind of technological determinism. Indeed, terms like communication revolution or rise of technology suggest a force beyond human control, or even beyond human understanding. But of course technologies do not arise independently. Rather, they are developed-by purposeful human action in complex cultural settings. What is known about the cultural settings in which technologies are developed? Again, we can return to the story of print for at least a partial answer. Clanchy's (1979) work, From Memory to Written Record: England, 10661307, on the complex shift from oral to written modes in government and business settings, and Kaufer and Carley's (1992) modeling of the impact of print in a variety of cultural systems both suggest how the growth of technologies of literacy, and their impact, is gradual, complicated, and highly dependent on what Kaufer and Carley call "co-evolving elements of society" (p. 295). Some of these co-evolving elements are cultural (e.g., the trust in writing whose slow development Clanchy's traces), whereas others are technological, such as the development of inexpensive paper, the spread of transportation systems, or the refinement of the printing presses themselves (Kaufer & Carley, 1992). In short, conditions must be right, both for technologies to develop and for them to have widespread impact.