Essay on the Impact of Technological Change on Social Order

W.F. Ogburn says, ‘technology changes society by changing our environments to which we in turn adapt. This change is usually in the material environment and the adjustment that we make with these changes often modifies customs and social institutions’.

A single invention may have innumerable social effects. Radio, for example, has influenced our entertainment, education, poli­tics, sports, literature, attitudes, knowledge and so on. Ogburn and Nimkoff have given a list consist­ing of 150 effects of the radio in the U.S.A.

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Impact of Technological Change on Social Order:

The development in the field of technology culminated in the great event of Industrial Revolu­tion. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century and the various developments woven around it revolutionalised human life in several respects.

The tempo of the technological changes has not vanished. Technology and technological changes continue to affect the human life and social order. The impact of technological change on the social order may be discussed here.

Effect of Technology

1. Industrialisation (The Birth of the Factory System of Production):

Technology has contributed to the growth of industries or to the process of industrialisation. ‘Industrialisation’ is a term covering in general terms the growth in a society hitherto mainly agrar­ian of modern industry with all its attendant circumstances and problems, economic and social.

It describes in general terms, the growth of a society in which a major role is played by manufacturing industry of the modern type. The industry is characterised by heavy, fixed-capital investment in plant and building, by the application of science to industrial techniques, and by mainly large-scale standardised production. Some writers hold that “the best general test of the industrialisation of a nation’s life under modern conditions is the rate and character of the growth of its industries.”

The Industrial Revolution that took place in England during the 18th century contributed to the unprecedented growth of industries. Industrialisation is associated with the factory system or pro­duction. Today, goods are produced in factories and not in homes.

The family has lost its economic importance. The factories have brought down the prices of commodities, improved their quality and maximised their output. The whole process of production is mechanised. Consequently, the tradi­tional skills have declined and a good number of artisans have lost their work. Huge factories could provide employment opportunities to thousands of people.

Hence men have become workers in factories in a very big number. The process of industrialisation has affected the nature, character and the growth of economy. It has contributed to the growth of cities or to the process of urbanisation.

2. Urbanisation:

In many countries, the growth of industries (industrialisation) has contributed to the growth of cities (urbanisation). Urbanisation denotes a diffusion of the influence of urban centres to a rural hinterland.

Mitchell refers to urbanisation as being the process of becoming urban, moving to cities, changing from agriculture to other pursuits common to cities, and corresponding change of behaviour patterns. Hence only when a large proportion of inhabitants in an area come to cities urbanisation is said to occur.

Urbanisation has become a world phenomenon today. In 1800 (i. e., before the Industrial Revo­lution) there were only 21 cities in the world each with a population of 100,000 or over, and all these were in Europe. By 1950 there were 858 such cities in the world (364 of them in the European continent) with a combined population of over 313,000,000.

An unprecedented growth has taken place not only in the number of great cities but also in their size. England, where the Industrial Revolution took place first, became urbanised at a relatively faster rate. England, America, Germany and Israel are the most urbanised countries of the world where more than 75% of the people live in towns and cities.

As a result of industrialisation people have started moving towards the industrial areas in search of employment. Due to this the industrial areas developed into towns and cities. A number of such industrial cities are there in the world now. Bangalore, Durgapur, Kanpur, Bombay, Calcutta of India, Manchester, Lancashire of England, Chicago and Detroit of America can be mentioned here as examples.

The growth of cities or urbanisation has resulted in urban concentration and rural depopula­tion. The unregulated growth of cities has caused problems such as – Overcrowding, congestion, insanitation, inadequate water and electricity supply; lack of privacy and intimacy, etc. The cities have also become the centres of various socio-economic problems such as crime, juvenile delin­quency, gambling, prostitution, etc.

3. Modernisation:

“Modernisation” is a process which indicates the adoption of the modern ways of life and values. It refers to an attempt on the part of the people, particularly those who are custom-bound, to adapt themselves to the present time, conditions, needs, styles, and ways in general.

It indicates a change in people’s food habits, dress habits, speaking styles, tastes, choices, preferences, ideas, values, recreational activities, and so on. People, in the process of getting them modernised give more importance to science and technology.

The scientific and technological inventions have modernised societies in various countries. They have brought about remarkable changes in the whole system of social relationship and installed new ideologies in the place of traditional ones.

In the process of modernsiation some typical forms of changes occur in the social structure of society. Changes in social structure involve role differentiations in almost all aspects of life. Growth of science and technology adds impetus to this process and finally accelerates the movement or the rate of change.

4. Development of the Means of Transport and Communication:

Development of transport and communication has led to the national and international trade on a large scale. The road transport, the train service, the ships and the aeroplanes have eased the movement of men and material goods. Post and telegraph, radio and television, newspapers and magazines, telephone and wireless and the like, have developed a great deal.

The space research and the launching of the satellites for communication purposes have further added to these develop­ments. They have helped the people belonging to different corners of the nation or the world to have regular contacts. The nations have come nearer today. The world has shrunk in size. The intermixing of the people has led to the removal of prejudices and misunderstandings.

5. Transformation in the Economy and the Evolution of the new Social Classes:

The introduction of the factory system of production has turned the agricultural economy into industrial economy. The industrial economy is popularly known as the capitalist economy. This transformation in the economy has divided the social organisation into two predominant classes – the Capitalist Class and the Working Class.

These two classes, according to Marx, are always at conflict because both have mutually opposite interests. In course of time an intermediary class called ‘the Middle Class’ has evolved. This class which consists of the so-called ‘ white collar’ people, is playing an important role in the society.

6. Unemployment:

The problem of unemployment is a concomitant feature of the rapid technological advance­ment. Machines not only provide employment opportunities for men but they also take away the jobs of men through labour-saving devices. This results in what is known as technological unemploy­ment.

7. Technology and War:

The highly dangerous effect of technology is evident through the modern mode of warfare. Today, not men, but guns, not hands, but bombs fight the battle. The atom bomb and the hydrogen bomb have brought new fears and anxieties for mankind.

The atomic and the bacteriological wars that can destroy the entire human race reveal how technology could be misused. Thus, the greater the technological advancement, the more ingenious is the devilish wholesale murder. However, tech­nology could be used for constructive purposes also.

8. Changes in Values:

Industrialisation, urbanisation, development in the means of transport and communication, the progress of democracy, introduction of secular education, birth of new organisations political and economic, etc., have had profound effects on the beliefs, ideals, tendencies and thoughts of the people. This has led to a vast transformation in the values of life.

Industrialisation and mechanisation have brought new values and philosophies. The traditional values have changed. Things are measured more in pecuniary terms. Men are devoted more to quan­tity than to quality, to measurement than to appreciation. Human beings by the use of machines have become less human, more passive and more mechanical. As MacIver and Page have said from the mechanistic point of view, “all things are means to means and to no final end, functions to functions and of no values beyond.”

Technological invention and industrial expansion have very directly promoted hedonism. People want to have ‘good time’ always. They have become pleasure-seekers. They want to maximise their pleasure by putting forth minimum, or no efforts.

Mounting production has provided them with sufficient money and also leisure to play and to enjoy. More importance is given to pomp and show than to contemplation and thought. Human relations are becoming impersonal and secondary. On all sides one is confronted with “human machines” which possess motion but not sincerity, life but not emotion, heart but not feelings.

There has been a movement towards individualism. Individuals are moving away from their family and community loyalty and responsibility. Individualism has intensified social and psycho­logical up rootedness.

Technology has substituted the ‘hand’ work with the ‘head’ work. This kind of work requires manipulation of people instead of things. “Manipulating others and being manipu­lated by others enhance individuation, the sense of being alone and operating alone.”

9. Changes in Social Institutions:

Technology has profoundly altered our modes of life and also thought. Technology has not spared the social institutions of its effects. The institutions of family, religion, morality, marriage, state, property, etc., have been altered.

Modern technology, in taking away industry from the household, has radically changed the family organisation. Many functions of the family have been taken away by other agencies. Women are enjoying more leisure at home. Much of their work is done by modern household electric appli­ances.

Due to the invention of birth control techniques the size of the family is reduced. Marriage has lost its sanctity. It is treated more as a civil contract than a sacred bond. Marriages are becoming more and more unstable. Instances of divorce, desertion and separation are increasing. Technology has elevated the status of women no doubt, but it has also contributed to the stresses and strains in the relations between men and women at home.

Religion is losing its hold over the members. People are becoming more secular, rational and scientific, but less religious in their outlook. Though religion has not been directly affected by the modern technology, inventions and discoveries in science have shaken the foundations of religion. They have changed attitudes towards religious rituals and creeds.

The function of the state or the field of state activity has been widened. The modern states call themselves ‘welfare’ states. They have become secular in nature. Modern inventions have made the states to perform such functions as – the protection of the aged, the weaker section and the minori­ties, making provision for the schools, colleges, universities, child labour laws, health measures, juvenile courts, etc.

Transportation and communication inventions are leading to a shift of functions from local government to the central government of the whole state. The modern inventions have also strengthened nationalism. The modern governments which rule through the bureaucracy have further impersonalised the human relations.

Perhaps, the most striking change in modern times is the change in economic organisation. Industry has been taken away from the household and new types of economic organisations have been set up, such as, factories, Stores, banks, joint stock companies, corporations, amalgamations, etc. Introduction of factories changes the character of relations between the employer and the em­ployees.

Conclusion:

It is clear from the above explanation that technology is capable of bringing about vast changes in society. But technology should not be considered a ‘determining’ factor of social life. Man is a master as well as a servant of the machine. He has the ability to alter the circum­stances which have been the creation of his own technology. He is indeed, a creature as well as a critic of the circumstances.

The Hypothesis of Cultural Lag:

William F. Ogburn, in his famous book ‘Social Change’, has formulated the hypothesis of ‘cultural lag’. Ogburn has divided culture into two parts namely: material and non-material culture. By material culture he means civilisation which includes tools, utensils, machines, dwellings, sci­ence, means of transport and technology, in brief, ‘the whole apparatus of life’.

By non-material culture means just ‘culture’ in its ordinary sense which includes beliefs, practices, customs, tradi­tions, morals, values, and institutions like family, morality, religion, education, etc. ‘Cultural lag’, according to him, refers to the imbalance in the rate and speed of change between these two parts of culture. The word ‘ lag’ denotes crippled movement. Hence culture means the faltering of one aspect of culture behind another.

According to Ogburn, changes are quick to take place in the material culture. These in turn stimulate changes in the non-material culture. But the non-material culture may be slow to respond, giving rise to a gap or a lag between the material and the non-material cultures. This lag is called the cultural lag.

For example, the development in the field of industry requires a corresponding change in the system of education. The failure of education to cater to the needs of modern industrial devel­opment leads to the cultural lag. Similarly, the forests of the country may be destroyed because the art of conservation does not keep pace with industrial or agricultural development.

Thus Ogburn writes, “The strain that exists between two correlated parts of culture that change at unequal rates of speed may be interpreted as a lag in the paririthat is changing at the slower rate for the one lag behind the other”.

If the society is to maintain its equilibrium it has to seek ways and means of bridging this gap. Ogburn has, therefore, concluded that “the problem of adjustment in modern life is chiefly one of enabling the non-material aspects of culture to catch up, as it were, with the material aspects”.