Technologies have already become an essential part of daily life, and most people cannot imagine a day without using devices. However, this theme is much broader than it may seem, as technologies modernize and transform completely such fields as healthcare, security, data collection, and space exploration, and it is only the tip of the iceberg. The implementation of innovations in society is a complex process, which contributes to general progress and prosperity. Nonetheless, it also raises severe concerns and fears in public, and analyzing different aspects of the issue may give a broader understanding of its importance.
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The major concepts and research on the topic examine such themes as social insecurity, adaptation to social changes, risks, and communication. Besides, the terms of McDonaldization and consumerism need to be assessed in order to make the full picture of the problem.
Many research centers evaluate public opinion about innovations and new technology. Among them, the Pew Research Center has published a recent survey concerning views about the future of technologies (Smith par. 1). In general, Americans expect various positive changes in science which would improve the quality of living of the society. This optimism is understandable. People want to be healthier and live longer. Thus, technology is certainly the best means for achieving these dreams. However, not every change is commonly desired.
The research was devoted to the expected progress in science in the next 50 years. Optimists believe that it will soon be possible to obtain custom-made organs made in a lab (81%), computers will be able to create art similar to that made by humans (Smith par.7). People dream about traveling improvements and enhanced life-longevity. At the same time, the respondents admitted that it seems to be unlikely that humans will colonize other planets or finally invent teleportation in the nearest future.
Pessimists highlighted that the following changes can lead to the worse: robot caregivers for the elderly (65%); children with improved DNA (66%); non-military personal drones (63%), and other personal devices that would provide their users with all information about the current environment (53%). Such a negative attitude displays the major public fears and reveals that not every change is welcome. The reasons are connected with security and ethical concerns, and other stigmas that still exist not only in America but in the global society. The question is whether humanity is ready for such innovations and whether it corresponds to their real needs or undermines the common moral concepts and beliefs.
Schaefer provided several points of view on the topic (318). On the one hand, functionalists consider technologies as communication facilitators. On the other hand, conflict theorists regard innovations as a threat, as powerful people can use them to violate the privacy of the others. Both points have sense, as technologies provide not only progress and benefits but also the potential for abuse of rights. Hence, the controversy of the topic remains open to debate.
The problem of public insecurity is especially acute right now when even the safest networks are easily hacked, and numerous cases of uncoordinated surveillance have been revealed. The era of information seemed to so aspire, but it turned out that the Internet knows much more about people than they do about themselves. It leads to public disagreement and sad cases of blackmailing people with information. Hence, the concern of data and cybersecurity is one of the most controversial topics at the moment.
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Pew Research Center published research by Olmstead and Smith which was aimed at analyzing the cybersecurity habits of people (par. 1). Among their key findings is the number of 64% – it is a number of people who have ever experienced a data breach. It is impressive how many people do not trust social media and federal government sites. Also, the respondents are afraid of fraud when they deal with retailers and providers of various services. It is explained by the unprecedented number of fraud cases with credit cards and checks, and Americans feel this tendency. Although the research suggests that many people simply fail to follow cybersecurity rules on the Internet, it is still obvious that unsafe technologies and software are the primary reasons for everyone’s concern about the data.
The theme of privacy was also discussed by Schaefer who stressed that new technologies threaten our freedom from censorship and that “they also expose us to criminal behavior in new ways” (316). The subject of criminal misuse of information is quite broad and includes not only blackmailing and fraud mentioned above. New types of crimes occurred with new technologies. Schaefer connects these issues with culture lag (317). Technologies (material culture) develop faster than people manage to adapt to them. Social norms (non-material culture) fail to adjust in time, and as a result, society does not control the use of innovations.
Losing control of personal information is an inevitable consequence of not following security practices. However, the security issue is not only about the data. Progressive technologies may bring huge risks. It applies not only to the Americans and can be illustrated by the case of Fukushima. The recent accident which took place in Japan provoked numerous discussions on the future of energy technologies. Although Japan is a highly-developed technological country, it still has fears about the safety of all innovations. Fujigaki revealed the segregation between places with nuclear power plants and places without them that existed even before the catastrophe (7). After the accident, it expanded and provoked the question of the correct implementation of nuclear technologies in the economic and social contexts of Japan. Besides, the debates over technological culture became a popular topic. Japanese experience showed the need to develop technological culture, and it matters for the USA as well.
Recent research by Funk et al. illustrated public concerns about using gene modification, brain chip implants, and synthetic blood to enhance human capabilities (par. 4). Despite the fact that these innovations could make people stronger and smarter, adults are more worried than enthusiastic about them. For instance, 69% of American respondents expressed unwillingness to improve their brains with chips (Funk et al., par. 4). As for the explanations, the majority of the surveyed believed that such enhancements would increase inequality between the rich and the poor, make the first ones superior, and hence, split the society. Moreover, people mentioned the moral aspect of such innovations. Many people find them unacceptable.
Such a negative attitude has mainly religious roots. Human enhancement is regarded as “meddling with nature,” and there is an opinion that it “crosses a line that should not be crossed” (Funk et al., par. 5). Unlike the religious part of respondents, less committed respondents were eager to support such innovations. However, the moral question remains, and it is hard to deny that a society with a large share of religious citizens will be reluctant to human enhancements.
The ethical problem in the relations between scientific advancement and social changes was also discussed by Schaefer (318). He admitted that biotechnology progress consists of numerous controversial advances, such as the possibility of cloning or the creation of genetically engineered organisms. He also mentioned that sociologists regard biotechnology as an “extension of the recent trend toward medicalization of society” (Schaefer 318). This is another issue raised by Schaefer, and technologies made a huge contribution to the process of medicalization. As for the ethical controversy, Schaefer discusses the possible consequences of changing the gene pool by modifying DNA. There is a risk of altering the environment in unexpected ways, and no scientist can predict the change. The process of evolution can be changed unnaturally, and this idea creates disputes around the evolutionary theory.
Technology and Consumerism
Ritzer made a strong point by stating that technologies contribute a lot to the McDonaldization (n. p.). It is a phenomenon close to globalization but in a negative way. Ritzer coined this term to stress that the modern global society lives by principles of a fast-food restaurant. The expansion and availability of the Internet made it possible to control people globally, and by acquiring the same patterns, people make a consumer-society. Also, according to Ritzer, there are two types of technologies: human technology, controlled by people, and nonhuman technology that controls people (n. p.). The second kind brings a great amount of uncertainty and unpredictability to the society.
There is a strong positive correlation between the number of goods the society consumes and technological advancements. In a consumer society, technological progress has a vital role because people are dependent on applications and online shopping. Today the speed of shopping is significantly higher, as it is unnecessary to go to the store if you need something. Hence, retailers and marketing specialists work on attracting more clients online. It becomes possible with all modern kinds of software and CRM systems that help sellers in targeting the right audience. As a result, a technological breakthrough has a positive impact on economies.
However, there is much skepticism concerning the amount of consumption. The effect of McDonaldization generates tones of useless goods and products that go straight to the dump. People simply do not want to consume this much. Ecologists raise concerns, as this phenomenon is a great threat to the environment. Although technologies help with reducing the amount of waste, and recycling plants increase in numbers, the impact of the initial over-consumption remains to be dangerous.
To sum up, technologies have boosted the pace of life many times, and society sometimes fails to adjust to this pace and follow new rules. The impact of technologies on society can be examined from many aspects, and most sociologists are right when they point at the controversy of the progress. It is hard to define whether some new technology is a positive event or not, as the society consists of groups of various views. People, living in one country, do not necessarily follow the same norms and moral principles. Therefore, everybody adjusts differently to the innovations, and understanding whether new technologies are a blessing or a cure is challenging.
Fujigaki, Yuko. Lessons From Fukushima: Japanese Case Studies on Science, Technology and Society. Springer, 2015.
Funk, Kennedy, et al. “US Public Wary of Biomedical Technologies to ‘Enhance’ Human Abilities.” Pew Research Center, 2016, Web.
Olmstead, Kenneth, and Aaron Smith. “Americans and Cybersecurity.” Pew Research Center, 2017, Web.
Ritzer, George. The McDonaldization of Society. Sage, 2014.
Schaefer, Richard T. Sociology Matters. 6th ed., McGraw-Hill, 2014.
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Smith, Aaron. “US Views of Technology and the Future. Science in the Next 50 Years.” Pew Research Center, 2014, Web.