Technology has been viewed as a reflection of our society. As society progressed, so did the technological capabilities of humanity. At the same time, technology influenced society in its own accord, creating a kind of circle of perpetual influence. It results in a kind of political economy, where technology influences economic production, which in turn creates additional resources, the division of which affects politics (Arthur, 1997). At the same time, technological advancement creates a variety of challenges that, if influenced from the outside or handled in a wrong manner, may result in degradation or even collapse of society.
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New technologies force societies and societal practices to either adapt or slowly die out under the influence of said technologies. The article by Bell (2006) demonstrates a clear adaptation of religious and spiritual practices to the newly available communication and entertainment channels, such as computer games and the Internet. With the latter becoming the main communication channel where people spend more time than offline, religious practices had to conceptualize and update the traditional view of spiritual experience to include wireless and sometimes even person-less experiences (Bell, 2006). These include recordings, online conferences, SMS messaging of spiritual nature, and so forth. While there is some debate about the genuineness of such an experience, it is clear that techno-spirituality is already becoming a reality.
Computer technologies have integrated into our societies beyond the position of mere tools. Due to their interactive and multifunctional nature, they have breached the gap between tools and people instead of being placed somewhere in between. The article by Lupton (1996) talks about how computers have integrated into our lives, offering an escape from the “bodily prison,” and providing confidential and highly personal access to users. At the same time, these relationships come with unaccounted vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers in order to damage people on both physical and emotional levels (Lupton, 1996). Such a development demonstrates how technology may go in a direction not intended at a conceptual level and cause a plethora of potential problems on personal and societal levels (Li & Liu, 2017). Lupton’s observations are further confirmed 25 years later, as the individual and their feelings are becoming increasingly cyberized.
Technology develops unevenly throughout human society, with some parts being increasingly advanced in technology while others fall behind. When technological solutions are introduced into a society that is not ready for it, the development may cause unintended negative consequences and rapid devolution of societal norms and relations. This, as demonstrated by Sharp (1952), showed that even the introduction of trade of steel axes with indigenous stone-age tribes can drastically alter the relationships within singular small societies. The introduction of free steel axes to the Yir Yoront group effectively undermined the coming-of-age traditions, altered the relationships between males and females, and played a part in the ultimate dissolution of the indigenous culture (Sharp, 1952). It is a classic example of how contact with advanced technology can cause damage, and showcases how even something as small as a steel ax can alter the scales and cause a ripple effect (Arthur, 1997).
Technology can have a varied effect on the societies it is introduced into. While adaptation is a likely outcome, it often comes with a cost and may cause unintended problems. The biggest issues occur when the technological leap comes from the outside, while the society remains at the level where such technologies would not have been available. In that case, unintended scenarios are most likely to occur, often resulting in the fragmentation or collapse of societal traditions and norms, with dangerous consequences.
Arthur, W. B. (1997). How fast is technology evolving?. Scientific American, 276(2), 105-107.
Bell, G. (2006, September). No more SMS from Jesus: Ubicomp, religion and techno-spiritual practices. In International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing (pp. 141-158). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
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Li, C., & Liu, J. (2017). A name alone is not enough: A reexamination of web-based personalization effect. Computers in Human Behavior, 72, 132-139.
Lupton, D. (1995). The embodied computer/user. Body & Society, 1(3-4), 97-112.
Sharp, L. (1952). Steel axes for stone-age Australians. Human organization, 11(2), 17-22.