Technology is a broad word and sometimes it can work well enough as a catch-all term, but there are times when it’s important to have more precise terminology. Take, for example, the issue of “smart grid,” the term applied to describe a system that is designed to control the flow of electricity and help manage peak demand, or the term “Internet of Things,” used to describe a network that connects everyday devices like thermostats and lights with each other and with people’s computers.
Technological innovations have greatly shaped our world and the way we live, from stone tools to computers, from arrows to nuclear bombs, and from wheeled carts to self-driving cars. Almost every aspect of our lives is touched by technology: advances in farming, sanitation, and medicine have radically changed the nature of human society; bows and arrows and gunpowder have altered how wars are waged; paper and printing have revolutionized writing; the microprocessor has changed how we write, compute, bank, run businesses, and communicate with each other.
Whether we think of technology as the tools and machines that make life easier or as a range of methods and processes that solve real-world problems, it can’t be divorced from culture. As Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Rhodes points out in Visions of Technology: A Century Of Vital Debate About Machines Systems And The Human World, “We must liberate ourselves from scholars who reduce technology to instrumental reason, the process of finding the best means to a particular end, and rescue it from those who believe that technological change is self-directed and lacking in its own moral compass.” (p. 234).