Are media technologies causes or consequences of social change

Topics: Sociology, Marshall McLuhan, Technology Pages: 5 (1189 words) Published: May 6, 2015
 Are media technologies causes or consequences of social change? Determinism?

Society and technology are two aspects, which always change. They are invariably progressing because of one another. There is one seemingly obvious question, which people have not been able to answer of, whether technology, that is influencing the society or the technology is only the consequence of inevitable social change. We encounter a chicken-and-egg problem. This essay argues, that both are connected, as media technologies , which will be my main focus, causes and at the same time consequences of social change. My arguments of consequences side are more explored , as technology is not isolated field of human activity, but will look at the both sides of the spectrum, as try to figure it out, what is more accurate. First view is, that society was determined by media technology. Technological determinists or in this case communicative determinists believe, that technology generally causes the social changes and it is 'outside' society. One of those determinist was Canadian media theorist  Marshall McLuhan, who said, that communication technologies ,like television and printing press transformed society. He believed, that it is a form that matters, not a content so much. In ‘Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man’, McLuhan famously said that 'the medium is the message'. He believed, that no matter what content new media has, new forms of communication causes social transformation itself, because the media extend our senses, for example electronic media allow us to hear sound, as print media was not able to do. This way we can reconnect our senses and social change happens on its own (McLuhan, 1964) A good example, how a media technology is changing society would be J. Meyrowitz (1985) remark on television and children. He saw, that television transcended physical boundaries, as before our social roles were tied to the physical places. He points out, that before television, children would have to read to access adult life, but as visual medium does not require literacy, it allows children to access hidden worlds of adults and line between adulthood and childhood is not so clear. ‘The result is in providing such access, television competes with the socializing role of parents, schools and provides children with ideas and images that often contradict the stories and myths handed down in the family and at school.’i That concludes a case of media technologies being a cause of social change, as from the last example we see, that change happened on its own. W.F. Ogburn said, ‘technology changes society by changing our environment to which we in turn adapt’. That means, media technology forces us to change our lives as, for example, film medium changed the way, we consume entertainment and allowed us to watch a medium of sound and image, which was not possible before. Now we use more senses to consume film and that is a big change in society. These examples only show, that social change was hugely influenced and possibly caused some social change. Contrary to technological determinists, another view is, that technologies are determined by social change. Scholars are not denying technology importance but cultural and other factors are important too. A technology can’t create or change itself without a human interaction. The sociologist Ruth Finnegan says, that 'the medium in itself cannot give rise to social consequences - it must be used'. ii(1975, 108). For example, printing itself doesn’t do anything, if people themselves are not ready to do something with it after written word. What is important, how these tools are used, but not themselves, which was McLuhan point. This point of view is often called voluntarism, which is opposed to determinism and believes in control over change. Being more concrete it is often...
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