Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Just what is technology?

The abstract concept of technology covers quite a lot of ground, Agriculture-industrial or organic, industrial arts- blacksmithing, factories and modern high tech, energy collection to energy use and every form of transport except walking. A useful phrase is ‘technology only uses energy and matter, it cannot create them’. While this is entirely accurate, another phrase has to be added, “Technology is also the primary means by which humans make energy and matter usable’. For oil to be usable, it first must be dug up, even if by shovels powered by workers feed by small-scale farming, and then refined. All but the most primitive hunting techniques, like utilizing our natural endurance to run down animals, require tools and while gathering can be done without them it is greatly improved by baskets. So technology can be divided into collectors (agriculture, mining etc) and utilizers. But there is also another dividing line, that between human driven (tools, bikes, etc) and non-human driven (sailing ships, computers etc). Both of these form a spectrum since no action can be done without energy and matter but large parts of our tech base is simply making energy or matter usable, metal refining is both a collector (refined metals) but also a utilizer (ores, heat energy). Moreover, to a certain extent, human driven technology can be swapped for non-human technology and vice-versa e.g. pumping can be done by both windmills and human effort.

So when we speak about it, just what is technology?     

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