Technology is the study and application of advanced technical and scientific techniques, procedures and knowledge for the solution of practical problems, and the set of theoretical and systematic elaborations applicable to the planning and rationalization of productive interventions.
Technology can be seen as an activity that shapes and changes culture. Moreover, technology is the application of mathematics, science, and art to the benefit of life as we know it. A modern example is the rise of communication technology, which has lowered the barriers of human interaction and thus contributed to the emergence of new subcultures; the rise of cyberculture is based on the development of the Internet and the computer. Not all technology, however, enhances culture in creative ways; technology can also support and facilitate political oppression and war.
Technology has its roots in the natural processes of transformation carried out by living beings to adapt the environment to their own needs: not only humans, but also other animals are in fact capable of developing technological processes to solve their own needs for food, shelter, social, etc. Suffice it to recall, for example, spider webs and nests, perfect examples of “know-how” shared by individuals of the same species or society. The evolution of these artifacts or techniques is the result of random processes, the subject of recent research by some biologists.
The term “technology” is derived from the Greek τεχνολογία (technologhía), a compound of τέχνη (techne), “art,” “skill,” and λογία (loghía), “discourse,” “explanation,” and thus can be translated literally as “systematic treatise on an art. The term was popularized by the Harvard physician and lecturer Jacob Bigelow in the first half of the 19th century. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguishes two kinds of action, pràxis and téchnē: while the former has an end in itself, the latter is always at the service of something else, as a means. In this sense, “technique” (a term often used as a synonym for technology) was no different from art, science, or any procedure or “operation” designed to achieve some effect, and its scope extended to all human activities.
With the advent of modern science around the 17th century, the terms technique and technology tend to become blurred and subordinated to scientific knowledge. The experiment, the experimental approach to research, remains a basic tool of inquiry for the advancement of knowledge, but it is only important insofar as it succeeds in confirming or disproving principles or theorems of general validity. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the emphasis was on the multidisciplinary field of research and development of solutions, mainly related to production processes and their acceleration. In the sense most commonly used in this period, and only partially “deformed” by the advent of information technology, technology deals with the study of the processes and equipment necessary to transform a given raw material into an industrial product, starting from the principles of science and arriving at technique, which, on the other hand, deals specifically with the practicalities of processing; in short, from the point of view of making a product, science provides everything that can be known about it, technology tells what one needs to know to do it, and technique explains how to do it.
The term is also used in a broader sense, for example, Jack Goody uses the term “intellect technology” in reference to writing, starting with the definition: “Codified ways of deliberately manipulating the environment to achieve a material goal.” Engineering adds human qualities such as imagination, judgment, and intellectual discipline to pre-existing knowledge in order to apply technology in ways that are safe, not too efficient, and not too repeatable. Because of this technological renewal, there has been a sharp increase in production, as the large factories that have sprung up have led to a reduction in human labor. Technological progress in recent years has also greatly improved people’s standard of living, many arduous jobs have been eliminated, not all diseases have been conquered, life on average has been prolonged some times and limited from the point of view of human condition and the evil that has not yet been eradicated in humanity.
At the end of the eighteenth century in England, the construction scheme of the late Gothic stone cathedral was reinterpreted using cast iron. The structural behavior was almost identical because it was based on weight compensation. The degree of formal similarity depended on the aesthetic preferences of the designer. The sequence of assembly was also similar, with overlapping pieces made integral by gravity; however, the basic workmanship changed, with the chisel shaping the boulder being replaced by melting the metal in the blast furnace and then casting it in the mold. In later developments, cast iron is replaced by steel, which requires a different machining process. The alloy is rolled into sheets and profiles, which are then shaped and joined. This allows greater degrees of freedom in assembly, both in terms of geometric form (cages and latticework) and structure.
Another way of combining information technology is to look at the multiple uses of fibers. Since the dawn of human civilization, plant and animal fibers have been used and woven together to make threads of varying thickness and stiffness, which were then woven into textiles on looms. Obviously, stiffer and longer fibers (camel, jute) were used to obtain heavier and stronger fabrics, more elastic and insulating (wool) to protect against the cold, etc. etc. Also in ancient times, the same wool fibers, arranged to form a continuous layer, were soaked in heat and pressed to obtain felt. In China, before the 2nd century B.C., a thin felt of cellulose (plant fiber) is the basis for the development of paper. Today, natural and synthetic fibers, spinning, weaving and nonwovens have become so diversified that they offer a vast range of solutions in so many commodity sectors.
In the second half of the twentieth century, positions began to emerge in the United States and Europe that were highly critical of both technological and scientific progress, which found its most dramatic conclusion in the atomic bomb. The idea of progress, made universal by the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, is in crisis in the face of three sets of problems: the lack of social control over science and technology, the environmental compatibility or incompatibility of technological development, and the accessibility or inaccessibility of technological innovation to populations lagging behind. Science and technology lose their state of neutrality (“have known sin”, as J. R. Oppenheimer put it) and take on adjectives derived from cultural or political preferences. Thus, technology becomes alternative, soft, or suitable for those who consider it a priority to restore conditions of balance between man and nature, while it remains high, advanced for those who consider economic efficiency a priority.
The use of the term “technology” has changed significantly over the last 200 years. Before the 20th century, the term was unusual in the English language and usually referred to the description or study of technology. The term was often associated with technical education, as at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The term “technology” gained prominence in the 20th century in connection with the Second Industrial Revolution. The meaning of the word changed in the early years of this century when some American sociologists, starting with Thorstein Veblen, translated the idea of the German word “Technik” into “technology”. In European languages and in German, there is a distinction between technik and technologie that does not exist in English, which usually translates both terms as “technology. Beginning in the 1930s, “technology” came to refer not only to the study of technical subjects, but to technical subjects themselves.
In 1937, the American sociologist Read Bain wrote that “technology includes all tools, machines, utensils, weapons, musical instruments, housing, clothing, means of communication and transportation, and the skill by which we make and use these things. Bain’s definition is still common among scholars today, especially sociologists. Scientists and engineers prefer to define technology as applied science rather than as the things people make and use. More recently, scholars have borrowed the European philosophers’ concept of “tecnique” to extend the meaning of technology to various forms of instrumental reason, as in Foucalt’s Technologies of the Self. A Seminar with Michel Foucalt.
In 1967, in The Instruments of Communication, Marshall McLuhan offered an account of technological development as a progressive extension of the human body, and used a definition of technology as a way of translating one system of knowledge into another. The written word, based on the phonetic alphabet, becomes a technology that enables the extension of spoken language in space and time. Symmetrically, the organization (structural characteristics) and development of technology are quite similar to those of spoken and written language. The letters of the alphabet, phonemes, and words correspond to the input resources in the transformation process, beginning with materials and energy. Materials have successive levels of articulation, depending on whether they occur as first elements (oxygen or iron) or are the result of a previous transformation (wood or marble). At a subsequent level of language structuring, grammatical and syntactic rules appear, corresponding to the manual work and tools of past eras, to the more or less automated production processes of contemporaneity. Letters are interchangeable in the composition of words, words are interchangeable in the composition of sentences, grammatical and syntactic rules are freely combinable in the attribution of meanings to sentences, and so on. The same characteristics apply to technology: resources have a high degree of interchangeability. Equally combinable with each other are materials and transformation processes to build artifacts of the same form/function, or very different artifacts made with the same technology. And it is precisely out of the combinability of technological information that the evolutionary process of technology itself, like language, comes into being.
It was not until the late 20th and early 21st centuries that the subset of human practices related to behavior toward nature and directed toward the production of goods came to be connoted as “technology. Technique can be understood as the application of knowledge developed by science to practical ends and the production of tools to achieve them. Therefore, the word technology indicates the cataloging and systematic study of applied techniques, often referring to a specific field (for example, we speak of “computer technology,” “mechanical technology,” “electronic technology,” “electrical technology,” “food technology,” “telematics technology,” and many others).