Pacey, The Meaning of Technology
Chapter 4
Social Meanings
Paradox of how "purposiveness can be without purpose."
Interpreting Social Purpose
Consumer Goods
Variable Social Meanings
Public Responses & Political Meaning
Multilayered Meanings
Play & Aspiration

Whose reality counts? Whose understanding of the meaning of technology counts? p. 80
"inventions and designs may often be prompted by the meanings that society has invested in already existing technologies."
p. 77
Steam Locomotive
bicycles vs. Automotive vehicles
Hierarchy of Levels

Layers of
Spheres of experience
Realm level of conflict  power relations control
collective sphere institutional relations elites
group level
public sphere mass
social relations
private sphere elites
individual level
personal relations

p. 90
and sensual responses to technology as well as social meanings affect the way people use, consume or exercise control over tools.
p. 78 Pacey
Chapter 4
Social Meanings

Realms in which technology exercises power, influence & asserts behavioral control:


personal <------------------------------------> private


Without control, understanding or conscience powerful technologies can blur the boundaries between means & ends, good & evil, or necessities & luxuries, instruments & containers with respect to the appropriate role of tools in our lives..

 We make judgments based on experience, mediated by other people, elites and authorities.
decision outcome
These decisions are either
correct works
incorrect -- mistakes


Technology has material and psychic qualities and it can rob us of reality. Postman

Symbolism even when devoid of "understanding of how a tool works." p. 86

 Technology has given Americans a new constitution at once more centralized and more based on entitlement than ever envisioned in the 18th century. p. 88.

"Technology is a major part of the human response to nature.", p. 98
Chapter 4
Social Meanings

 Quotes Pursell
"tool also produces meaning"
p. 84

Ties multiple meanings to Kant

Paradox "purposiveness can be without purpose"

"for as much of what is claimed as progress is merely coordinated change lacking clear goals"

Shortcomings in the chapter:

 1) media ignores the profound impression it makes though he discusses symbolism as conveyed by marketing.

2) reductionism, though he discusses the "plurality of meaning" derived from the same objects he does not fully develop in this chapter that by dividing and subdividing component parts of a product or production system, the participants need never ask what their role is in a devastating result.
Nuclear weapons work
Animal testing of cosmetics & drugs
Nader's "unsafe at any speed" Corvair's design
Anti-personelle bombs and land mines

 "Inevitably , advertisers and designers take up and manipulate these shifting meanings."
p. 86.

"All varieties of hardware and their corresponding forms of social life must be scrutinized to see whether they are friendly or unfriendly to the idea of a just society."
p. 88

there is an eternal tension between democratic and technological values
pluralism vs. autocratic control
decentralized vs. Cenrtalized
pp. 88-89.
We are on the verge of losing our capacity to judge the appropriateness of tools with respect to our traditions, our ethical choices and moral imaginations.
Birth control technology and soaring populations
Chapter 4
Social Meanings

Technological systems have the power to reshape our experience, behavior, imaginations and institutional relations:

 Pursell's electronic warfare

new constitution

Pacey: Three Industrial Movements as a case study in technical meaning and changes in meaning.

 the role of dreams in technological change.

Tulips as tools?
Tools of Toil: what to read.
Tools are historical building blocks of technology.
Technology can be understood if tools have three facets.
Tools used in both Music and Architecture led to mechanization and automation.
Tools and the study of technology require us to reflect on the power of instruments,

Technology, Conclusions about | Pacey, in World Civ. | Pacey, Meaning | Pursell | Kranzberg | periods

Related concepts: historical relations of tools and society, defining technology, significant events in history

links to web site

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