Culture's Influence On Technology Essay

1224 words - 5 pages

Culture's Influence on Technology

Culture and technology are in a constantly expanding positive feedback loop. The greatest changes in human culture are almost always the result of a technological innovation. However, a technology capable of a cultural shift can only have come from the culture itself. Without the culture's choice to refine the technology, the practical applications would have been left as only fleeting ideas; technology will only be developed if the culture has some immediate and apparent use for it. Although a culture will develop a technology based on its inherent valence towards a particular application, that culture cannot possibly fathom the ultimate repercussions of its collective decision. The inherent multiplier effect in the feedback loop along with unforeseen applications of the technology will guide the "trajectories of cultural evolution" (Ehrlich 255) in completely unexpected ways. Even though cultures can and do have an effect on their course through history, it is only slight when compared to the monstrous effect that their technologies have on them.

The nature and importance of this type of self-propagating relationship are described in Paul Ehrlich's book "Human Nature: Genes, Culture, and the Human Prospect." Ehrlich describes his own opinion on human development and feedback loops in the following passage: "It is important to know what shapes the course of history, how that influences the evolution of our natures, and how that in turn feeds back on evolutionary history itself." (Ehrlich 254) The statement briefly describes the general form of the positive feedback loop for human development throughout history. The influences he refers to could be anything from the environment to culture to technology. However he goes further in depth in an example later on in his book to describe how culture influences technology which once again has vast potential for shifting an entire culture. Ehrlich uses the example of organized religion to illustrate culture's importance in the development of technology. He contends that organized religion stabilized the hierarchical social structure such that the society could carry out complex tasks required to support growing populations with a limited resource base. (Ehrlich 256). Technology is created to magnify human capabilities (Everbach ENVS2) and it was technology that was able to sustain a large population on scarce resources. Without a centralized planning base, the complexities of technological innovation would never have been organized enough to develop into a practical device. Ehrlich's specific example in this case is that of the Mesoamerican cultures of the first century. The large urban civilization of Teotihuacan in the Valley of Mexico is believed to be a result of a complex religious institution with the intention of glorifying the religious elites. The religious culture of the Central American natives allowed for major advances in architecture and urban...

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