Donald MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman Introductory essay: the social shaping of technology Book section Original citation: Originally published in MacKenzie, Donald and Wajcman, Judy, eds. (1999) The social shaping of technology. 2nd ed., Open University Press, Buckingham, UK. ISBN 9780335199136 © 1999 Donald MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman This version available at: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/28638/ Available in LSE Research Online: August 2012 LSE has developed LSE Research Online so that users may access research output of the School. Copyright © and Moral Rights for the papers on this site are retained by the individual authors and/or other copyright owners. Users may download and/or print one copy of any article(s) in LSE Research Online to facilitate their private study or for non-commercial research. You may not engage in further distribution of the material or use it for any profit-making activities or any commercial gain. You may freely distribute the URL (http://eprints.lse.ac.uk) of the LSE Research Online website. This document is the author's submitted version of the book section. There may be differences between this version and the published version. You are advised to consult the publisher's version if you wish to cite from it.
Technology is a vitally important aspect of the human condition.
Technologies feed, clothe, and provide shelter for us; they transport, entertain,
and heal us; they provide the bases of wealth and of leisure; they also pollute and
kill. For good or ill, they are woven inextricably into the fabric of our lives, from
birth to death, at home, in school, in paid work. Rich or poor, employed or non-
employed, woman or man, 'black' or 'white', north or south - all of our lives are
intertwined with technologies, from simple tools to large technical systems.
When this intertwining is discussed in newspapers or other mass media,
the dominant account of it can summed up as 'technological determinism'.
Technologies change, either because of scientific advance or following a logic of
their own; and they then have effects on society. The development of computer
technology, for example, is often seen as following trajectories that are close to
natural laws, the most famous being Moore's law, describing how the number of
components on a state-of-the-art microchip doubles in a fixed, predictable period
of time (originally a year; now 18 months). This 'defining rule of the modern
world' (Malone, 1995) fuels an information and communication technology
revolution that, numerous pundits tell, is changing and will change the way we
Technological Determinism as a Theory of Society
Technological determinism contains a partial truth. Technology matters.
It matters not just to the material condition of our lives and to our biological and
physical environment - that much is obvious - but to the way we live together
socially. The historian Lynn White, for example, famously attributed the coming