History of technology describes the development over the course of history of systematic systems for doing and producing things. The prefix technology is derived from the Greek word technology which means “doer,” an emphasis on doing things systematically. In early days this emphasis was directed more toward “technical” activities.
A necessary complement to political science, philosophy, engineering, medicine, and other naturalistic sciences, it has had a long history. Originally it was oriented to a particular field or discipline, such as art, medicine, and other physical pursuits. However, as technology became more sophisticated, and included such non-physical processes as culture, it began to focus more on these human activities and the resultant technologies. For instance, Schatzberg distinguishes between the two forms of technological change, forward and backward progression, the former being the historical order of societies and cultures, and the latter, technological change as a result of increasing global competition. Thus, culture came to play an important part in the development of various technological systems.
It should be noted that while the twenty-first century will not be remembered as a period of significant advances in applied science and technology, it did represent a time when technological systems were able to take on a growing number of complex characteristics. For example, during the first half of the twentieth century there were many developments in communications and new information systems which resulted in the development of new technological systems. The term technology can therefore refer to the methods and materials utilized in the production of particular goods, such as electrical motors, airplanes, and cellular phones. It can also refer to the ways in which such goods are produced, such as the assembly line, computer chips, and cellular phones. Technological change is thus a more general term which includes a broad range of changes which occurred throughout the history of technology.
In contrast, a more specific term, such as scientific knowledge, refers to knowledge about specific fields. For instance, scientific knowledge about the workings of the planets and solar systems would be relevant only to those scientists who have made discoveries in these fields. A different example is the statement, “Knowledge is power.” In this statement, it seems obvious that there are people who stand to benefit from the knowledge of scientists, but at the same time it is not relevant to those people who have made no contributions to the realm of science.
One might suppose that the field of Science would be better described by a term such as Mathematics, with the additional reference to laws of physics. This is perhaps the best approach, but it is clearly not adequate for a broad analysis. We must take into account the fact that there was quite a lot of change taking place in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, not the least of which was the appearance of new sciences, including such diverse ones as optics, bacteriology, geology, and psychology. The entire picture is difficult to assess, but it is worth noting the following comment by the Viennese philosopher Martin Schatzberg: “The scientific revolution killed off the idea of progress as a progressive movement, since all progress could be viewed only in the horizon of a future stage… Thus, in order to speak of a scientific revolution, one needs to speak of a progressive elimination of limits.”
Such a statement raises a pertinent question. If progress means eliminating or reducing anything that could be considered ‘perceived’ as limits, then the elimination of existing boundaries seems inevitable. The Schatzbergian principle thus makes things more difficult to understand than they really are. Unfortunately, when we are shopping for housing and work, we often tend to get so caught up in the aesthetics of the building that we fail to appreciate its practicality. But if we consider the fact that Schatzberg is dead, then perhaps we can see more clearly the importance of his contribution to the art and sciences.