Masthead CMC Magazine / February 1, 1996
  Shaping and Being Shaped, by Daniel Chandler

Stances Toward Technological Determinism

Commentators on technology take four main standpoints (though there is, of course, terrain in between) toward technological determinism:

  1. Extreme (also called "strong" or "hard") technological determinists present "Technology" in general (or a particular technology) as either a "sufficient condition" (sole cause) determining widespread societal or behavioral changes, or at least as a "necessary condition" (requiring additional preconditions). This is the stance of those who insist that information technology (or some other technology) will radically transform society and/or our ways of thinking (or has already done so). It is the stance that most enrages contemporary sociologists (who wear rather different spectacles from technologists).

  2. In a more cautious variation of this stance, weak (or "soft") technological determinists present technology as a key factor (amongst others) which may facilitate such changes in society or behavior. This is the perspective which I propose to explore shortly (taking for granted the importance of socio-cultural factors).

    The --tone of technological determinism is often strident. In opposition, two groups downplay the role of technology:

  3. Socio-cultural determinists present technologies and media as entirely subordinate to their development and use in particular socio-political, historical and culturally-specific contexts. This is the stance of most modern sociologists on the issue.

  4. Voluntarists emphasize individual control over the tools which they see themselves as "choosing" to use.

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