Influences on Society


Michael Novak stated that there were three influences on any 
society: Political influences, Economic influences, and Moral\Cultural 
influences. The political influences consist of the governmental body 
of that society and the laws and regulations set by this governing 
group. The moral\cultural influences consist of the "voluntary 
associations" of a society: the churches, media, education systems, 
the people in this society. The final influence being the economic 
influence, which is the rate of employment, GDP, incidence of poverty, 
and structure of economic activity. Novak made this theory into an 
object, a "triangle" of sorts, with each influence being a point on 
this "triangle." Novak goes on later in his theory to deal with other 
influences, but as other dimensions. What Novak appears to have missed 
in his theory is another very important influence on society that 
influences, and is influenced by the other points of this "triangle," 
technology. The Middle Ages did come up with a few inventions, such as 
windmills and horseshoes, but technological process was imperceptible 
compared with what is happening now. Very soon, a fiber the diameter 
of a human hair will be able to transmit, in less than a second, the 
contents of every issue of The Economist magazine that was ever 
printed (Economy Survey 4). Since Adam Smith, economists have 
recognized that technology is important for growth, but only in the 
past two decades have they been studying this subject in earnest (7). 
There pioneer was Joseph Schumpeter, one of the few economists who 
tried to explain growth mainly in terms of technological innovation. 
In the 1930's, he presented a model that postulated growth through the 
interaction of bursts of technological development and competition 
between companies (8). His evidence pointed to history. First, the 
1780s to the 1840s, which brought the steam power and drove the 
industrial revolution. Second, the 1850s to 1890! s introducing the 
railways. Third, the 1890s to 1930s with electrical power. The fourth, 
the 1930s to 1980s with cheap oil and the car. Now, today it is argued 
that Schumpeterians' would label this period of history as being 
powered by technology in all areas (9). Then there was "new" growth 
theory, hatched in the mid 1980's by the work of Paul Romer, an 
economists at Stanford University. His theory attempted to incorporate 
technology directly into models of economic growth by explaining how 
knowledge in the shape of both technology and human capital is created 
and spread through the economy (8). This essay will attempt to use 
evidence created by economic research and show how technology is 
influencing and influenced by political, economic, and social/moral 
issues; creating a fourth point on Novak's triangle. Technology 
throughout history has been a major influence on governments in many 
different societies. It has caused wars, and prevented them too. The 
invention of the cotton gin played a major factor in leading to the 
Civil War. Because of the cotton gin, production of cotton rose and 
the export of cotton from the United States to other countries rose 
too. The need for more workers, slaves at the time, rose too. This 
influenced the government by pushing the need for slavery, and look 
what happened as a result. Sputnik help lead a governmental race 
between two countries to see who could reach the Moon first. The 
invention of the A-bomb led to the end of a real war and the start of 
a cold one. Just recently, technology has been a major factor in the 
fall of several Communist governments. With the invention of the 
television and satellite dishes, as well as the Internet, many people 
could have access to media, propaganda, and information not available 
in their own society! and learn how their governments really were not 
all that great, leading to a fall for those governments. Just 
recently, the Chinese government was influenced by technology and 
decided that many Western ideas could cause the same result of 
government failure via the Internet. They banned over 100 sites or 
links on the Internet to prevent this (Chen 1). The idea of terrorism 
has been around for many years, but the idea of cyber-terrorism has 
not. With the technological advances in communication lines overseas. 
Terrorist hackers could cause more damage on a governmental body's 
computer system than could a nuclear missile and at a cheaper price. 
This has forced many governments to spend money and create protection 
from these types of attacks. Technology has also been influenced by 
governments as well. With the railroad movement in the late 1800s, 
governmental rules and regulations helped technology to be used as a 
catalyst for competition. Technology, in the form of television and 
radio, are both heavily regulated in the United States and in other 
countries. Currently, the Supreme Court is making the decision if 
cable systems must carry all the local channels. During the "Great 
Leap Forward," Mao's government helped stop technological process by 
making the Chinese do nothing but farm or make iron of no value. 
Government's also influence technology by imposing restrictions on 
what can be invented to better society (or so they say). For example, 
if it wasn't for government restrictions on environmental issues and 
car technology over the past decade, the car could be as cheap as $100 
and get 100,000 miles per a gallon (tempting, isn't it) because of 
less money spent on regulations and more on research. Other ! policies 
have prevented the continuation of genetic cloning and other "black" 
medical projects. Without adequate funding from a governmental agency, 
new technologies can not be invented or even thought up. With the 
technological influence and governmental responses to these 
technologies, economies can get stronger or weaker. This leads to the 
other point on Novak's "triangle," economics. Falling prices, one of 
the best measures of the speed of technological progress, confirms the 
impression that the pace of changes has accelerated. The rapid decline 
in price also encourages more people to buy more technology, allowing 
it to be distributed more widely (Economy Survey 10). Technology has 
greatly influenced many economic systems of the world. Japan is a 
prime example. One of the many great boosts to its economy after 
W.W.II, was the innovation of new technologies that other countries 
would like. With these new technologies, Japan has become one of the 
strongest economies of the world. A look back at American history can 
show that technology was a great influence on the economy. During the 
Industrial Revolution, trains helped pave the way for small business 
in towns formed by these railroads, and trade among cities and other 
countries increased at a rate of almost 40% a year. With the help of 
Henry Ford, the idea of the production line (which is still cons! 
idered a technology), helped lead to production of thousands instead 
of hundreds of automobiles. The PC and communication revolution of 
recent years has caused almost every company small, and large, to 
incorporate the use of computers in order to make these companies' 
goals more feasible. One advantage of technology's influence on 
economies is that it reduces communications and transaction costs, 
helping markets to work more efficiently (10). Technology also follows 
Says Law of supply creating its own demand. VCR's, PC's, contact 
lenses, Super Nintendo's, etc., are good examples of creating markets 
out of thin air and in turn, helping the economy. At the same time, 
rapid technological change is confusing and rapid forecasts are easily 
hyped, which can cause some negatives for the economy too and 
adversely, affect technological progress. Technology is greatly 
influenced by economics in the form of funding and demand for new 
technologies. Imagine what would have happened if the PC was invented 
during the Great Depression. There would not have been any "PC 
Revolution" during this time period because of the state of the 
economy, as no one had the money to afford to create or buy PCs. The 
same is true for many countries today. Africa's economies have never 
been that strong and technology has not been much help to these 
countries because of the economic situation. Until recently, India was 
pretty much the same way. With a stronger economy, there is now more 
money being spent on R&D, resulting in more technological progress 
for the future in India. How much money is placed in R&D (Research 
and Development) greatly influences how technology will evolve. The 
stronger the economy, the more technology that comes out of this 
economy. Of course the economy is also strongly based on the people 
and their desire for! this technology, which leads to the final point: 
moral\cultural influences on technology. What would life be without 
TV? Automobiles? Nintendo? Ask any kid these questions in a developed 
country and they would respond very negatively. Most people know what 
these technologies are because their society has been influenced by 
technology. Imagine what life would be like without the invention of 
the boat or airplane! These are just some of the technological 
innovations that have influenced society. American history can tell 
many stories of how technology has influenced society, but most people 
can just look around and see it's affects (both positive and 
negative). Some of the positive influences of technologies on a 
society's social/morality can be seen by the medical advances and 
healthcare. Some negative influences are the increase in violence and 
illiteracy. Before the TV and Radio, many children read classic novels 
and their homework. Now, the overall education of these children is 
pathetic. One advantage to the new technology is the vast amount of 
informa! tion available to people that was usually not available. 
China's governments actions can show how much these technologies have 
influenced its society in a "negative" way for a Communist government. 
The best way to see technology influencing societies is looking at 
other societies that are not as developed as the West is. For example, 
India's society has just recently been greatly influenced by 
technology in the form of cable television and consumer durables, such 
as washing and dryer machines. Their society now has machines that can 
do the work of what many had to pay someone else to do or do 
themselves. The idea of a machine doing the work of a human scares 
many societies and causes a backlash against technology. This leads to 
the influence of societies' moral and cultural standards upon the 
pursuit of technological growth. Unemployment due to machines has been 
the greatest fear of many societies. Since the beginning of the 
Industrial Revolution, people have predicted that machines would 
destroy their jobs and their lives as well. The book, Frankenstein was 
the result of a technology gone astray. The author wrote the story to 
keep people from inventing all these new technologies. Karl Marx 
himself said that, by investing in machinery, factory owners would 
create a vast army of the unemployed. In the late 1940s, Nobert 
Weiner, a pioneer of computing, forecast that this new technology 
would destroy enough jobs to make the depression of the 1930s looks 
like a picnic. With all the negative publicity of new technologies, 
many societies choose not to invest in some technology and without a 
demand or the ideas for technology, progress is slowed. Unemployment 
is not the only driving force behind the influence of society on 
technology. There are many groups against technological progress. 
These g! roups help stop a technology by petition, debating, and by 
any means necessary (as did farmers with burning the cotton gins in 
1840s). Technology can not progress unless there is someone that 
thinks up an idea, but that idea can be stopped very quickly by a 
societies' view of that idea. John F. Kennedy was quoted as saying: 
"If men have the talent to invent new machines that put people out of 
jobs, then they certainly have the talent to put these people back to 
work." (Unemployment 21) Kennedy's speech was based on the idea of 
creative destruction: new jobs are created, while others are rendered 
obsolete. Societies must learn that to complain is human; to adjust 
essential. Either way, technology is influenced by this point. Michael 
Novak stated that there were three influences on any society: 
Political influences, Economic influences, and Moral\Cultural 
influences. As seen by this essay, there are many reasons that there 
should be a fourth point added to this "triangle." Throughout history, 
technology has seen to influence and be influenced by political 
decisions. These technologies also have helped build economies and 
destroy those that chose not to use technology. Society has also been 
greatly influenced by technology in positive and negative ways, and 
society has greatly influenced technology as well. Technology as the 
fourth point of a triangle? How about a square or trapezoid?

Works Cited

Mowery, David C., and Nathan Rosenberg. Technology and the Pursuit of 
Economic Growth. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

McKenzie, Richard B., and Dwight R. Lee. Quicksilver Capital. New 
York: The Free Press, 1991.

Rosenberg, Nathan. Inside The Black Box: Technology And Economics. New 
York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Chen, Kathy. "China Bans Internet Access To as Many as 100 Web Sites." 
Wall Street Journal 5 Sept. 1996: 1-2.

"Technology and Unemployment." The Economist 11 Feb. 1995: 21-23.

"Technology In Finance." The Economist 26 Oct. 1996: 3-22.

"The World Economy." The Economist 28 Sept. 1996: 3-4, 7-10, 19-23, 


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