Technology has been around ever since humans formed a blade from a piece of flint or harnessed fire but although technology has give us a standard of life never equalled before many of us still take it for granted. Many people regard technology as an engine of growth, it affects our lives in whatever we do, it affects all sectors and activities of an economy, be it manufacturing, services or education and despite this we still know little about its structure, width or sophistication.
The oxford dictionary considers that: technology is the scientific study of the practical or industrial arts but the first thing to note about technology is that there is no agreed meaning to the word.
Humans have been called the animals that make things and at no time in history has this statement been more obvious. Today every human activity is dependant on various tools, machines and systems from simple things like growing food to communications and healthcare. Many of these machines simply are to provide a more efficient way of doing things but other machines such as airplanes and the internet make possible things that humans have never been able to do before and this collection of machines, devices and the knowledge that accompanies them is called technology. So if we can describe what technology does and how it can affect our lives then why is it still difficult to understand the actual meaning of the word?
The reasons being it is hard to define is because technology has many meanings, it can refer to the products and artefacts of human invention, a video tape recorder could be considered as a technology, but it could also mean the knowledge that is required to make such a product, it can mean the way in which such knowledge is produced in order to develop products, technology can be classed as an entire system of products, knowledge, people, organisations, regulations and social structures. All these views are correct but the problems of coming up with a definition are the many other influences and factors involved in this thing we call technology, these factors include geography, culture, trade and commerce, the legal and political context and human nature.
As technology is created by humans, the beliefs attitudes and values of the people involved will always have a large say in its development. However great technology may be it is useless in itself without application, what good are telescopes without astronomers.
Technology has many characteristics and breaking down these may give us a clearer picture in understanding the meaning of technology.
* It involves design
At the centre of technology and probably the first stage is design. The design process in technology is a process which begins with the requirement of a need, the formulation of a specification, the generation of ideas and resulting in a final solution.
* It involves making
The motivating factor behind any technological activities is the desire to fulfil a need. For this reason the designs have to be made, there would be no point in designing something if it is going to remain a design.
* It is multi dimensional
Design and production involve cooperation between different specialisms (e.g. designer and production engineer) but may involve technologists to come up with the best way of working with others, operating within budgets, communicating with clients and working to deadlines.
* It is concerned with values
Technology is informed by values. At every point value decisions may be called in relation to the design of the product but also in relation to the rightness or wrongness of a particular solution in ethical terms.
* Is it socially shaped
It would be thought that the main reasons in the advances of technology would be due to increases in knowledge or the identification of needs, but the main reason is down to social interests. Out of all the technologies that can be implemented few are and it is only the ones that are socially shaped (consumer choice) that we generally see today. But on the other hand it could be argued that technology shapes society e.g. the technology of a motor car has helped shape the way we live today.
To understand technology fully it must be put into a social, cultural and environmental context. To a large degree society determines the wants and needs of technological development and the environment too by causing constraints or causing certain needs e.g. the first ideas of a steam engine were solely for the need to pump water out of mines and the mines were needed because most of the British wood had been burned for fuel.
Technology also affects society and the environment it has been called the engine of history for how it drives changes in society, it influences cultural patterns, political movements, local and global economies and everyday life and as technology carries on growing to suit the billions of people it will grow over the environment we live in and has potential to improve or seriously it.
A number of interpretations of the term ‘technology’ have become established.
Cornwall (1977) considers that the technology of a country at any point in time is the stock of knowledge that pertains primarily to the production of goods and services. The operational part of this stock of knowledge consists of a set of techniques, each technique being defined as a set of actions and decision rules, for transforming inputs into outputs.
Rosenberg (1982) argues that technology is more than the mere application to prior scientific knowledge. It is knowledge of techniques, methods and designs, which work even if at times, the reasons why they work cannot always be explained. Technological progress does not necessarily require a full understanding of the underlying scientific principles. Technological knowledge may be accumulated may be accumulated by trial and error and often precedes scientific understanding.
Dosi (1984) defines technology as a set of pieces of knowledge, both practical and theoretical, know-how, methods, procedures, and physical devices, which incorporate such knowledge.
In an ever-changing competitive business world it is crucial that businesses can understand technology in order to sustain their growth and compete with competitors. Technological opportunities provide the scope for competitive advantages and technological capabilities allows a company to take these opportunities. A technological strategy is needed by companies, and the nature of advanced technologies, the rate of technological change and the pressures of competition argue for such a strategy and this applies not only to businesses that wish to maintain world-class status but also to any business that wishes to survive. It could be possible for businesses to understand technology in the products that they create or make by using what is called a product portfolio.
Most products and manufacturing processes incorporate a number of technologies. Some of these are key technologies, which means they are the hallmark of the product. Others are subsidiary and scarcely relevant to the product as a whole. Consider some of the technologies that are used towards the production of a motor car
* Steel making
* Metal forming
* Assembly operations
* Combustion engineering
* Control engineering
* Electronic engineering
* Glass technology
* Metal cutting
* Manufacturing automation
* Mechanical engineering
* Electrical engineering
* Rubber and plastics technology
* Paint technology
This list of technologies indicates the range of technologies that go into the production of a motor car, although there is only 14 different technologies the list could be endless and the introduction of new technologies such as engine management systems or the changing of using a certain material means the list could go on forever.
Technology has been around as long as man has tried to make things but despite how much of an impact it has on our lives and how useful it is the word is still hard to define. The reason it is hard to define is because of such a wide range of things that it could be. Many people have given us their personal opinions on the word each of them being right in their own way. It is also difficult for business organizations to understand technology but by breaking down the individual products or processes that are involved in the business it is easier for the organization to understand.