why do technological products change so much

Underpinning the idea of technological change as a social process is general agreement on the importance of social context and communication. According to this model, technological change is seen as a social process involving producers and adopters and others (such as government) who are profoundly affected by cultural setting, political institutions and marketing strategies. In free market economies, the maximization of profits is a powerful driver of technological change. Generally, only those technologies are developed and reach the market that promise to maximize profits for the owners of incoming producing capital. Any technologies that fail to meet this criterion even though they may satisfy very important societal needs, are not developed. Therefore, technological change is a social process strongly biased by the financial interests of capital. There are currently no well established democratic processes, such as voting on the social or environmental desirability of a new technology prior to development and marketing, that would allow average citizens to direct the course of technological change. Emphasis has been on four key elements of the technological change process: (1) an innovative technology (2) communicated through certain channels (3) to members of a social system (4) who adopt it over a period of time. These elements are derived from
theory using a communications-type approach. Rogers proposes that there are five main attributes of innovative technologies which influence acceptance, which he calls the ACCTO criteria. These are relative Advantage, Compatibility, Complexity, Trialability, and Observability. Relative advantage may be economic or non-economic, and is the degree to which an innovation is seen as superior to prior innovations fulfilling the same needs. It is positively related to acceptance (i. e. , the higher the relative advantage, the higher the adoption level, and vice versa). Compatibility is the degree to which an innovation appears consistent with existing values, past experiences, habits and needs to the potential adopter; a low level of compatibility will slow acceptance.


Complexity is the degree to which an innovation appears difficult to understand and use; the more complex an innovation, the slower its acceptance. Trialability is the perceived degree to which an innovation may be tried on a limited basis, and is positively related to acceptance. Trialability can accelerate acceptance because small-scale testing reduces risk. Observability is the perceived degree to which results of innovating are visible to others and is positively related to acceptance. Communication channels are the means by which a source conveys a message to a receiver. Information may be exchanged through two fundamentally different, yet complementary, channels of communication. Awareness is more often obtained through the mass media, while uncertainty reduction that leads to acceptance mostly results from face-to-face communication. The social system provides a medium through which and boundaries within which, innovation is adopted. The structure of the social system affects technological change in several ways. Social norms, opinion leaders, change agents, government and the consequences of innovations are all involved. Also involved are cultural setting, nature of political institutions, laws, policies and administrative structures. enters into the acceptance process in many ways. The time dimension relates to the innovativeness of an individual or other adopter, which is the relative earlyness or lateness with which an innovation is adopted. Is Technology Moving Too Fast? Published on Monday, June 19, 02000 17 years, 9 months ago The newest technologies--computers, genetic engineering and the emerging field of nanotech--differ from the technologies that preceded them in a fundamental way. The telephone, the automobile, television and jet air travel accelerated for a while, transforming society along the way, but then settled into a manageable rate of change.


Each was eventually rewarded more for staying the same than for radically transforming itself--a stable, predictable, reliable condition known as "lock-in. " Computers, biotechnology and nanotech don't work that way. They are self-accelerating; that is, the products of their own processes enable them to develop ever more rapidly. New computer chips are immediately put to use developing the next generation of more powerful ones; this is the inexorable acceleration expressed as Moore's law. The same dynamic drives biotech and nanotech--even more so because all these technologies tend to accelerate one another. Computers are rapidly mapping the DNA in the human genome, and now DNA is being explored as a medium for computation. When nanobots are finally perfected, you can be sure that one of the first things they will do is make new and better nanobots. Technologies with this property of perpetual self-accelerated development--sometimes termed "autocatalysis"--create conditions that are unstable, unpredictable and unreliable. And since these particular autocatalytic technologies drive whole sectors of society, there is a risk that civilization itself may become unstable, unpredictable and unreliable. Perhaps what civilization needs is a NOT-SO-FAST button. Proponents of technological determinism make a strong case for letting self-accelerating technologies follow their own life cycle. Rapid development in computer technology, they point out, has spun off robotics and the Internet--to the great benefit of industry and human communications. Besides, it isn't so easy for a free society to put the brakes on technology. Even if one country decided to forgo the next technological revolution, another country would gladly take it up. There are scenarios, however, in which technology may brake itself. In the aging population of the developed world, many people are already tired of trying to keep up with the latest cool new tech.


Youth-driven tech acceleration could be interpreted as simple youthful folly--shortsighted, disruptive, faddish. The market for change could dry up, and lock-in might again become the norm. Stress and fatigue make powerful decelerators. So do religious and cultural factors. Radical new technologies are often seen as moral threats by conservative religious groups or as economic and cultural threats by political groups. Powerful single-issue voting blocs like the antiabortionists could arise. Or terrorists like Theodore Kaczynski. Change that is too rapid can be deeply divisive; if only an elite can keep up, the rest of us will grow increasingly mystified about how the world works. We can understand natural biology, subtle as it is, because it holds still. But how will we ever be able to understand quantum computing or nanotechnology if its subtlety keeps accelerating away from us? Constant technological revolution makes planning difficult, and a society that stops planning for the future is likely to become a brittle society. It could experience violent economic swings. It could trip into wars fought with vicious new weapons. Its pervasive new technologies could fail in massive or horrible ways. Or persistent, nagging small failures could sap the whole enterprise. With so many powerful forces in play, technology could hyperaccelerate to the stars with stunning rapidity, or it could stall completely. My expectation is that it will do both, with various technologies proceeding at various rates. The new technologies may be self-accelerating, but they are not self-determining. They are the result of ever renegotiated agreement with society. Because they are so potent, their paths may undergo wild oscillations, but I think the trend will be toward the dynamic middle: much slower than the optimists expect, much faster than the pessimists think humanity can bear. First published in.

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