The Relationship Between Science, Technology and Society


Perhaps the easiest way to see whether a development of science and technology is relevant to a question of change in a society is to look around. Do you have a selection of nice clothes? Does your family own a computer? A TV?

The harsh reality is that the most of us are not born part of the aristocracy or any particularly special family. Not necessarily financially speaking, but in terms of family heritage and your recent ancestors. In other words, we would have a low standing in society by default. Centuries ago, this meant that your future might well have been largely decided at birth. For many, this would mean a low paying manual labor job as part of the peasantry, and the squalor that would go paired with it.

In the mid-1700s the industrial revolution started in Europe, which altered society forever. This resulted in the creation of the opportunity for promotion and career development as well as better pay for even the lower echelons of workers. Suddenly, an economic middle class was created, with some money to spend on luxury and personal development. The effects of this could even be seen in music as the classical era coincided with the industrial revolution and was in part shaped by the desires and needs of the vast middle class who had no taste for, or the education necessary to enjoy, the more complex and polyphonic baroque music which preceded the classical era.

This major change in the production and style of music acts as a suitable metaphor for how the development of technology and science can bring about a change in society as both were necessary for the start of the industrial revolution. At the same time as the middle class was becoming a collective patron of the musical arts, the aristocracy also experienced the exact same change in taste for a more elegant and less ornamented style of music. Thus two very different economic classes, with the very small middle class of a hundred years before having had no real voice or influence, affected a major component of the enjoyment and refinement of society in tandem, which was unprecedented.

Returning back to the opening paragraph, the economic ability to purchase luxury items such as a television set or the ability of even a relatively poor person to afford a mobile phone, is another way in which society has been shaped by technology and science as it is specifically these two which allows the development of cheap materials and the widespread accessibility of the goods produced using these materials. There is an incredibly diverse number of factors involved in this, from the science behind fabricating materials (such as dyes) at the lowest production costs while keeping production quality high for maximum consumer satisfaction, to the technology required to accomplish this and, for instance, the massive amount of technology involved in logistics.

At the same time, it must be recognized that society itself is the driving force behind these two factors of societal change. Society’s need for cheap goods drives the business of lower production costs to this day. Without societal need and demand, science and technology are powerless to affect change, and so the three are intertwined to produce the social and economic environment we find ourselves in.