Technology is one of those words that get name-checked so often in our society that people tend to think very little about its precise meaning. It is a concept about how knowledge is creatively applied to organised tasks involving people and machines that meet sustainable goals.
Unlike science, which is the reasoned investigation or study of phenomena aiming to discover enduring principles among their elements, technology concerns itself with exploiting those phenomena for human purposes. It draws on scientific, engineering, mathematical, linguistic and historical knowledge, but it is not itself an end in itself. Rather it is the path towards an end.
For example, battery technology is an essential part of many types of devices, but it isn’t the end. The end is the device providing a source of power to that user at the time of use.
While some technologies are developed and applied without much of a conscious process, others require extensive deliberation. As Joseph Dunne points out, making technology involves deciding what kind of world we wish to live in and then trying to find ways to bring that about. That is prior to, and more fundamental than, problem-solving.
The dystopian visions of the world in which industrial technology has replaced nature in works such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and Goethe’s Faust are a stark reminder of the potential problems that can arise from excessive application of technological means to social life.