Is technology shaping our society?
According to Marshall McLuhan, the answer to this question is YES.
Marshall McLuhan theorized technological determinism, a theory that states that technology changes our society and shapes our culture. Every historical era of the social system is related to the communication medium of that time.
McLuhan categorized technological determinism into three groups: the tribal paradigm, print paradigm, and electronic paradigm:
- The tribal paradigm (Before writing): In-person interactions and personal experiences only. People are more relational and communal (Let’s all eat dinner together and talk).
- The print paradigm (Writing communication): There is a linear orientation. Communication can only make sense if it is in the proper order (I will eat dinner now and write about it, and you can read it tomorrow).
- The electronic paradigm (Spread of television): People can experience real-time communication at distances (Let’s eat dinner, watch TV, and talk simultaneously).
Three strong points about this theory:
- It has comprehensive historical coverage: The theory covers the human history and explains each era and evolution of our society through technology.
- For McLuhan, because technology facilitates communication, it is an extension of the human ability to communicate. We can communicate without technology. However, technology makes it a lot easier to do so (Otherwise, how could I Facetime my dad in Portugal every day?)
- McLuhan’s idea of a “global village” theorizes an emerging social order where electronic media was connecting the world. The scholar wrote about satellite technology and live global broadcasts like BBC. However, today with the internet, we are more connected than ever before.
Three limitations of this theory:
- For McLuhan, the media matter more than the individual. In other words, the scholar did not consider other facts that could affect the social system. For example, only considering the society as changing, and not at the individual level.
- The theory ignores the impact of the content of messages on individuals and society. For McLuhan, the “medium is the message.” So, what is the purpose of the message?
- The last limitation of the theory is that it would be challenging to apply it in today’s world since we live in a convergence culture, where old and new media collide. People watch TV, read blog posts, write e-mails, and communicate in person. The more recent generations are more into short-video apps; however, we cannot simply generalize the entire social structure based on one age.
In summary, McLuhan’s ideas are missing other significant evidence that drives our society and culture. Moreover, generalizing that the media is the only thing responsible for shaping our society could be a misleading statement.
Other social organizations, like the government, schools, and churches, have significantly impacted our world.
I agree that the technology adopted by our society is an extension of our abilities to communicate. However, the medium is the medium, and we are the creators. It is essential to consider the message.
Let me know what you think about the technological determinism theory in the comments. Do you believe that technology is shaping our society? Or do you think technology is merely a tool we use, and we are responsible for structuring our community and shaping our culture?