The Concept of Overcoming Technological Entrenchment in Society
The entrenchment of technology throughout society is a common and complex issue that is hindering and stunting the development and innovation of newer and arguably better technologies. Through retrospective viewing the paths of technological entrenchment are complex but evident, however, the foresight required at the present to alter the outcomes of emerging technologies prior to entrenchment is far from clear and can be deemed an impossible task. Being able to prevent the negative entrenchment of a seemingly substandard technology is an ideal but near impossible task due to the many feasible options that could happen, a common example being the QWERTY and the Dvorak keyboard which will be explored later in the essay.
Throughout the essay the principles and ideas behind what causes entrenchment in society and if how to possibly overcome entrenchment, if at all possible, will be explored. In addition, the way policies stemming from overcoming technological entrenchment in society and their influences on changing technology and the innovative process will be examined along with possible motivations for these policies. The definition of the word entrench from the Oxford English Dictionary is to: “Establish (an attitude, habit, or belief) so firmly that change is very difficult or unlikely.”
From this a comprehensive explanation/definition of what technological entrenchment in society is can be formed. Technological entrenchment in society is when a technology is imbedded within society to the extent where removing it will be extremely difficult and costly, both in time and resources. This economic cost for a technology to be unentrenched is more eloquently expressed in 3 separate ideas. Firstly, technical interrelatedness which is the compatible relationship between the ‘hardware’ (the technology) and the ‘software’ (in most cases human beings). This compatibility is generally built over time as one technology becomes more prominent and the connection between the hardware and software develops and strengthens.
This leads on to the second idea, system scale economics. This is where more widely available technology is on average cheaper and easier to obtain and in being bought more the markets will adjust for this demand making it more available still and so on. This increase in availability can cause one technology to begin to dominate a market and slowly become entrenched in society. Finally, the third and final key idea in technological entrenchment is quasi-irreversibility of investment, being as a human become accustomed to a certain concept and way of working it becomes cheaper to tailor the machines to serve the consumer rather than have the consumer change their ways for the technology.
This can be more simply put as people sticking with what they know, and technological engineers must adapt and change the technology for the consumer. It is a mixture of all three things that cause a technology to become entrenched in society. The impacts of these technologies depend on a process called contextualisation. The path in which the technology takes from its initial fundamental idea in the lab to the technological item produced that has an influence on the world, is a complex and changing series of paths.
Due to these complex paths, predicting the impact that a specific technology will have from the outset is near impossible as the initial idea and finished construct can be and often are vastly different. The changes the technology must undergo to conform with the real-world environment and all the social, political and economic factors that influence all these changes are consistently fluctuating as they themselves are dependent upon external factors. These factors are separate but can be linked back to the three key ideas that cause technological entrenchment in society, system scale economics, technical interrelatedness and quasi-irreversibility of investments.
These factors can limit research and development progress as a technology maybe invented or theorised in the lab but due to these social, political and economic factors the innovation required to further the technologies development is not available. A key and basic example of a technology being embedded in society is the QWERTY keyboard, being present one all laptops and smart phones it is often overlooked. Initially starting out as a design to prevent the typewriter arms from jamming up when typing fast the design, after lots of pushing and selling, became the standard most common layout for the keyboard on a typewriter.
As technology advanced and newer more advanced technologies like the computer keyboard came about, they adopted the QWERTY keyboard layout due to quasi-irreversibility of investment (tailoring the technology to the consumer as most typists at the time used the QWERTY keyboard). QWERTY initially had competition during the developmental phase but its main rival later on was the Dvorak keyboard, which claimed to increase typing speeds by a considerable percentage compared to that of the QWERTY keyboard.
However, the Dvorak design never took off this was due to the QWERTY design being entrenched in society due to the previously mentioned reasons in the previous paragraph. This conveys the importance of technological entrenchment on technological advancement and innovation, as despite a clear benefit from the Dvorak keyboard it still couldn’t un-entrench the QWERTY keyboard design.
From the previous example technological entrenchment in society is prevalent yet not always entirely beneficial as a subpar technology may become entrenched and in turn impact future technologies which stem from it. It is this issue that requires policies to allow for newer technologies to develop and have a chance at overcoming the entrenched dominant technology. Many of these policies must come from a social and economic need, either as a goal or a genuine desire to change.
A key actor involved in creating policies and goals for change is the government, by carrying a significant influence and incentive to further its country and change in a positive way. Governments can do more, as not only can they influence funding for the military (and war) in which many technological advancements and innovations occur, they have the ability to introduce a regime shift. Hence, proving it is possible to overcome technological entrenchment in society, however difficult it may be. Another key issue with overcoming technological entrenchment in society and introducing systematic change is to not only consider the entrenched technology but also the infrastructure that has evolved and grown alongside it.
A prime example of this is the automobile and petrol stations as the number of automobiles increases so too does the demand of petrol stations and as the number of petrol stations increase the capacity for more automobiles increases and so on. This vast network of interrelated connections spans on further but it is this network that has to be overcome or adapted for an up can coming technology to supersede the entrenched one.
For example, electric cars require charging outlets and different engine parts all less abundant and more expensive than the entrenched petrol car. Despite this, electric cars are growing in popularity due to the social and political drive to stop climate change and protect the planet. It is this social drive that has the greater influence as it is the consumer that is actively making the choice to go against system scale economics, technical interrelatedness and quasi-irreversibility of investments.
In conclusion, there are many influencing factors that cause technological entrenchment within a society and once the technology has become entrenched the factors keeping it in place are equally as strong and plentiful. The progression of a technology from an idea in a lab to practical technology in a real-life context is a complex and unpredictable path that can cause substandard technologies to become entrenched due to the social, political and economic circumstances at the time. This issue with the process of getting a technology from theory to the real thing being so difficult is that it means that possibly better ideas may not be able to overcome these barriers and force their way into the markets.
For this to change the secondary force driving the change needs to be the government and the primary force being that of the consumers as they will only change their habits permanently and positively with an intrinsic motivator (self-drive). An extrinsic motivator, like the government, can be effective and is always present as motivation is multifaceted but for optimum change there has to be a primarily intrinsic motivation. Overall, entrenchment of technology in society can be overcome, though not easily.
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