Does technological progress create social progress?

I used to think so, but now I’m not so sure. Is it a naive assumption that ingorance = poverty = tyrany. Rome was the wealthiest society of its era. And to give Godwin its due right away, the Nazis had plenty of technology at their service.

Before there were machines to pick cotton, it was asumed that Black people were here to fill that technical function - and their social status was locked in place as well. I don’t think it was a coincidence that in the middle of the 20th century, as technology made them redundant as agricultural workers, Black people started to become aknowledged as human beings by Whites. When mechinization created surpluses, it increased public school funding for Blacks. As Black people became less ignorant, it was harder for reasonable Whites to assume they were inherently inferior.

I’m just using that example of technological change sparking social change. If you don’t agree with that one, discard it as you wish but I’ll bet you can come up with another.

However, as the spread of information technology has exploded in the last quarter-century, society seems to me to have become more conservative. Traveling over the internet, information should be freer, but the big decisions on how to use it seem to be in comparatively few hands.

Despite technology’s undisputed increase, did it also become more widespread? Did the wealth it created become more widespread, or is it unreasonably concentrated? What does it mean that instead of Lyndon Johnson declaring that our money will be used to fight poverty, Bill Gates declares that his money will be used to fight poverty? Taxpaying citizen vs profit-generating consumer, did I have anymore choice at the computer store than I did in the voting booth, allowing somebody at the top to use what was skimmed off the middle to do something about the bottom?

Is technolgogy like Art: a morally neutral force that may serve either end of the social spectrum, and anything about its “uplifiting qualities” is claptrap?

I like the story Thomas L. Friedman tells in “The World Is Flat.” Apparently a text message went around one of the Arab nations that informed the recipient that your penis would fall off it you shook hands with an infidel. Technology enables information to move quickly through society, it does not vet the information.

Technology is a tool, it can be used for social progress, or but using it as such is the responsibility of the person using it.

I think that technology tends to create social progress, but it’s not a neat, deterministic process. Also, it could just be an artifact of the levels of technology we’ve passed through the past few generations. If, say, cheap mass mind control is discovered, the pendulum may swing the other way.

If anything, society determines the direction of technical progress. Think about how much further along cloning research would be if not for the ethical objections, or how much sooner the Romans could’ve had labor-saving devices if they had seen any reason to replace their slaves.

To have technological progress, you have to have two things. First, you need individuals who actually have the brilliant ideas that constitutes progress. Second, you need the social systems and institutions to support them and spread their progress. In the late Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, there were brilliant people, by all accounts, but few chances for them to apply themselves to technology and engineering. There were almost no universities to train them, no funding for scientific research, no large-scale economic system for fast distribution of new products. Today, all of society is organized around the goal of spitting out new products in massive numbers. Education centers around science and technology, they get funding by the billion, and the whole economy is geared towards top-down distribution of brand new stuff.

As for whether technology leads to social progress, thus completing the cycle, I’d have to say that it depends on which technology you’re talking about. Some advances plainly don’t advance a society. The factory system put things temporarily in reverse when it was introduced. In England in the 1820’s, life was getting worse for factory workers as compared to farm laborers. That’s because factories were inherently anti-democratic; a factory must have one boss and a few managers and a whole lot of drudge workers with no say in running the place.

By contrast, the computer revolution has brought a lot of social progress. It created a huge need for highly skilled workers; those workers actually have the power to bargain with their companies for decent wages and conditions.

What’s your definition of Social Progress?

Personally I think technology and social change are only loosely related, and they are both driven mainly by economic and environmental factors. Most of the big social concepts had been developed and tried a couple of thousand years ago, along with a good many quite advanced technologies. Much of history since then has consisted of tinkering at the margins or rediscovering old ideas.

Not sure I agree. The software industry is known for requiring extensive unpaid overtime (although some recent class action lawsuits may change this). The games industry is on the bottom of the pay scale of the entertainment industries, and unlike other creative fields(movies/television/publishing), the talent generally don’t get royalties.

Some software programming is drudge work that can be done by anybody with a little training. For that work, there’s no bargaining advantage for the workers. In general, however, high-tech industries give the greater advantages to the workers and the least to management. For a worker who has the right experience and skills in a specialty such as robotics, graphics, security, or networking, the marketplace is very favorable. Similarly ino ther technological fields, engineers and researchers hold more power than a blue-collar laborer can. The higher-tech a society is, the greater the percentage of the work force that’s skilled and can’t be easily replaced. Thus, the workers get more power and the result is social progress.

Technological process drives social change but not in a way which is demonstrably good. For instance, development of heavily armored cavalry due to the horseshoe and stirrup increased the force multiplier of cavalry to the extent that those who can afford it and fight well with it have much more social power, influencing development of the feudal system, under which AFAIK rights of most common peasants were greatly reduced.

This was reversed by the development of gunpowder, which removed the need for specially-trained knights and archers and gave power to those who could afford to field masses of musketeers, i.e. kings. Of course from time to time people in Europe and America would figure out those with the musket could share in the power as well.

The situation could be reversed yet again if mecha technology becomes real, under which one person could wield power equal to thousands of mecha-less soldiers. Of course, one can never predict the exact course of social change, but technological progress can’t be said to uniformly drive progress, merely evolution.

One of the main things Bill Gates and his wife are doing is trying to provide computer/internet access to struggling communities all over the world. The fact is, if you don’t have access to a computer, you are probably at a disadvantage in this society. Without the efforts of people like him, social progress (equity) would be very slow to come.

Furthermore – according to an analysis of Isaac Asimov – the concurrent development of the rigid horse collar and the moldboard plow greatly increased agriculatural productivity in Northern Europe, causing a population explosion in the knight class – which led to the Crusades. The pope and the kings were desperate for some way to get all those fractious, feuding knights out of Europe, and a holy war in the Holy Land was ideal.

Of course, in the long run, the Crusades were probably a good thing for Europe, and not too bad a thing for the Muslims (who ultimately won them). It was the Mongols, not the Crusaders, who ultimately wrecked the Islamic civilization and doomed it to centuries of stagnation.

I don’t think society has become more conservative; rather, it’s become much easier to discover how conservative most of society has always been.

Information is much easier to obtain than anytime in the past. Central control of information is also much reduced. Again, if that doesn’t seem to be the case, it’s because now it’s so much more apparent about who controls information. The control has always been there, just less transparent.

You’re comparing a skilled worker to an unskilled one. Of course a programmer makes more than a guy that drives a forklift. Compare a lead programmer on a video game to an art director for a Saturday morning cartoon or a film cinematographer. All three are multi-billion dollar entertainment products whose success is determined to a large degree by the talent that makes them. All three require education/experience/creativity/dedication to be good at. But the programmer is likely to work more, make less, and have little or no profit-sharing in the product he makes. If the computer industry is empowering its employees, why is the computer age yielding the highest ever CEO to worker pay ratios?

In television, only the top level talent gets royalties - and most of them get union scale as base pay. They’re probably more equivalent to management in software companies, as opposed to programmers. (Extras in TV and film get nothing much - not even the same food as principals.) Most production people make decent money (but only after they get into the union which is not easy) but no royalties. I assure you, if not for SAG and AFTRA, most actors would be in even worse shape.

In publishing, best selling authors do well, but most editors would kill to make what programmers do.

Technology allows us to vet the info - if we want to. The same technology that gives us the ability to mass email garbage also gives us Snopes.

Technology allows the production of surpluses - and has throughout history. That makes social progress feasible, but doesn’t make it inevitable. Famine today is political, not from lack of understanding of agricultural or lack of ability - that has to count for something.

I think so. As technology makes life easier and more enjoyable people have more time to devote to things like making the world more fair. I doubt animal rights would be a serious subject 500 years ago and I doubt it is a coincidence that virtually all forms of repression have gone down as technology has gone up. The world for the most part has more minority rights, human rights, civil rights, political rights, animal rights, women’s rights, sexual minority rights, global responsibility, etc than anytime in humanities 6000 year recorded history. Freedom house says about 50% of the world’s governments are now liberal democracies, up from about 5-10% 100 years ago and 0% not long before that.

My guess is that an easy, enjoyable life leads to freedom and social progress. A hard, miserable life leads to reversing social progress. The Nazis came to power under an era of the great depression, a crappy republic, the versailles treaty and the shame of losing WW1. Communists came to power under the urge of massive amounts of human misery and injustice. If the US is bombed by nuclear weapons we will probably take alot of our civil rights away too to fight terrorism and despotism.

But overall I’d wager that living an easy, enjoyable life where you do not require injustice to be comfortable (You don’t need to enslave blacks or animals to have a nice standard of living for example) makes one more prone to promoting the rights of others. Technology generally promotes easier, more enjoyable rights.

Also things like the printing press and now cellphones & the internet make it easier to disobey the government. You have an easier time communicating with other people and these tools are doing alot to promote democracy and human rights.

Yeah, but this works both ways. Surveillance cameras are an incredibly powerful tool for repression, if an authority system wants to use them for that purpose, and the change in modern military technologies (so that the most advanced weaponry- and I mean tactical weaponry, like helicopters, advanced antipersonnel weaponry, and cruise missiles, for example- has become so expensive as to be outside the reach of any but the government) has made it practically impossible for a citizen-militia to oppose the might of the state. In, say, 1776 it was feasible that a well-trained group of ordinary citizenry could have access to weaponry that would allow them to hold off the might of their government. In the modern day? Forget it.

No. Modern sanitation practices have wiped out an AWFUL lot of diseases that victimize both rich and poor. They just happened over the last several hundred years, and they’ve arguably done more good for poor people in the First World and north America than anything that came before.

Has anybody noticed that job descriptions for typists now go by number of keystrokes per hour? That’s because intranets allow computers to log the number of keystrokes made by a typist. There’s no longer ANY slack for typists. I’d call that going backwards in terms of social progress, as it makes machines out of human beings.