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Technology as a Form of Material Culture Research Paper


Culture refers to socially transmitted rules for behavior. It generally refers to the way of thinking about and doing things (Schlereth 356). We inherit our culture from the teachings and examples of our elders and our peers rather than from genes, whether it is the language we speak, the religious beliefs that we subscribe to, or the laws that govern our society.

All such behavior is reflected in subtle and important ways in the manner in which we shape our physical world. In a general sense, material culture is usually considered to be roughly synonymous with artifacts. It comprises the vast universe of objects used by mankind to cope with the physical world, to facilitate social intercourse, and to benefit our state of mind.

A somewhat broader definition of material culture is useful in emphasizing how profoundly our world is the product of our thoughts (Schlereth 357). This definition includes all artifacts, from the simplest, such as a common pin, to the most complex, such as a space vehicle. The physical environment, however, includes more than what definitions of material culture recognize.

According to Upadhyay and Pandey, material culture is defined by shape and can take into consideration things like homes, schools, means of communication, mosques, dress, temples, industries, weapons, technology, synagogues, and so on (347). Clearly, material culture is the manifestation of culture through material productions. This paper looks at technology as a form of material culture and its role in people’s lives.

Technology as Material Culture

Technology refers to how human beings make use of what is available to them for their own personal benefit and beyond what is possible to accomplish without it (Headrick 3). Over the years, technology has been used by human beings to move from one stage to next. Typically, the advance in technology is necessitated by the desire of human beings to perform efficiently and to make life more comfortable.

This is what has made the world to move from the days of Stone Age to present. Often times, older technology is replaced by newer, better technology for more efficiency.

Better technology gives people the power to carry out more with less energy and faster. It also facilitates smooth communication and breaks the barriers usually created by distance. For those who can afford, technology creates an opportunity for longer, healthier lives. Typically, technological innovations are associated with Western civilization.

According to Headrick, the distribution of technologies is usually quite skewed (6). This gives an unfair advantage to those with technology as they can choose to use in whatever way they want. While some people might choose to share their technology with those without, others may to do the contrary.

They might, for example, deny others the opportunity to access it or even use it to harm them unnecessarily. This, however, may depend on the reason for coming up with the technology.

Role of Technology in People’s Lives

The power of technology to change individual lives is considerable. Its impact is magnified when one considers its uses in business, organizations, and governments. Competition in the market place is fierce, and technology is the primary tool for gaining an edge.

Businesses are continuously redesigning themselves to take advantage of technological advances. Technology supports an increasingly distributed workforce, where portions of product development may be accomplished in different parts of the world. The goal is always to produce the most attractive product at the lowest possible cost.

As noted by Mohr et al., the world of technology is filled with both promise and peril (4). Promise arises from the potential advantages that technology offers such as to alleviate human suffering, to enhance people’s lives, to make business more efficient and effective, and to solve social problems among others.

On the other hand, peril results not only from the risks of technology through unintended consequences or misuse of technology but also from the risk faced by the technology itself. The largest risk is commercial failure and the inability to deliver on its promises.

Most social change caused by the application of technology has both benefits and costs. A student benefits from the ability to talk with a friend on a cell phone at the conclusion of the class but may miss out on an opportunity to meet someone new sitting in a neighboring seat. Citizens benefit from the use of technology in law enforcement by living in safer conditions but may pay a price in terms of personal practice.

Big businesses benefit from outsourcing labor at the expense of the job market at home. The benefits and costs range from personal to global. Balancing benefits against costs and determining which outweighs the other is highly personal and subjective.

Clearly, it is almost impossible to isolate technology from our daily lives in the present world. In the area of commerce, for example, technology has provided access to vast quantities of merchandise to merchants. No longer confined to dealing with local merchants, consumers can now use the Web to find the lowest price in the world (Baldauf & Stair 623).

Managing money and transferring funds has never been so easy and nor has there ever been a time when private consumer information was handled by so many individuals in business and stored in so many databases. Regardless of distance, technology will ensure that money is made available when needed. With the coming of mobile money technologies, owning a cell phone is no longer a luxury.

People are now aware of the power of a cell phone as a transaction tool and a reliable and faster one for that matter. Mobile phone technology is also revolutionizing the way farm business is carried out by creating a platform for farmers to access help when they encounter problems. Globalization has also opened up the world and opened a whole new world of business for both consumers and merchants.

Merchants have access to a much wider market where they can sell their products while consumers benefit from the availability of numerous alternatives to choose from. Business advertisement is another area that has greatly been transformed by technology. Today, the Internet presents businesses with an effective mechanism to advertise their products or services to both local and international markets.

Work environments have been greatly impacted by technologies as well. Many low level jobs have been automated or outsourced to lower cost workers in the developing countries. Certain unskilled and uneducated workers are finding it increasingly difficult to find work in the United States and elsewhere, while developing countries such as India are experiencing an economic boom.

The increased competition in the global market is placing pressure on businesses to innovate as never before. Unlike in the past, college education and technological skills are now highly valued. The idea of outsourcing has led to the existence of 24 hour economies across the world.

Considering that people are scattered all over the world, in places separated by different times zones, it is possible for an organization in one part of the world to have its work progress long after official closure of business in the home country. According to Hodgetts and Hegar, technology is making many jobs easier (231).

At the same time, it may cause concern among employees who are convinced that the use of technology will eventually replace them. Unfortunately, nothing can be done to stop the growth of technology. Human resource professionals can, however, take steps to ensure that employees are not affected in cases where an organization decides to adopt technology.

Leisure activities have also been affected by technology over the years. More leisure activities are now plugged in and provide people with virtual worlds as their playgrounds. A third grader, for example, is more likely to be found designing virtual cities or battling aliens than playing on the backyard swing set.

As people spend increasing amounts of time engaged in virtual space rather than real space, changes occur in social structures and mechanisms. Virtual space may be loosely defined as an environment that exists in the mind rather than in physical space.

People find virtual space in a day dream, in a book, in a movie, on a cell phone, on the Internet, or when participating in any activity that takes their minds and attentions away from their present physical surroundings. When absorbed in these activities, the here and now of the physical world can become overshadowed by involvement in virtual space.

While books, movies, and day dreams have provided private virtual space for the imagination for decades, today’s networking technologies have provided a platform for building virtual space that can be shared by many.

Cell phones allow one to easily connect with others, while other forms of electronic and Internet communications allow a person to build virtual communities that foster relationships through electronic communications. The Internet opens an entire virtual world of information, people, and groups in which one can literally get lost.

Medically, technology has been used widely to improve the quality of life, diagnose sophisticated illnesses, and to offer quality treatment.

Information and communication technologies, such as the use of the Internet to access medical information as well as social support, the electronic patient record, and telemedicine are characterized by the way they disconnect the experiencing patient and the corporal body from the medical information about the patient.

Visual images and other data produced by the technology can be communicated electronically or otherwise world wide and in an independent manner. Medical technology has a rationality which has developed out of the world of medicine (Lauritzen & Hyden 6). Technological devices are usually constructed in order to solve problems and serve purposes that are primarily of the medical practice.

They help and enhance medical professionals in their work. In many cases, this rationality fits into the everyday rationality of patients. In cases where patients want the medical professionals to remediate their diseases, medical technology can be taken as a self-evident and given part of medical practice, even if the patient does not necessarily understand the workings of the technology.

In other cases, problems emerge when the medical rationality does not immediately correspond to or is not possible to translate into the logic of everyday life. This is the case for instance with many of the life supportive systems used in order to help patients live on, even when they are severely ill.

Medical technology has in these cases, its own rationality, which does not automatically correspond to the life world rationality of the patient. In other cases, medical technology can lead tom problems that are not part of the medical world but are part of the every day world. A typical example is the type of moral problems that various types of screening technologies result in.

When some sort of deviance is found, the patient has to make a decision, for instance, about having an abortion or not. The moral problem here is part of the patient’s life world, his or her hopes and expectations, and can only be answered in that context.

A similar situation emerges when medical technology produces unwarranted information as part of an examination as for instance when parents learn the sex of their expected baby at the ultra sound scan, without having asked for or wanted this information. With the advancements in medical technology, it is now possible for people to live longer, healthier lives.

This can be attributed to the fact that technology can be used to diagnose serious illness and administer treatment before the condition worsens. Most deaths that have been experienced in the past have been linked to the fact that the illness was discovered when it was at an advanced stage.

Technology has also impacted the learning environment is various ways. However, the technology one chooses to use affects the way of teaching, the subject, and the pedagogy. According to Savage and McGoun, technology may be perceived as having a negative influence on skills and understanding (71).

However, every situation is unique and may have its own pros and cons. As an example, over reliance on technological tools such as calculators during a student’s learning process at school has been blamed on various occasions as leading to developing an ill prepared work force in some professions.

Although it may be easy to see the potential benefits of bringing technology into classroom, the downsides of any piece of technology, in both physical and cognitive aspects, are often harder to identify and analyze.

Generally, the choices made by young people about technology in their wider lives may help or hinder their progress as learners in the classroom. Whether it is mobile phones, portable music players, or the latest on-line role playing game or social networking site, technology as a form of entertainment, communication, and representation must be used in a beneficial way.

Teachers and parents are, therefore faced with a major challenge of effectively guiding the young generation to responsibly use technology. For teachers, whether the choice of a piece of technology comes from own understanding, or whether it relates to a technology that is situated in the wider lives of young people, it is essential that the analysis of that tool and its use for educational purposes is carried out rigorously and conscientiously.

Technology played a major part in the world wars. Besides, enabling the warring soldiers to counter attacks more effectively, technology was also a reason why the war came to a quick end. Those with superior technology were more advantaged and led to reduced aggression from opponents. In a way, this may be said to have contributed to peace and stability.

Due to fear, those with inferior technology may desist from involvement in war. France is an ideal example of a country that has greatly from the use of technology in war. Its particular way of combining technical, social, and economic progress and the unshakeable confidence of its elites in the use of technology make it stand out.

In addition to what has already been mentioned, technology has presented human beings with better means of traveling. With modern aircrafts and better quality cars, for example, it is now possible for people to reduce the amount of time spent when traveling from one place to another. This is especially helpful for businesses with operations scattered in numerous locations.

Technology has also taken the art of communication to another level. Although the original means of communication served a purpose, they have now been overtaken by technological advancements and today, more sophisticated means of communication are in use.

With the coming of video conferencing technology, organizations with branches all over the world no longer have to spend huge sums of money to transport staff members from a branch in one country to another one in a different country. Among others, this eliminates expenses directed towards accommodation, processing of travel documents, meals, and hiring of meeting venues and equipment, and communication among others.


Based on the discussion presented in this paper, many areas of our lives are affected by technology. According to Kraut et al., technology has a great potential to influence the lives of ordinary citizens (3). Among others, it influences business, education, and the way government operates. In a majority of house holds across the world, technology is being used in numerous ways.

The use of technology in the present world reduced distance and isolation and allowed family members to stay more in touch with one another. Unlike in the past where communicating with relatives living miles apart was a real concern, today’s technology has introduced a simplified way of reaching out to each other.

A major consequence is that some tools such as mobile phones have become so personal to most people to such an extent that functioning without it may be a problem.

Presently, technology is extensively used in many ways including social communication, household logistics, providing families with a sense of security, for just-in-time coordination among people on the go, and for providing friends and loved ones a continual sense of being in contact. Also associated with technology is the reduced cost of living in general. It now costs much less to do certain things unlike in the past.

A good example is how the rate of making calls has drastically dropped in most parts of the world. A few years ago, making a call to the United States used to be very expensive. Today, making the same call requires one to spend almost a negligible amount of money. As a result, distance is no longer a hindrance and friends and loved ones can be stay more in touch.

Works Cited

Baldauf. Kenneth & Stair, Ralph. Succeeding with Technology, Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.

Headrick, Daniel. Power Over Peoples: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010. Print.

Hodgetts, Richard & Hegar, Kathryn. Modern Human Relations at Work, Mason, OH: Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.

Kraut, Robert, Brynin, Malcolm & Kiesler, Sara. Computers, Phones, and the Internet: Domesticating Information Technology: Domesticating Information Technology, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.

Lauritzen, Sonia, & Hyden, Lars-Christer. Medical Technologies and the Life World: The social construction of normality, New York, NY: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Mohr, Jakki, Sengupta, Sanjit & Slater, Stanley. Marketing of High-Technology Products and Innovations, Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, 2010. Print.

Savage, Jonathan & McGoun, Clive. Teaching Contemporary Themes in Secondary Education: Technology, Culture and Communication, New York, NY: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Schlereth, Thomas. Material Culture Studies in America: An Anthology, Lanham, MD: Rowman Altamira, 1982. Print.

Upadhyay, Vijay & Pandey, Gaya. History of Anthropological Thought, New Delhi, India: Concept Publishing Company, 1993. Print.

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"Technology as a Form of Material Culture." IvyPanda, 30 Dec. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/technology-as-a-form-of-material-culture/.

1. IvyPanda. "Technology as a Form of Material Culture." December 30, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/technology-as-a-form-of-material-culture/.


IvyPanda. "Technology as a Form of Material Culture." December 30, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/technology-as-a-form-of-material-culture/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Technology as a Form of Material Culture." December 30, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/technology-as-a-form-of-material-culture/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Technology as a Form of Material Culture'. 30 December.

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