Technology is one of the most widely used words in our culture. Many people associate it with gadgets or modern machines, but the word’s definition is much broader. It refers to a designed, material means to an end—a tool, for example. Technology also applies to the process of converting natural resources into useful goods or services.
Technological innovations change the way people live, work, play, and communicate with each other. Some of these changes are profound: bows and arrows give way to gunpowder, which transforms how wars are waged; printing presses allow books to be produced more quickly, leading to the Age of Enlightenment; microprocessors revolutionize computer hardware and software. The changes brought about by these and other technological inventions, discoveries, and advancements are so significant that we sometimes forget that they are the result of human innovation and foresight.
Almost all technologies have both positive and negative effects. Some of these effects are immediate, such as the time-saving convenience of a motor vehicle, but others take more time to develop and have lasting consequences. For example, pollution caused by fossil fuels can be a long-term hazard to human health and the environment. Fortunately, technological developments such as solar and wind energy provide alternative sources of power that may ultimately be less harmful.
The interplay between positive and negative effects of technology is the heart of what makes it interesting. Often, the advantages of technology outweigh the disadvantages, but it is important to consider the impact of any new technology before using it.
1. Improved communication: Technology allows us to keep in touch with family and friends at the touch of a button. We can text, tweet, tumble, talk by phone or fax, or even make video calls. In addition, the internet and mobile devices have opened up a world of information that was previously only accessible by visiting libraries or purchasing newspapers and magazines.
2. Enhanced education: Technology can allow students to learn at their own pace, which can help them master subjects more quickly. Additionally, it can be used to supplement a class by providing access to programs and resources that may not be available in the classroom. This helps to make learning more exciting for students and can reduce the amount of time needed for a teacher to prepare classes.
3. Easy and quick communication: The internet and mobile phones have enabled people to keep in contact with family and friends all over the world. People can now talk, email, fax, or even write letters via a postcard without leaving their home.
4. Better health: Technology is revolutionizing the medical field as well. Doctors can monitor patient’s health remotely, and Sci-Fi-style tricorders are being developed to enable quick and accurate diagnoses.
Most engineering designs operate within constraints that need to be considered. These might include economic (only so much money is available for development), environmental (likely disruption to the natural environment), social (disadvantages to some people), or ethical (disadvantages to future generations). An optimum design takes these constraints into account and strikes a reasonable compromise among them.