The Three Aspects of Technology

In 1980 I happened upon Autonomous Technology, by Langdon Winner, a book about the relationships between technology, political thought, and society. In the Introduction (pp. 11-12) Winner distinguishes among three separate but related aspects that are reflected in the word "technology".

1. Apparatus: "...the class of objects we normally refer to as technological -- tools, instruments, machines, appliances, weapons, gadgets -- which are used in the accomplishment of a wide variety of tasks."

2. Technique: "... the whole body of technical activities -- skills, methods, procedures, routines -- that people engage in to accomplish tasks .... From the earliest times, technique has been distinguished from other modes of human action by its purposive, rational step-by-step way of doing things."

3. Organization: "... some (but not all) varieties of social organization -- factories, workshops, bureaucracies, armies, research and development teams, and the like. ... The term organization [signifies] all varieties of technical (rational-productive) social arrangements."

This is a bit academic, but we would be well served in discussions of technology to keep in mind that we're talking about, at least, these three things: gizmos; work practices and procedures; and people, policies and processes. Every time I use a piece of social software, or work on the design of a web service, I'm confronted by the relationships among these aspects. We're not just writing programs, we're building socio-technical systems, and paying attention to all aspects will help us make them useful and usable.

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1 Comment

Well said. An interesting composition for the reach of technologies. Thanks.