"Presumed Neutrality of Technology," by Norman Balabanian (in Thompson, pp. 249 - 264)
[Notes by Gordon L. Ziniewicz]

1.  What was the motto of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair?  What irony does Balabanian see in this?  (p. 249)

2.  How does Simon Ramo view the relation between human beings and machines? (p. 250)

3.  What five categories of social problems are associated with science and technology?  Name some of the problems associated with each category.

4.  The simple-minded notion of technology includes only tools or machines.  What two elements of technology are left out by this simple-minded notion?

Models and Premises

5.  What does Balabanian mean by "paradigm" or "pseudo-environment"?

6.  What five fundamental presuppositions underly the paradigm or "world-view" of contemporary technological society? (See p. 252)

7.  What does Balabanian think of these presuppositions?

8.  What attitudes and behaviors are the result of self-seeking values?

9.  Why is the social structure fostered by this outlook hierarchical [rather than cooperative]?

Human Nature

10.  What model of human nature is required by the capitalist system and social structure?

11.  Is it hard to prove that human nature is not unalterably greedy, selfish, and self-centered?  Explain.

12.  What view of human nature and human wants is required by continual economic expansion?

13.  What two groups of wants are confused in this view of human nature?

14.  Where do "false needs" come from?  Why are they required by capitalist society?

15.  What two fallacies are found in the view that humans should subjugate and have dominion over the earth?

16.  Why is subjugating nature counterproductive?

17.  What does the idea of "subjugating nature" mistakenly presuppose about the relation between human beings and nature?

18.  How are slavery and other forms of human subjugation derived from this presupposition?

19.  What is the happy technologist's common refrain about the neutrality of technology (pp. 255 - 256)?

20.  Why does Balbanian refer to this as the "ideology of technology"?

21.  Is the purpose of the ideology of technology to inform and educate people?

22.  What major factor in the shaping of our contemporary society gets concealed by vague and abstract references to "we" with regard to responsibility for technology?

Neutrality of Technology

23.  What are two purposes or functions [manifest and hidden] of economics?

24.  What is the image versus the reality of the economic system?

25.  What are the two purposes [manifest and hidden] of the technological ideology?

26.  According to Balabanian, were factories designed primarily for the sake of efficiency of production?

27.  What are the purposes of technological innovations achieved through research and development?

28.  What happens if there is no need for a new product?

29.  Does technological innovation lead to a drop in prices?

30.  What kind of technology does one get in a society that stresses economic growth?

31.  What does this say about the presumed neutrality of technology?

32.  What does it mean to say that "technology serves an instrumental function"?

33.  What did the "happy technologist" Ramo say which unwittingly supported Balabanian's thesis?

Individual Autonomy

[Examine the statements of the "happy technologists" on pages 258 - 259.]

34.  According to the happy technologist, who or what is to blame for the bad consequences of "neutral technology"?

35.  What fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of technology is involved in this presupposition?

36.  Is the use of a refrigerator a "lifestyle choice"?  Explain.

37.  Is the use of an automobile a lifestyle choice?  Explain.

38.  Was it autonomous choice by individuals to use automobiles that killed America's urban and interurban mass transportation systems?  Explain.

39.  What happened to the Pacific Electric Railway system?

40.  What is wrong with Weinberg's explanation for smog in Los Angeles?

41.  What, according to Balabanian, is the real cause of the smog?

42.  In what ways has the US government subsidized the automobile culture and big corporations associated with the automobile culture?

43.  Who really determined the design of our transportation system?

44.  Who bears the burden for the "external costs" that allow prices to be kept low?

45.  According to James Carroll, how much free choice do citizens have with regard to the value of technical alternatives?

46.  What does Balabanian say about Kranzberg's statement that humans move away from farms or to large cities like Los Angeles out of free choice?

Necessary Harmony

47.  What is the relation between technology and a particular social system (with its economic and political aspects)?

48.  What does the "technology is neutral" ideology conceal?  What function does it promote?

49.  What must be done to change the contemporary form of technology?

50.  What three things is contemporary technology based on? (p. 263)

51.  What would be some of the characteristics of an alternative harmonious technology?

52.  How would harmonious technology deal with nature?

53.  How would harmonious technology deal with human beings?

54.  What motto would Balabanian propose as an alternative to the motto of the Chicago World's Fair? (p. 264)



 Return to Course Calendar