Prospects for Change
There will be change — no question about that. But there are questions about the direction and rate of change, whether or not the change can be controlled, and if so, who will direct it and how.
The problem of controlling changes raises the issue of technological determinism. Is technology autonomous, as Langdon Winner claims? Is it not also possible that there is autonomous social change?
In modern industrial society, neither technological nor social change is autonomous. They are interconnected and interactive. And the directions of both social and technical changes will be determined in large measure by our assessment of societal risks and benefits, which, in the last analysis, will be both cause and effect of changes in our values.
Some technological changes are already under way. Certain of these are the result of advances in our scientific technology, such as developments in computers, communications, and information science. Others derive from a changing public attitude toward the environment, while still others result from our profligate use of energy and materials in the past, and are heightened by international political developments.
How we view those changes — how we choose among the available technologies or which ones we will endeavor to make available — will depend on how they interact with a series of sociopolitical-cultural changes which are also occurring or are about to make themselves felt.
These social changes include a burgeoning world population (affecting the population/resource ratio); transformation in the basic institution of the American family; revolutionary changes in learning, living, and leisure patterns; the growing older of the American population; the emergence of participatory democracy; alterations in the city-suburb interface; and the like. Perceptions of risk will undoubtedly change as new sociocultural and demographic patterns emerge.
Inasmuch as our technology has not yet fully responded to these massive social changes which are already underway, we might be faced with a “technological lag.” Despite the present crisis of confidence, there is ample evidence to indicate that American science and technology can respond effectively to these changes while providing new and changing answers to the question of “How safe is safe enough?”
KeywordsSocial Change Participatory Democracy Technological Determinism Societal Risk Modern Industrial Society
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