An Internet of Everything?/Technological and Cultural Determinism

Technological and Cultural Determinism




This chapter of An Internet of Everything? will discuss Technological and Cultural Determinism and the impact they have in digital media, and everyday society. In the History section it will discuss the historical background into how cultural determinism and technological determinism became a dominant debate over whether culture determines technology, or whether technology determines culture. The History section will also discuss key theorists who had a massive role/influence on cultural and technological determinism.

In the Definition chapter we will discuss how the terms' definitions have changed substantially over the years. Through the creation of new media and cultural movements Technological and Cultural Determinism have evolved and been subject of many debates between theorists and philosophers and this section will also look at what 'new media' is.

In the next chapter, Main Concepts will explore some of the main concepts of technological and cultural determinism as well as present theoretical examples. The chapter will look at technological and cultural determinism separately and try to draw distinctions between the two. The purpose of this chapter is to paint a general picture of technological and cultural determinism through the theories' main concepts.

In the Opposition section a select number of theorists who have opposed one or both of these theories will be discussed and their viewpoints will be shown, as well as their own ideas they've proposed.

Finally, The Future chapter will delve into the role Technological Determinism and Cultural Determinism will have on society in the years to come, focusing on topics like: national identity, political arrangement, The Law of the Suppression of Radical Movement, work efficiency, employment, and communication.



Cultural Determinism


A good way to start to think about the definition of cultural determinism is splitting up the term.

What is culture and what is determinism? Culture is the sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. Determinism is a philosophical position whereby every event has conditions that could not be caused by any other means. Collectively then, cultural determinism is a theory which bases our emotional and behavioral levels upon the culture in which we are raised, meaning that our culture and social influences dominate biological influences.

Cultural determinism allows us to ask whether we believe culture makes us who we are. If you were brought up in a different culture, would you be different from who you are now? Cultural determinism therefore implies that our ideas, emotions and behavioral patterns are influenced by the culture we are raised in. We become what we learn through our society, and this includes small habits such as eating, communicating and attire. [1]

The Cultural determinism theory [2] itself is much older than the Technological determinism theory [3] as culture was considered to shape decisively the behavior before the technology was fully developed. In fact, in ancient Greece, there was a popular perspective that only those who spoke their language could understand their behaviors, values, and social systems. The Greeks felt that their culture was what defined them as a people, and it's something you had to learn by being a part of their society. Cultural determinism supports the idea that our emotional and behavioral patterns are formed and molded by the culture we are raised in. It is also believed that this theory can be applied to economic systems and politics, as well.[4]

Franz Boas was a German/American anthropologist, meaning the scientific study of origins and behaviour, and he was the initial founder of thought regarding human behaviour to be influenced by cultural origins rather than biological influences. He suggested that to belong to a certain social group you have to adhere to the cultural norms already existing as culture subtly dictates aspects of our human life.[5]

Cultural determinists emphasize the historical conditions of our culture and how this determines our behaviours. This suggests that culture is the controlling factor which determines how society creates and progresses technology and in addition, the way in which it is used.[6] This contradicts the views of technological determinists. There are many theorists that contributed to the development of this theory such as Robert Barro, Friedrich Schlegel, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and Johann Wolfgang Goethe.

The above introduction to the idea of determinism versus self creation by means of human willpower, adheres to the standard model regarding human nature, in that it seeks to delineate a point at which humans can be separated from nature and made their own creators. This carries an implicit, but unstated, assumption that humans have freewill, it being merely a question of determining at what point this unique attribute comes into play. Thus we are told that cultural determinism releases people from biological determinism. Further on in this work the term ‘superorganism’ is applied to human society, by way of mentioning how some have tried to elaborate a model of social order that is entirely deterministic. The definition of ‘determinism’ given above facilitates models supporting a point of release for humans from the grip of nature, as it says that determinism means ‘conditions’ could not be other than they are, hence no additional factor of choice is relevant, thus negating any possibility of freewill. This definition of determinism thereby revolves around the principle of choice, without this attachment of the meaning of ‘determinism’ to the meaning of ‘choice’, being made explicit.

This takes us to the crux of the matter concerning determinism versus free will in human life, for so much in human social life as we know it today, hangs upon the idea of freewill, and the above explanation of cultural determinism follows the required cultural pattern whereby the initiation of freewill is enabled, at some point. ‘Determinism’ defined without the constraint of cultural forces acting upon its definition would be quite different. It would allow its meaning to be determined by the abstract principle of scientific objectivity linking its meaning to an object of natural existence, in this case human society seen as a natural object, that can indeed only be as it is, but not because ‘conditions’ must be as they are, but because the object can be identified as a natural object, where natural objects can only ever be, exactly as they are ; a principle that makes science possible. The superorganic model of society is the only model that can fulfil this deterministic ideal. A scientifically oriented definition of determinism is inevitably uncompromising, it tolerates no alternative because it asserts that humans can be understood as entirely natural forms, and we find other aspects of determinism's definition raised in this work that act against this scientific definition, such as the idea of ‘hard determinism’, defined in highly negative terms as being unreasoned bigotry, when employed in circumstances that cannot be proven.

At the very least, the above definition of the key concepts in this work is significantly superficial, it supports a view of the topic that is conformist with established academic authority, and does not open up the subject to a fuller understanding such as the key concepts suggest it might.

To say that culture releases humans from biological factors is manipulative of the ideas discussed. It presumes that culture is not a biological imperative, whereas, it clearly is, for the power of speech creates culture, making culture a behavioural activity entirely based upon human biology, speech being an anatomical attribute of the individual person. The above account of society starts from a pivot of observation that assumes the person is the human animal, and proceeds to discuss the social entity from this pivot, in a fore or against manner, whereby both alternatives must be rendered equally flawed, positively so in that they both allow the political ideal of freewill to be maintained in principle at least, because they both say the individual is a being in their own right. Whereas the proper alternative, that would allow determinism to deliver a genuine alternative, must be based upon the naturalistic idea that the human animal is a superorganism. The proper definition of determinism in the context of human social life, is expressed in the principle that the human animal is the superorganism, not the person. This definition frees the meaning of ‘determinism’ from the meaning of ‘choice’, by attaching the meaning of determinism to a naturally occurring, physical entity, from which deterministic factors can then be sought, and to which all resulting ideas of a deterministic nature can be linked.

Robert Barro


American, Robert Joseph Barro (1944–2015) studied Macroeconomics, and lectured at the University of Havard. Before this, Barro had graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a B.S. in Physics. Once graduated, he then turned his attention to economics. He obtained his PhD from Harvard University in 1970 in this subject area. He has written numerous pieces of writing on macroeconomics and the economy for publishers such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Daily News.

Before Barro, writers such as Goethe, Fichte, August and Schlegal had written about Romanticism, arguing that it had been very influential on cultural determinism. This idea was that individuals values and customs were related and were inspired by geography and our surroundings.

This can be studied along with the Media Theory, which is the idea of social-political -philosophical principles that organise the relationship between the media and society. This theory allows writers to create their own interpretation of how influential the media is on society. In this sense, the key concepts about the principles of mass media tend to line up with the main values and positioning that we have in society.

Some writers believe that political arrangements are determined by the mass media. However Barro believed that it is in fact individual's behaviours and values that has the larger impact when determining political arrangements. Therefore Barro would argue that culture will influence behaviours in society, far greater than technology on its own.

Friedrich Schlegel

Friedrich Schlegel

Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegal, born in 1772, was a German poet and notable literary and philosophical figure, who was part of the Jena Romantics, as well as being an innovator of comparative linguistics. He is an important individual in terms of the development of cultural determinism as a theory.[7]

Romanticism, embodied by its emphasis on intense sentiment and individuality, in addition to its adoration of the environment and history, was greatly influenced by cultural determinism.[8] Various writers, including that of Friedrich Schlegel contributed to this artistic and literary movement. Romanticism was shaped by society and culture, in particular correlating to the geographical location. The social practices associating locations of writers affected the art form, more than the subjective rules of the subject. The work of Friedrich Schlegel impacted Romanticism, thereby demonstrating that society and culture can drive social evolution. It is the view of cultural determinists that power relations are established by the mass media around them which directs social change.[9]

Johann Gottlieb Fichte

Johann Gottlieb Fichte

Johann Gottlieb Fichte was a German philosopher who lived from 1762 to 1814, who created thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Highly influenced and encouraged by Immanuel Kant’s work, specifically on the existence of noumenon - which he developed in regards to his own perception and beliefs - Fichte was particularly interested in the concept of consciousness.

He came up with a system of philosophy called Wissenschaftslehre (Doctrine of Science), wherein it is “explain[ed] how freely willing, morally responsible agents can at the same time be considered part of a world of causally conditioned material objects in space and time.”[10] Dan Breazeale (2001) said that:

”The first task for philosophy, Fichte therefore concluded, is to discover a single, self-evident starting point or first principle from which one could then somehow “derive” both theoretical and practical philosophy, which is to say, our experience of ourselves as finite cognizers and as finite agents.”[10]

Fichte was so focused in his work on “the I” and self-consciousness that technological determinism does not even come up in his works. This could suggest a complete belief that any determinism originates in the individual’s motives and therefore supports a cultural determinism perspective. “Fichte directed the force of his work against the implications of determinism, searching instead for the possibility of human freedom or agency.”[11] This quote might deny any form of determinism, yet it clearly defines human consciousness as the origin of action. It says that freedom and agency do not determine actions, but rather accommodate and facilitate them. Discussing determinism in relation to Fichte's beliefs, it is reasonable to relate it to a far more nature-centred standpoint than technological or even cultural - though it is more cultural than technological. Culture develops - and so technology with it - as human freedom is acknowledged and explored.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer and statesman. He was a writer in the early 19th century, romantic period; artistic, literary and intellectual movement. Romanticism was greatly influenced by the cultural determinist theory. However, Goethe did not believe in either technological or deterministic views of social growth. Instead he believed the world grows through continual, external and internal strife.

There are two kinds of philosophy; dogmatic and non-dogmatic [12] Goethe and his work are shaded in the umbrella of dogmatic philosophy as this branch of philosophy does not start from observations of nature, but instead puts a philosophical perspective upon nature. Goethe’s views and beliefs were similar thus creating a speculative and constructive system in society.

Initially Goethe was inspired by thinkers of Natural Sciences, Giordano Bruno and Baruch Spinoza however he then branched off and Goethe’s philosophical writings became a work in which genuine and profound understanding of the human were presented. Goethe believed that in order to understand yourself you must do what the demands of you. If you do your duty, you will find who you are and this is why Goethe did not agree with writings on cultural determinism. Being deterministic and not willing to see beyond the idea that our culture defines who we are is a stance Goethe could not agree with.

Patrick Buchanan


Patrick Buchanan, nicknamed “Pat” is a paleoconservative political commentator. Paleoconservatism, mainly used in the United States, is a political philosophy, focusing on religious, regional, national and Western identity.[13] Paleoconservatists can be viewed as "old conservatives." Buchanan is also known as an author, broadcaster and politician. He was a prominent leader in the political world, being a senior advisor to Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. He tried to become the Republican presidential candidate in 1992 and later in 1996.

Today, Patrick Buchanan claims that cultural standards placed in society are the leading factor that determines our behavior of political arrangements. Buchanan, being considered a paleoconcerative due to his opposition of American imperialism, believes that cultural determinism is a main debate amount conservatives today.

Buchanan still has an active official website which can be found here:

Technological Determinism


Once again, for defining this complex term, it will be easier to split the Technological and Determinism. Technology is a collection of skills and methods generating a scientific knowledge for practical purposes. Determinism, as previously stated, is a philosophical position whereby every event has conditions that could not be caused by any other means. Technological determinism therefore is events and situations which only technology can be responsible for.

Technological determinism presumes that a society's technology drives the development of its social structure and cultural values. The term is believed to have been coined by Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929), an American sociologist and economist. The most radical technological determinist in the United States in the 20th century was most likely Clarence Ayres who was a follower of Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey. William Ogburn was also known for his radical technological determinism.

Corresponding with the adaption of science, technology has rapidly evolved over a period of time. Technological determinists would argue that this evolution of technology has had a direct impact on modern culture.

The term “technology” used to be related to writing and printing - and even tools for hunting, etc., if looking back thousands of years - however now it is now more linked to computers and television.

Technological determinists believe that this evolution of technology has shaped societies values and norms, which has been passed down through generations.

Therefore as technology has advanced, it has had a direct impact on society.

Overall, technological determinism is a reductionist theory, meaning that similar philosophical positions regarding theories reduce one another. The theory presumes that a society’s technological drive reflects a society’s social structure and cultural values. Technological Determinist theory presents two general ways of thinking: development of technology already has a predictable path beyond cultural influences; and, secondly, that these technologies then affect societies inherently, i.e. not socially conditioned. It sees technology as the basis for all human activity. Technology is seen as a primary mover of history and as a fundamental condition underlying patterns of social organization.

Branching off from the root of technological determinism are hard determinism and soft determinism. Hard Determinism is a view that technology develops independent social concerns, technology creates a set of powerful forces acting to regulate our social activity and its meaning. Soft Determinism is a passive view as to how technology interacts with socio-political situations. Technology is the guiding force in our evolution but we also have a chance to make decisions regarding the outcome of this situation. Mentioned below are the many theorists who have adapted to and influenced technological determinism. How each of them take a unique stance on the theory is very interesting.

Of course Thorstein Veblen's views led to other theorists developing technological determinism. His views had a great influence on theorists such as Karl Marx, Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis, Leslie White and Sigfried Giedion.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx

The first major elaboration of a Technological determinism view of socioeconomic development came from the German philosopher and economist Karl Marx, whose theoretical framework was grounded in the perspective that changes in technology, and specifically productive technology, are the primary influence on human social relations and organizational structure, and that social relations and cultural practices ultimately revolve around the technological and economic base of a given society. Marx's position has become embedded in contemporary society, where the idea that fast-changing technologies alter human lives is all-pervasive. Although many authors attribute a technologically determined view of human history to Marx's insights, not all Marxists are technological determinists, and some authors question the extent to which Marx himself was a determinist.

Karl Marx greatly believed that technology was the core behind aspects of society, therefore it was one of the main influences behind social order. Marx believed in a capitalism society, and saw society as a productive force- following the Mode of production. In addition, he also noticed technology as a force of production which he believed helped to organise society. Therefore technology would have a great influence on cultural and social change.

Out of the many influential theorists, Marx was the first to elaborate upon technological determinism with a view of socioeconomic development. Karl Marx believed that human social relations can be structured primarily by the development of technology.

Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan

However, there were other theorist who believed in technological determinism from a Non Marxists approach- one being Marshal McLuhan (1911–1980). McLuhan was born in Canada and taught at the University of Toronto. He specialized and was greatly influential in the field of Communications, which directly linked to technology.

Philosopher McLuhan was famous for his idea of "The medium is the message" [14] whereby the media influences the ways in which we think. Therefore technology would drive our thoughts, beliefs, values and Norms. Therefore his thoughts were that technology would be hugely influential in shaping society, which, according to McLuhan, would now be identified by networking and connectivity.

McLuhan appeared to believe that "technology is an inevitable, autonomous force that will lead to prosperity and be the salvation of humanity (Surry and Farquhar, 1997)." [15]

In addition, as an influential theorist regarding technological determinism, McLuhan's studies also consisted of ideas know as "Extensions of the human body", "The Global Village" [16] and "The hot and Cold media".

Harold Innis

Harold Innis

Harold Adams Innis was a Canadian political economist born in 1894, who influenced the work of Marshall McLuhan. Innis remains a fundamental and notable figure regarding Communications Theory. In his life, he explored the social history of communication, especially in terms of the impact of media over the last 4000 years.[17]

His work on communications, Empire and Communications (1950) examined the effects of media such as stone, clay, papyrus, parchment and paper from times such as Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire to modern times with the enhancement of the printing press.[18] Marshall McLuhan noted that in another piece of his work, The Bias of Communications (1951), Innis developed a new way of viewing history.

"Most writers are occupied in providing accounts of the content of philosophy, science, libraries, empires, and religions. Innis invites us instead to consider the formalities of power exerted by these structures in their mutual interaction. He approaches each of these forms of organized power as exercising a particular kind of force upon each of the other components in the complex."[19]

Innis’ view was established by assessing how new media began initially. McLuhan acknowledges the way Innis utilized the technological events in history to examine what society have learned from it and how this has helped shape culture. Innis believed changes in society can be attributed to the progression of communication media and how these have advanced power relations.[17]

Leslie White


An anthropologist who lived from 1900–1975, Leslie White was influenced by Marx and also Darwin’s theory of evolution, and is known best for his work on “cultural evolution in terms of technological and scientific development,” [20]

In his 1934 article “Energy and the Evolution of Culture” published in the American Anthropologist, White introduced a law that said that “energy” times “technology” equals “culture”. Another law he put forth was that “in the process of cultural development, social evolution is a consequence of technological evolution.” [21] White believed that in the beginnings of human advancement, humans would utilise natural resources as energy, which allowed for further development in technology, which allowed for cultural evolution. As Elliot Knight and Karen Smith from the University of Alabama put it:

“Energy capture is accomplished through the technological aspect of culture so that a modification in technology could, in turn, lead to a greater amount of energy capture or a more efficient method of energy capture thus changing culture.” [22]

White claimed that culture is determined by the technological means by which humans adapt to their environments. The way in which culture reacts to the problems they face and the solutions they provide in the natural world determine the values and behaviours within that culture.

Sigfried Giedion


Sigfried Giedion was a Swiss historian and a critic of architecture and importantly a non Marxist theorist. He was a prominent mid-century humanist committed to crossing the boundaries between science, technology and act as a mean to engage with history as a living process of ‘manifold relations.’ Giedion wants us to think about all the objects we use in our everyday lives that we are taking for granted.

The book for which he is most renowned for writing is Space, Time and Architecture The growth of new tradition. His book desired to show and explore the cultural context of modern art and architecture. Via his book we see his desire to bridge the gap between disciplinary and cultural boundaries. Giedion had a new vision about technology and a hope to restoring the equilibrium he desired between man and machine. Through his book we are able to see his non Marxists views come across, but we also see he not only adapted to the stance of technological determinism but has also redefined it.[23] Giedion wants us to ask to why we sit and stand the way we do. He, like the above theorists has greatly influenced the advances in technological determinism.[24]

Lynn Townsend White, Jr.


Lynn Townsend White, Jr. was born in April 1887. He taught medieval history at Princeton from 1933 to 1937 and later was a professor for a few years at Stanford.[25] He was one of the key founders of the Society of History and Technology. Many of his college lectures were based off a book he published in 1962 titled, “Medieval Technology and Social Change.” This book was one of the triggers that started the debate in controversial theory. White explains in his book how he believes technology has impacted social changes; he focuses on the horse stirrup and how this was useful in the advance on Islam. He also discusses how the horse became better to use in the fields then the ox, how the crank needed to be invented during the time that it did. Where would we even be without steam trains and automobiles? White’s book received poor reviews, but since then is still famous and being read.

White’s beliefs from “Medieval Technology and Social Change” lead to a debate about how religion impacts the West’s attitude toward the exploitation of the natural world. Many of the people who reviewed his work believed that it was a direct attack against Christianity which offended hundreds of people. His book is dedicated to Marc Bloch. He has always stood by the belief that technological development is a leading factor in human behaviors and has been neglected. White says that "If historians are to attempt to write the history of mankind, and not simply the history of mankind as it was viewed by the small and specialized segments of our race which have had the habit of scribbling, they must take a fresh view of the records, ask new questions of them, and use all the resources of archaeology, iconography, and etymology to find answers when no answers can be discovered in contemporary writings." [26]



How Do We Define Cultural Determinism?



Cultural determinism is a general view of cultural development in which environmental influences determine the personal sphere of an individual. Its definition has changed over the years, but ultimately the term highlights how a person's own actions are influenced by technology, and the impact this has on society. The definition of cultural determinism has been cemented by Raymond Williams in his book 'Television, Technology and Cultural Form' although it has been defined by many different theorists. Some theorist consider cultural determinism comparable with cultural pessimism, which is based on the concept that every culture is a superorganism that has a developing period and then dies. The connection with cultural determinism is given by the fact that we are not agents in the formation of culture but only subject to its developments. Oswald Spengler was the main intellectual to support that theory.

History & Origin

As previously outlined in this chapter, Cultural Determinism has been present in the realm of intellectual discourse since the first half of the 19th century. It has been prevalent in the work and ideas of philosophers like Fichte, Goethe and Marx. Fichte applied determinism to nature exclusively; to him the reason of human existence is only determined by the Absolute in the fulfillment of Its own freedom, so that man is mainly an object that can be shaped, while Marx and Hegel took it a step further applying the natural determinism of Fichte to the social and historical determinism, leaving man in a passive role.

In Cultural Visions: Essays in the History of Culture [27] historian Ersnt Gombrich claims that the new wave of thinking inspired by these philosophers strengthened the cause for cultural unity. He says;

It could be claimed that such interest in the variety of cultural conditions alone would never have led to the emergence of cultural history if it had not been for a novel element - the belief in progress, which alone could unify the history of mankind.

Ernst Gombrich and his wife (1975)


Cultural determinism has substantially changed over the years. After the Romantic period the use of the term came to apply to more forward thinking aspects of society. In present day it is used to apply to digital media, and the potential future of technology.

Culture determinism actually creates technology has a medium to portray its messages and sublimate them and make them reassuring. Technology is just a reflection of the cultural atmosphere, so it is not to be condemned, but the culture is.

There was a resurgence of interest in cultural determinism through the work of Raymond Williams, and other theorists of the 1900's. An interesting change in the impact of cultural determinism comes with the affect on ideology. The focus on people's actions is prevalent with this mindset, the phrase 'Guns don't kill people, people do' is an example of cultural determinism in society. Through the changes in cultural determinism's definition there is an ongoing debate on whether the impact of society or technology is more influential in people's lives. The very definition of 'culture' has developed over the years, and this has influenced both criticism and praise of the definition of cultural determinism.

New Media

Cultural determinism is a important factor in critical reading of new media. As mentioned in the chapter on technological determinism, 'new media' is a very vague and broad term. With the amount of technology we have today, what is and isn't 'New Media' is part of a worthwhile debate. In relation to cultural determinism, new media is important as it enables cultures to transform society. The wealth of media at our disposal is something the theorists of the past could not have foreseen, Therefore Raymond William's definition of cultural determinism can be seen as dated, it is an ever adapting ideology.

Harold Innis described new media as the great improvement in communication that is somehow weakening communication and understanding; he added the dimensions of time and space to the media, classifying the new media as a form of communication which is mainly space-oriented and it is not oriented to a transmission of information that spans centuries, and because of this Innis arrived to a really pessimistic view on new media, and on western civilization as a whole.

Again, the analogy between cultural determinism and cultural pessimism returns.


The leading theorist in the field of cultural determinism is Raymond Williams. Williams was born in Wales in 1921 and was influential in the process of the New Left: a political movement promoting equal rights. He belonged to the school of Western Marxism and was very influential in cultural studies of his time.

Similar to Marshall McLuhan, Williams was fascinated by new media. However the key difference between them was that Williams focused more on how the technologies were formed in the first place, and how this impacted society. He was very critical of McLuhan. Raymond Williams’s approach to cultural determinism is inspired by Marxism and the Frankfurt School. It is based on the concept that culture is determined by the zeitgeist, and that it is a production-based view of culture, that builds on the class-based approach of Marxism and the studies of Gramsci, Marcuse and hegemony. To WIlliams, technology has no meaning without the ethics and the thoughts of us human beings who created it in the first place. Differently from Mcluhan's views, the medium is not the message, but we are the message and the medium is just a vehicle.

John Hartley was a advocate of cultural determinism, however in a broader sense. He wrote;

"culture – the discursive, media, knowledge-producing and sense-making sphere of life – might itself determine such matters as class, conflict and the state." [28]

How Do We Define Technological Determinism?



First of all, a brief and general definition of technological determinism is how media technologies influence those within a certain society, in terms of thoughts, feelings and behaviour and how it affects cultures from one technological era to another. This influence has continued to grow from the early years of being a significant factor in social change, then later to this influence being more widely spread and having massive effects on people in all walks of life. This progression created changes in definitions with new media forms such as the television being introduced and with differing levels of determinism such as soft and hard determinism: the definition of new media is hard to establish since it is such a broad term. This theory essentially presumes that society's technology drives the development of its social structure and cultural values. Theorists such as McLuhan argue against Williams since his beliefs coincide with hard determinism.

History & Origin

Discussed in more detail in this chapter, the history can be briefly looked at here in terms of the definitions of technological determinism. The term Technological Determinism was thought to have been originally devised by American sociologist Thorstein Veblen, within this industrial revolution period technological determinism was defined from ideas around technology as an important governing feature. Ideas at this time were that technological advances had more of an effect on society than most other issues, so led to it having a significant contribution to social change as a whole.

Thorstein Veblen

Even though technological determinism was becoming part of central ideals within most industrial cultures there were obvious critics that arose and effected how others viewed this perspective. This early criticism came from thoughts that these societies automating and downsizing workforce lead to a loss in man's ability to take control and make decisions. Critics such as Henry Adams, saw this idea of technological determinism as removing society’s traditional values of the past and altering the way people experience the world.[29]

By the early 1900’s new technology was being discussed more widely in popular culture, so ideas of technological determinism and how it was defined within society became more prevalent as more people were seeing this new technology in their day to day life.[30] Many articles and books at this time included these ideas and raised many definitions around this notion of technological determinism. As the twentieth century continued ideas of technological determinism continued to grow through forms of advertisement: this meant these ideas of technology influencing society were now clear and vivid for most people who engaged with any form of media.


A main conflict within the definitions of technological determinism is the difference between thoughts of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ determinism. Hard determinism is defined by the idea of technology being completely separate from all social issues, so technological advances manage our cultural behaviors and put a limit on our freedom to affect this. In contrast, soft determinism is defined as still seeing technology as being the main driver of social change, but suggests we ultimately do have control with regards to affecting the potential outcome. Some other points which led to differences within the definitions of technological determinism were thoughts and conflicts around the technology in question, such as having to be anonymous to enable it to relate fully to the idea of technological determinism, or whether there are more important factors other than anonymity to consider.[31]

In terms of the change among theorists who were critical of technological determinism and their views, the change is evident from nineteenth-century to twentieth-century writers. Firstly, it can be noted that there were still devoted critiques of the perspective but the emphasis of concern changed from ideas of customs and belief to those of policy and control.

The introduction of the television and its integration into people's lives was significant in questioning how technological determinism could be defined. TV can be seen as an old media form which in itself has continued to adapt in these new media times, from the addition of new channels to the smart TV.[32] This change to the definition can be seen as TV has led to a new understanding of how technology can influence society through moving images and sounds, which together can put across ideas that people take on-board either consciously or subconsciously.

New Media

The term new media refers to a whole range of different processes and practices that has gained a widespread currency over the last decade. It is both an enormously vague and broad term yet could be seen as simultaneously being a very certain and definitive one since it suggests that 'new media' already exists now as fully achieved material and social practices. However, this proposition is not true: one tends to use this term ordinarily to describe something completely different entirely. Many define new media as being content made available on demand through the Internet, or content accessible through digital and mobile devices containing interactive user feedback and creative participation - such as the worldwide phenomenon that is social media or websites such as online newspapers, blogs, wikis and video games. So new media does not have a clear-cut definition per-say, but rather it is a term more commonly used to categorise all these different interactive social practices, creative participation and content creation and is certainly not fully achieved material since it is constantly evolving and developing every single day as well as the ways in which we, as a society collectively, use or consume it.

Firstly, nowadays when someone refers to new media in conversation, typically they are referring to communication media as well as making reference to the institutions and organisations in which people work e.g. the press, cinema, broadcasting, etc. and the material products of those institutions e.g. movies, books, discs. However, the meaning of this broad term also refers to the intensity of change technologically: from the 1980s onwards there was a massive development. Despite technological advances always evolving in a constant flux, this period marked off what went on before through the development of printing, photography through television, to telecommunications. A key point of new media is that it has revolutionised the relationships between subjects (users and consumers) and media technologies and changed the use and reception of image and communication media in everyday life and in the meanings that are invested in media technologies.

The connection between PCs through networked communication is the root cause for all the excitement, critical attention and commercial investment: the invention of the World Wide Web software is what really developed the Internet and in turn the growth of it has been the site for major investments of the "technological imaginary", which refers to in a psychoanalytic context, as being a realm of images, representations, ideas and intuitions of fulfillment, of wholeness and completeness that human beings, in their fragmented and incomplete selves, desire to become.[33] Perhaps this is why we as a human race are so preoccupied by it.


Regarding technological determinism, the leading theorist in this field is Marshall McLuhan who believes that the medium is the message. This essentially means that the social and personal issues and consequences that surround a medium - an extension of ourselves - occur due to the new medium or any new technology that is now a part of our lives. He uses the analogy of the electric light: an electric light being a source of pure information and a medium without a message unless it is used to spell out a particular ad or name. This very idea is a basis for all media: the content of any medium is always another medium, according to Marshall McLuhan. The content of writing is speech and the content of the written word is print, for example. McLuhan's views are different to that of Williams' since he believes in hard determinism: an electric light or a light bulb does not have content in the way that a book has chapters or a television has programs, but it is a medium that has an effect on society since it allows for people to see during darkness and opens up an environment for them which would otherwise be closed.[34]

Main Concepts


Technological Determinism


Technological determinism in media is the philosophical and sociological notion that the power and technology of the media has an effect on shaping society. In this section of the chapter, some of the key concepts regarding technological determinism are going to be explored. These will include a look at a key theorist and theoretical examples that will make the concept of technological determinism within the field of media easier to grasp.

Key Theorist - Marshall McLuhan


A key champion of the theory of technological determinism is the Canadian intellectual Marshall McLuhan. He very much favoured the idea that we are controlled by our technological advances, and this then influences our culture. At the time his ideas seemed radical and controversial, but despite this he was very influential – not just among scholars, but also to the wider public. His major ideas are explored in his key texts – The Gutenberg Galaxy[35] (1962), Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man[36] (1964), and The Medium Is the Massage[37] (1967).

Marshall McLuhan in 1936

What makes McLuhan’s ideas so striking is that they seem to accurately predict the future of technology, despite McLuhan’s death in 1980 before the advent of computers and the internet. Three of McLuhan’s most significant arguments, which are discussed in more detail below, are:

  • the idea that the content of any medium is always another medium
  • the idea that media and technologies are an extension of the human body
  • the idea that ‘the medium is the message’

McLuhan also saw the development of technology as a shift from oral communication to written communication through four stages of development:

  • A primitive oral culture
  • A literate culture
  • A print culture
  • An electronic culture

This shows how technology has constantly driven the human race forward, and today we are still very much in the development stage of technological progress. Due to technology, the world appears ‘smaller’ than it ever did before as we are now more interconnected.

McLuhan maintains that technology cannot be reduced to its social uses – it is the technology itself that matters. Throughout the discussion of these concepts, one clear theme remains – McLuhan insists that this influencing power of technology is able to affect our relationships with others and the world, and how we behave towards them. Despite these ideas being decades old, they still have a lot of influence on how scholars think today – with the modern person’s reliance on technology such as computers and smartphones, and our interconnectedness with technology in our everyday lives, his theories do seem to have a lot of relevance.

Theoretical Example


An appropriate example of the theory of technological determinism at work is the example given by McLuhan in his seminal work The Gutenberg Galaxy. This places the invention of the printing press in 1452 by Johannes Gutenberg as a specific turning point in human history.[38]

The Gutenberg Press

McLuhan argued that the printing press revolutionised society in a way simply not possible through simple social change, and transformed society and the individuals therein by allowing for the establishment of rapid communication between individuals. In the terms of some of the thoughts raised previously in this chapter, the printing press was instrumental in the transition from a literate culture to a print culture.

The invention of the printing press allowed for both social and economic transformation to occur during Renaissance Europe. The time and effort required to print a book was significantly shorter than the previous method of handwriting manuscripts. Alongside the greater speed of manufacture, the costs of such a process was cheaper, due to the shorter amount of work required to produce a finished item. Departing from economic concerns, the printing press allowed for multiple copies of material to be created quickly and distributed over a wider area, compared to the limited release of a manuscript, largely through oral distribution. This newly discovered ability to distribute books across a wide area allowed for new ideas and concepts to take root and encouraged social development and change. To use an example from the period, the speed and cost of the printing press enabled the development of the Protestant reformation under Martin Luther in 1517.[39] This would not have been as successful without the widespread distribution of translated religious texts, such as the Lutheran bible, which prompted a significant rise in literacy among the people of Europe.[40] McLuhan argues that due to the increased literacy of the population of Europe, the resulting expansion and expression of ideas provided the roots required for prominent political concepts, such as that of nationalism, to emerge as dominant features of the society of the modern era.

Technology Extends the Human Body


The main premise of Marshall McLuhan’s theory is that media generally alters how humans interact with the world and the specific characteristics of any one medium can change this sensory relationship, with emphasis placed upon the importance of the characteristics of the medium and not just the content being provided through it. Therefore it places particular emphasis on technology over culture.

McLuhan’s theory on technological determinism makes the case that a medium is "any extension of ourselves".[41] He argued that the alphabet extends the eye, the wheel extends the foot, and the computer extends the nervous system. Therefore these things which extend the human body are considered to be media in his argument, especially seeing as computers weren't commonplace, like they are now, when he wrote this. He also asserts that these extensions of our bodies change the natural relationships between the sensing parts of the body and affect our minds and our societies due to the fact that they alter the ratios between the range of human senses which has implications for our mental functions.

According to McLuhan's theory, language is a medium because it is an extension of our inner consciousness. Therefore, spoken language is a key development in the evolution of human consciousness and culture and the medium from which subsequent technological extensions have evolved. This continues to apply in the modern day as language continues to evolve resulting in technology having to evolve with it, with words such as "selfie" being added to the Oxford English dictionary and more phones with front-facing cameras being released to be in-keeping with the phenomenon.

His argument has been criticized though, due to the fact that the use of the word 'medium' has been considered too simplistic by some as it amalgamates channels, codes, and messages under the term, thus confusing the vehicle, internal code, and content of a given message in his framework. McLuhan has also been labelled as a technophobe and criticised for being seemingly conflicted over the electronic extension of consciousness, despite the fact that he is more interested in exploring the implications of technology as an extension of the human body rather than labelling them as good or bad.

Medium is the Message


When the theory was first published it was a under a typo, The Medium is the Massage. McLuhan believed this to be an even better title because it meant it could be read in four different ways: message, mess age, massage, and mass age.[42]

In his book 'Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man McLuhan explores the concept of the medium is the message. The main notion of this is that the medium regardless of the “content” will dictate any changes brought to human society. One of McLuhan’s key examples of arguing the theory is that of electricity and light. According to the theory the light bulb is a medium because while it does not contain any “content” on its own it does control it. For example without light many activities would be hindered once the sun has set, therefore the medium determines the activity. McLuhan also argues that it was the movie as a medium that “carried us the world of sequence and connections into the world of creative configuration and structure” due to lineal connections.[43]

Through the notion of movie as a medium cubism develops as it attempts to dictate the point of view of the viewer through the use of planes and ambiguities in patterns, lights and textures. What it does in more simple terms is taking all different parts to create a whole that is registered by the viewer as the actual product, it is not the different sides of a cube that are seen for example but the cube itself. Thus because cubism is not about "content" it makes it a good example for McLuhan's thoughts on this topic.[43]

Hot and Cool Media


One of the key concepts to understanding technological determinism is Marshall McLuhan’s use of concepts of “hot” and “cool” media. This ties in to his famous phrase “The medium is the message” as McLuhan ranks the different media in their terms of audience engagement. The theory has received criticism over time but despite that it is seen integral to McLuhan's system.[44] The research done on this subject is very sparse and the achieved results from these empirical explorations have been ambiguous.[44]

Hot Media

Hot media offers the listener or the viewer a lot of data and engages with them on a level where emotional responses can be evoked without further reading of the presented text.[44] There is no need for the audience to fill any gaps as all the relevant information for the preferred reading is provided within the text. Radio, newspapers and movies can be seen as hot media platforms as they engage with audience in this manner.[45] McLuhan uses the term "high definition" when talking about hot media - in this he means that the data hot media offers is enough to boost a sense, in example photography offers a lot of stimulus visually and is therefore considered high definition.[46] Hot media provide a restricted access to audience participation as all the data is offered straight away.

Cool Media

Cool media on the other hand asks for the audience to make observations and fill in the information that seems to be lacking.[44] Cool media texts offer vague information and they ask the audience to be active participants in making clear of the text. Television and telephone are part of cool media.[45] To contrast cool media with hot media, McLuhan states that cool media is unlike hot media, "low definition".[46] Conversation on a phone offers a very little information and leaves a lot to be filled out by the participants, and is therefore "low definition". Cool media allows the audience to participate more freely.

Case Study: Technological Perspective


In order to better understand the application of technological determinist thought, employing a case study that will later in the chapter be repeated from a different perspective may be a worthwhile exercise. In this particular case study, the internet will be the focus of discussion, and will be approached from a purely technological perspective.

As a result of the invention of the internet, society began to benefit from a greater access to information in many forms. Much in the same way the printing press affected society, this subsequent knowledge could better inform the individual in society or - if adhering to the arguments made by Marshall McLuhan - transform their experience of the world at large. The internet allowed for the invention of subsequent technologies that have had a long-reaching impact on modern society; one example of note being the smartphone. To revisit arguments made by McLuhan earlier in the chapter, the computer as technology arguably served as an extension of the human nervous system. The creation of the internet as a means of connecting each individual to one worldwide network, proceeded to magnify this effect and bring about new sensory relationships with technology, thereby almost perfecting the notion of technology as an extension of the human body. Social media networks are now commonplace within society, and have themselves changed the way people interact with one another and experience media.

In Conclusion


In technological determinism, McLuhan favoured the idea that it is technological advances that guide and influence culture. As argued in this section on the main concepts of technological determinism in the chapter technology determines cultural development. McLuhan presents several arguments to his case that have been explored, such as technology as an extension of the body, hot and cool media, and the medium is the message. An example of how technology has determined the development of culture is Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, a machine that made mass publication possible and lead to increased literacy according to McLuhan.

Cultural Determinism


Cultural determinism opposes technological determinism, claiming that a lived-in culture influences people and their actions, and therefore the development of technology. In connection to digital media, cultural determinism handles the idea that there is no one given way to use a particular piece of technology, but the individual find uses for them from within their own culture. This part of the chapter will be going over the main concepts of cultural determinism, including a key theorist and some theoretical examples in a context that will make the concept seem more tangible, and bring cultural determinism to the media field.

Key Theorist - Raymond Williams


A theorist who argued the case of cultural determinism was Welsh academic Raymond Williams. Williams was a great figure of British media and cultural studies, and his ideas are more widely accepted within the academic community than McLuhan’s somewhat controversial beliefs. Very much McLuhan’s opposite number, Williams strongly resisted his ideas, insisting that technology only influences already existing structures, and reinforces power relations. He saw McLuhan as single minded in his belief that technology is responsible for changing culture. Williams’ theories, which are discussed in more detail below, explored:

Raymond Williams in 1972
  • The reasons for which technologies are developed
  • The complex of social, cultural and economic factors which shape them
  • The ways that technologies are mobilised for certain ends

These ideas are outlined in his book Television: Technology and Cultural Form[47] (1974). Williams claimed that the rise of technology has come from humanity’s own perspectives – their needs, structures and ambitions have more influence over technology than technology has over us. So the growth of technology is influenced by powerful human actors, not by the technology itself. He viewed technology as a tool that humans use to solve their problems. This means that technologies have multiple uses and outcomes – since many different types of people take advantage of the benefits of technology, they will never have a singular use.

Unlike McLuhan, Williams believed that the content of a medium is important - the function of a technology cannot be separated from what it is. Therefore technology is given its meaning by humans and their existing beliefs – it is our use of technology, not its use of us, which influences culture and how we behave.

Theoretical Example


In his book, Television, Technology and Cultural Form Raymond Williams cites the television as a piece of technology that was ultimately the creation of social, economic and cultural factors, as opposed to the purely technological. Williams argues that the television was the result of the utilisation of a variety of previously existing technologies - namely electricity, the telegraph, photography and radio - that were all themselves invented for very different purposes. Ultimately, according to Williams: 'these systems of mobility and transfer in production and communication, whether in mechanical and electric transport, or in telegraphy, photography, motion pictures, radio and television, were at once incentives and responses within a phase of general social transformation'.[48]

The aforementioned technologies, Williams argues, were all in response to social demand: invention was encouraged to respond to the initial problems of an industrialising world, and the industrialising world itself provided new possibilities of what technologies were considered possible. For example, the electric telegraph as a communication medium was a result of 'the development of the railways, themselves a response to the development of an industrial system and the related growth of cities'.[49] And, much like its forebears, the television was ultimately the response to a variety of social issues. As previously mentioned, the invention of the printing press allowed for the distribution of new ideas across Renaissance Europe, which lead to further technological advances. These new technologies were deliberately designed to spread new information and ideologies, largely in the form of what we recognise today as the modern mass media: radio, newspapers and eventually, the television.

Social Groups


As long ago as 1945, it was foreseen by Vannevar Bush that computers would facilitate the linkage of information customizable to the needs of each user.[50] Thanks to the work of Raymond Williams this ability to customize software to meet peoples' individual needs was fully realized.

Viral image of man stealing Tesco value rice in London riots of 2011

Human intention and the needs of specific social groups give rise to the specific conditions within which technologies emerge and take forward existing social practices. Williams noted there were several possibilities and outcomes in the development of technology so several different social groups can appropriate, adapt, modify, or subvert the intended uses of technology for their own needs. For example during the riots that sparked throughout cities in the UK during the summer of 2011, social media is widely considered to have worsened the situation. Watching people "loot at will" [51] fuelled the disorder as it brought people together and allowed rioters to organize the unrest. Not only that but social media was also used to glorify their actions, with images such as a man stealing a bag of Tesco value rice going viral.

Different social media clearly serve different purposes, with Twitter's 140 character limit differentiating it from Facebook as it is only supposed to serve little glimpses into an individual's opinions and such like whilst Facebook is more multi-faceted in the information that it can hold - from photo albums to your employment history. For this reason different social groups may be more inclined to use different social media depending upon the purpose they want it to serve. Many older people tend to use Facebook as it allows them to reconnect with old friends through alumni groups etc. whilst Twitter may not serve this requirement in the same way, especially seeing as it may be more difficult to recognize some people depending on what their Twitter handle is. Therefore social media platforms may generally exist to serve the same purposes (entertainment, expression of the self etc.) but they serve these needs in very different contexts and more often than not are used differently from how they were initially intended to be used.

Case Study: Cultural Perspective


As previously mentioned in this chapter, a case study would be a worthwhile method in comparing the approaches of differing schools of thought. In the section on technological determinism, the internet was discussed from that particular perspective. Here, it will be viewed from the perspective of the cultural determinist approach.

In order for the internet to be invented as a technology, society must have required its development in accordance with the concept of cultural determinism. The notion of connectivity is not new, and nor did it find its realisation in the form of the internet: even since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, technologies were being introduced to improve the lifestyle of contemporary society, in this case to promote a faster means of long-distance communication in a world with rapidly expanding cities, industries and imperial ambitions overseas. In a more modern sense, evidence to suggest the social factors driving for the creation of the internet include the increasing availability of computer technology in both consumer and professional models, and the desire for greater improvement on existing methods of communication. Additionally, the initial research that created the internet's earliest form - ARPANET - was a direct result of the United States Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (or DARPA) investigating potential technologies that would enable emergency communications in the event of foreign attack on the telephone system.[52]

In Conclusion


In cultural determinism, the way technology is used and harnessed has much to do with the people and the culture it is surrounded by. As showcased above, technology does not dictate the people around it, but technological advances serve the people and the culture, and meets their needs. People have the power to come up with alternative uses and concurrently use the same platform for multiple purposes. A common example of this is Twitter, a media platform that can be used to keeping up with friends, reading news, taking part in online activism and promoting products just to name a few purposes.



Over the years both technological and cultural determinism have met opposition or objection from many theorists. This section will cover some of the more prolific theorists who have disagreed with each theory, as well as what their individual arguments and conflicting views are.

Arguments Against Technological Determinism


Many theorists who object to the theory of technological determinism instead support the theory of cultural determinism, believe that both technological and cultural determinism are intertwined or offer their own alternative theory on the place and development of technology within society. Many professors and academics within the field of studies that revolve around technology and/or society have offered their own insight into technological determinism and whilst some agree with and subscribe to said theory, others contradict and oppose it with their own viewpoints and ideas.

Lelia Green


Senior lecturer of Edith Cowan University in Perth, Lelia Green, argues that one of the main issues with the theory of technological determinism is that it goes against the idea of society as a whole being biased. According to her, for technological determinism to work it would require society to be of a neutral nature instead of possessing the biased qualities that it does in reality.[53]

One of Green's main objections to technological determinism and the theorists who back it up is their purported mindset of "'You can't stop progress', 'You can't turn back the clock' and 'The runaway juggernaut of technology'" which, according to Green, "All imply that we are unable to control technology".[53] Green firmly believes that humans - and therefore society - control the technology they develop instead of the technology developing society.

Langdon Winner

Langdon Winner in 2010

Langdon Winner is professor known for his writings regarding technology and society; and he has put forward an idea that conflicts with that of Technological Determinism. In one of his essays, Technology as Forms of Life, he suggests his own theory of technological somnambulism - a theory that suggests we as a species are in a state of 'sleepwalking' when it comes to technology, that we have little control over the direction our technology takes due to our minute concern over how exactly we engage with our technologies. He goes on to elaborate:

Most changes in the content of everyday life brought on by technology can be recognized as versions of earlier patterns. Parents have always had to entertain and instruct children and to find ways of keeping the little ones out of their hair. Having youngsters watch several hours of television cartoons is, in one way of looking at the matter, merely a new method for handling this old-age task, although the "merely" is of no small significance.[54]

According to Winner's technological somnambulism theory, one of the reasons for this "sleepwalk" state is the way that society views technology; as an object of use that can be put down and picked back up at any time we please, and thus we don't comprehend the longstanding ramifications of using said "objects" ("It is true that the recurring patterns of life's activity (whatever their origins) tend to become unconscious processes taken for granted").[54] On top of this in his essay he says another contributing factor is the distanced relationship between technology makers and users - this leads to minimal conscientiousness or exploration into the consequences of utilizing and developing the technologies in question. A final idea put forward by Winner on why this phenomena occurs is the concept that technology creates a different world around us, and that this new world is created through changing the structure of the world and objects around us.

Brian Winston


A concept called the law of the suppression of radical potential was put forward in the book Misunderstanding Media by media studies theorist Brian Winston. This idea states that the growth of communication-based technology is suppressed via the influence of already existing institutions and mechanisms.[55] This theory directly conflicts with the theory of technological determinism and instead goes on to suggest that society is the one that controls and shapes new, emerging technologies. Winston says that whilst cultural and social necessity is behind the need for specific technologies, the law of the suppression of radical potential prevents the technology in question from causing a huge disruption in society and it instead becomes accepted as the status quo with minimal issue.

In another of his books, Media, Technology and Society: A History - From the Telegraph to the Internet he argues:

There is nothing in the histories of electrical and electronic communication systems to indicate that significant major changes have not been accommodated by pre-existing social formations....Repetitions can be seen across this diverse range of technologies and across the two centuries of their development and diffusion.[56]

Furthermore, in his paper How are media born and developed? Winston argues against technological determinism and instead points to cultural determinism being the lead theory at play in today's societies' relationships with technology.[57]

Andrew Feenberg

Andrew Feenberg
Feenberg in Vancouver, Canada, 2010
BornSeptember 14, 1943
OccupationPhilosopher and Author
SpouseAnne-Marie Feenberg

Andrew Feenberg (age 73) is a philosopher from Vancouver who holds the Canada Research Chair in the Philosophy of Technology in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. He is known for his philosophy against technological determinism. Democratic Rationalization is a term that Feenberg used in his article 'Subversive Rationalization: Technology, Power and Democracy with technology.'"Democratic rationalizations challenge harmful consequences, undemocratic power structures, and barriers to commincation rooted in technolodgical design."(Andrew Feenberg) He believes that technological determinism is not a well-founded concept and he proves this by picking apart two of the pillars of determinists theories. The two theories that he identifies is the;

Thesis of unilinear progress which is the belief that the flow of technology is predictable in its complexity and that every stage is necessary for any progress to happen.

Thesis of determination by the base which is when any new technology presents itself society changes and organize itself to suit the technology.

Feenberg believes that technology is a factor in the evolution of society but not a driving factor. " The qualification concerns the role of technology, which I see as neither determining nor as neutral. I will argue that modern forms of hegemony are based on the technical mediation of a variety of social activities, whether it be production or medicine, education or the military, and that, consequently, the democratization of our society requires radical technical as well as political change."

All the books that Feenberg has written about technology and its relevance to our society in which he states his thesis;

Lukacs, Marx and the Sources of Critical Theory (Rowman and Littlefield, 1981; Oxford University Press, 1986)

Critical Theory of Technology (Oxford University Press, 1991), later republished as Transforming Technology (Oxford University Press, 2002)

Alternative Modernity (University of California Press, 1995)

Questioning Technology (Routledge, 1999).

Transforming Technology: A Critical Theory Revisited (Oxford University Press, 2002).

Between Reason and Experience: Essays in Technology and Modernity (MIT Press, 2010).

Subversive Rationalization: Technology, Power and Democracy with technology

Murphie and Potts


Andrew Murphie (is the senior lecturer in Media and Communications, University of New South Wales, Australia) and John Potts (from Macquarie University, Australia) are the authors of the book Culture and Technology which was published on the 25th of November 2002. Potts and Murphie believe rather than just technology determinism changing society that it is also cultural determinism that shapes society. It is the combination of both that moves us forward. The book Culture and Technology said;

"The relationship between technology and society cannot be reduced to a simplistic cause-and-effect formula. It is, rather, an 'intertwining'", whereby technology does not determine but "...operates, and are operated upon in a complex social field" (Murphie and Potts).

Murphie & Potts (2003) describe that technology development is progress and describes technology as an “independent factor, with has its own "properties” they also say that the development of the technology is “removed from social pressures, it follows a logic or imperative of its own”

“These advancements in technology have enhanced connectivity and in turn driven homogenisation of economic globalisation. They have created new digital societies gradually and without “resistance” – the mobile phone, at first, offered communication on a strictly oral and text basis, today it offers live visual chat, internet connectivity, photo communication and so on, all unfolding without “resistance”. Murphie and Potts, 2003"

Arguments Against Cultural Determinism


Cultural determinism is a controversial argument that many key theorists oppose as the most important in determining how society interacts with the media. Rather than it being the culture that influences technological advances, rather they believe that technology determines how people will interact with the media. Many of these opposing theorists do not completely oppose the idea of cultural determinism but rather argue that technological determinism has a greater application in the cultural advancements in society rather than the other way around. These theorists include, Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman, Bruce Bimber and R.L. Heilbroner.

Marshall McLuhan


Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian professor who's work on digital media is still relevant in helping to argue the case that cultural determinism is of less importance in the societal changes that occur. McLuhan's main argument against cultural determinism is summarised in his book, Understanding Media

"It is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves—result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology."[58]

This highlights the fact that McLuhan is a firm believer in the importance that technology can play for us as a society rather than cultural determinism being the most significant. This is due to his view that without the media being what it is, society would not be able to take what it wanted from it and adapt it to fit the cultural needs.

Neil Postman


Postman suggests that when a technology is invented, it can have inherent uses that do not mirror the use it was invented for. He makes the case that,

"Once a technology is admitted, it plays out its hand; it does what it is designed to do. Our task is to understand what that design is—that is to say, when we admit a new technology to the culture, we must do so with our eyes wide open."[59]

Postman draws attention to the fact that often a technology has the capability to be applied far beyond its original intended use, and that it is this application that drives the advancements of technology. He argues that societies are then able to consider this technology and derive other uses out of the existing idea that will be linked to their inspiring technology and yet at the same time completely different. Instead of establishing a specific need for a technology, he suggests that technology is intrinsic in its ability to be improved by compounding older technology. It is, then, at the end of this process that technology can be advanced to create increasingly broadened possibilities.

Bruce Bimber


Bruce Bimber is a Professor in the department of Political Sciences at University of California Santa Barbara. He holds strong views in support of the importance of technological determinism affecting society. Due to this, Bimber does not hold cultural determinism as the main cause for the increasingly fast changes being made within society.

In his essay Three Faces of Technological Determinism he argues that,

''"Technological developments have a role in determining social outcomes that is beyond human control."[60]

Bimber believes that it is not culture that determines how society progresses but rather technology has a unique ability to alter it before society even realises the change has been made. He believes that there are three variations of technological determinism; Normative, Nomological and Unintended Consequences account. Although different, each of these versions support the view that cultural determinism is not the most important factor in affecting the changes that occur in our society.

R.L. Heilbroner


Heilbroner proposes in Do Machines Make History? that technological advancements happen not by chance but according to a sort of necessary sequence. He argues that,

"It is impossible to proceed to the age of the steam-mill until one has passed through the age of the hand-mill, and that in turn one cannot move to the age of the hydroelectric plant before one has mastered the steam-mill, nor to the nuclear power age until one has lived through that of electricity."[61]

Heilbroner proposes that it is vital for cultures to go through prior stages of technological advancements, and perhaps more importantly, to achieve mastery in applying these advancements before societies can continue the development of related practices. He argues that there is a large and wide ranging amount of knowledge that must be obtained in order for advancements in technology to be possible, causing any advancements to be reliable on what is available rather than what a society feels it needs to invent. Therefore, the direction taken by the original piece of technology is going to be similar to the direction the newer example of the technology is headed in and must have been present for the new technology to have been created in the first place. From this, Heilbroner's position is proven to be one which places more importance on technological determinism, though he is careful to give credit to the fact that many separate factors are at work on both sides of the argument.

The Future


Intertwining Relationship Between Technology and Society


Not a determinism alone could fully explain the influential and inseparable relationship associated with human nature, culture and technologies. Some arguments even suggest the combination of ideas in social and cultural determinism. Early in the research of modern theorists on technology and society and related field, they tends to deny the absolute way of how determinism holder see the relationship between human and technology. A relatively mild stance is more embraced by the group of people, which is relatively close to what raised by Murphie and Potts, that "The relationship between technology and society cannot be reduced to a simplistic cause-and-effect formula. It is, rather, an 'intertwining'", whereby technology does not determine but "...operates, and are operated upon in a complex social field".[62] This is coherent with what people nowadays believe to have in the relationship between technology and human society.

Cultural Determinism


According to the biopsychologist from Hunter College, Nigel Barber (2008),[63] the leading theory in the social sciences is cultural determinism. However, he said that yet, it lacks plausibility as a scientific theory and it is often untestable. When tested, it frequently fails. Such failures are widely ignored because social scientists cannot conceive of a plausible alternative. So the future of the cultural determinism theory seems to be undefined, and its validity has been widely discussed. Donald Brown (1991),[64] emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California, shows that in all known human societies individuals struggle to gain prestige and status, there are social hierarchies, marriage, jealousy, division of labour by gender and sexual prohibitions; men are more aggressive than women, and more likely to be violent criminals. Moral sentiments, envy, shame and pride are observed. There is a belief in the supernatural, in luck and fate, and prevails the fear of death. Metonymy, metaphor, proverbs, music and art, as well as the fundamental abstraction and logical and mathematical concepts are known. Greed is neglected and severely condemns murder and rape.

Studies conducted by neuroscientists, geneticists, linguists and evolutionary biologists refute the cultural determinism, and they corroborated the investigations of Brown and sociobiologists, who had suggested the existence of a human nature guided by our genes interaction with the environment.[65]

The Change of National Identity

The model of the nation state implies that its population constitutes a nation, united by a common descent, a common language and many forms of shared culture. It has been much talk of cultural determinism, which postulates that the realities, behaviors and processes of individuals are determined by the culture of belonging (in the case of migrants, cultures of origin). Some believe that these kinds of theories are nothing more than the evolution of the approaches of classical racist theories, with they want to replace the concept of race by culture. Where the implied unity was absent, the nation state often tried to create it, promoting a uniform national language, through education.

However, McNeill (1986) suggests that only in Europe between 1750 and 1920 did this model on national unity based on ethnic homogeneity hold sway. He further suggests that the experience of the Nazi regime in Germany discredited the ideal of assimilation to locally prevailing national groups. He further argued that the undermining of the ideal of national uniformity also led to the reassertion of identity by national minorities, since striving for uniformity had necessitated the erasure of distinguishing cultural differences.[66]

Regarding the cultural impact that the changing of ethnic composition could have over a nation, Fukuyama (2007) warns that “the rise of relativism has made it harder for postmodern people to assert positive values and therefore the kinds of shared beliefs that they demand of migrants as a condition for citizenship”.[67] So, it seems that nowadays in postmodern countries is not a hard deal to get integrated.

In fact, Vasta (2009) has pointed out that the absence of a “strong, purposive and inspiring” national identity makes the benefits of integration to a national culture less obvious for migrants and people from minority ethnic groups. She argues that the Canadian model of integration, in which importance is placed on the accommodation of diverse ethnic/cultural/religious identities and their symbolic importance for the national identity as the most promising approach .[68]

Modood (2007) also contends that it makes no sense to encourage strong multicultural or minority identities and weak common or national identities. In his view, the maintenance of community traditions must fall within a strong framework of national ceremonies and traditions which demonstrate how minority communities contribute to the overall national identity.[69]

Different cultures can, therefore, coexist within their own traditions. Another aspect that should be considered is that the implications of growing ethnic diversity for community cohesion over the medium term are probably dependent upon economic conditions. The effect of ethnic diversity upon community cohesion is mediated through economic prosperity. If there is an economic recovery, there will be more potential for people of minority ethnic and migrant background to achieve economic success. They may then have greater ability to integrate and have the choice of moving to more prosperous areas and locations where they are not in direct competition for resources with ethic neighbours. If the majority population also has the opportunity to find work and improve its material circumstances, then the opportunity for conflict with other communities will be reduced. However, continued recession conditions and the association of migration with cheap labour would be likely to increase conflict between communities.[65]

Change of Political Arrangement

Quite a lot of theoretical thinking regards culture as the driven factors of the rest factors. This is actually perceivable and will be later supported with case from Hong Kong and Greece. As we have mentioned above, culture is the sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. In more simple words, as defined non-academically online, it refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions.

Generally, cultural determinism exists in higher prevalence in undeveloped or developing countries as people are more acceptable without thinking about what they accepted, and are passed along in the society by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.[70]

The way we see in cultural determinism in affecting political management in the future can be related to the following example. In many democratic countries, many regards media as the fourth power which goes along with the typical three separated power of legislature, executive, and judiciary (Montesquieu).[71] To talk about little bit of the history of the separation power,[72] it dated back to when the new constitution was adopted in 1787, the structure of the infant government of the United States called for three separate branches, each with their own powers, and a system of checks and balances. This would ensure that no one branch would ever become too powerful because the other branches would always be able to check the power of the other two. These branches work together to run the country and set guidelines for us all to live by.

There were cases all over the world about the functioning of media to raise public discussion in order to alter government decisions in policy or political arrangement. There is strong, if not full involvement of cultural evolution to be seen in media, in terms of social and economic development of a society. For instance, in order to build up critical thinking in the younger generations, Liberal Studies is a compulsory in junior and high school curriculum under the mandatory 12 years free education in Hong Kong which this can be seen as a social development. The nature and discussion culture in the society are more prevailing. And therefore the public even made a significant effect in against government policy of National Education [73] in 2012. For such an extraordinary role of media we see, by displacing media into other form of culture, they tells the same story in changing political arrangement. In the future, the situation may be more prevailing depends on the development of society culture.

We can also see how culture is conclusive to political arrangement in ancient Greece. At that time Greek tends to believe only people who knew their language could get to know about political arrangements and communicate and exchange in thoughts. If not, they were sorted as Babarian. This is how they highly value their culture in terms of language and etc. to allow people reveal their nature and ideas. They had got clear boundary in cultural identification. And did not comply with what technology determinism suggest that technology be the decisive factors to others rest of factors. Niccolò Machiavelli has been pointed out that elements of culture, particularly religion, could produce particular political arrangements which were advantageous to those that had them.

Commentator Pat Buchanan and economist Robert Barro have also raised that cultural norms will affect the political arrangement by the government. And this will be especially true in the later generations.

The Law of the Suppression of Radical Potential


The law of the suppression of radical potential is a concept associated with cultural determinism, in which it is stated that any innovative potential of new technologies is purposefully curtailed in order to maintain the social or corporate status quo. Instead of disrupting and allowing for change, the new technology is subsumed and becomes part of existing structures. It was proposed by Brian Winston in his 1986 book, Misunderstanding Media.[74]

While the law is described earlier in the project, it is also relevant to discussions of the future of cultural and technological determinism; by extrapolating from the law, it is possible to come up with possibilities for the future which range from cynical to outright dystopian. McQuail states that, "Whatever the potential, the needs of commerce, industry, military and bureaucracy have done most to promote development and determine how innovations are actually applied."[75] An example to support this might be the interaction between democracy and social media.

Social media has the potential to support reform and revolution in the democratic system. In 1991, Naisbitt stated that "with instantaneously shared information, we know just as much about what's going on as our representatives and we know it just as quickly. The fact is we have outlived the historical usefulness of representative democracy."[76] What's more, the technology also makes it possible to organize a democracy without the need for representatives in a way that has never previously been logistically possible. However, in the two and a half decades since Naisbitt wrote his book, there has been no great change in the democratic process in the UK. New technologies have become part of the process, as the law of suppression suggests—it is now possible to register to vote online, for example—but the larger structure of representative democratic government has not changed. There have been trials of online voting, but these have been cancelled.[77] This suggests that, in both the example of democratic government and the wider social and cultural landscape, any change made possible by new technologies will be incremental rather than radical.

We can see examples of the incremental change under the law of suppression throughout history, which also points towards the future. A very recent example of such an incremental change is drone technology. It was originally developed for use in warfare, with the first powered unmanned aerial vehicle being created in 1916, but now is also being employed in projects that represent almost the polar opposite of warfare: wildlife conservation.[78]

It is noted by that the cost of drones at the time was prohibitive, and their own attempt at making one cost them $2000, which they considered "low cost"; the price has since fallen, and it is now possible to buy a drone for £50. Again, this ties into the concept of the law of suppression; it is the involvement of pre-existing commercial structures which has allowed the price of the technology to lower enough that those who would use it for purposes outside the original intention of the developers can comfortably afford them. This has been an observable pattern in previous technologies. The original commercially available computers were prohibitively expensive, but now most people will have more than one in their home. This is a pattern which is likely to repeat in the future with other technologies.

Technological Determinism


Future Work Efficiency


We are in the middle of a technological revolution. Technology has completely transformed the way people work and perform simple tasks. In recent years, automated office systems [79] have changed the efficiency of offices and how they run. Computers and technology enable each office worker to perform more than they could before the assistance. With new technology, information can be interpreted quickly by computers and transmitted faster than ever. Technology has and will continue to affect working culture, as it provides offices with: Security, email efficiency, better customer service, easy storage, automatic audit trail, time savings, simplicity, accessibility, business development and return on investment.[80] All of these factors allow companies to expand and take on more work, but it doesn’t necessarily create more jobs. In fact, the increased productivity allowed by technology may diminish the manual labor previously needed by workers. We have already seen it transform the office environment with office automation, but in the future, factory automation will have more prevalence as well.[79]

Robots have improved efficiency and eliminated the need for manual laborers in many situations.

Technology’s Future Effect On Employment


There is still a lot of debate over how technology will change employment and the culture of the work force. Some theorists argue that improved technology will create new jobs in other areas of the economy.[79] They say that there is no reason to think that technological development wont increase employment and real income like it has in the past.[81] One of the major arguments against this theory is the fact that technology innovation could change the required skill set needed to perform tasks. One might need to be much more skilled in order to out compete a robot. Still, jobs could be created to help maintain and design future technology/robots. Others believe that technology could transform our culture and employment negatively in the future. They argue that robots and machines will eliminate the need for workers and be able to perform the same tasks much more efficiently. New technology could make it harder for unemployed people to find a job. Technology innovation increases the necessary skills needed by a worker in order to outcompete a computer or robot. These amplified skill sets seem to be mismatched with many skill sets of those who are unemployed. Theorists who believe this think that as the costs of computers decreases, companies will use more capital and less labor to run. They argue that the economy will need to grow at a greater rate in order to provide jobs to people instead of robots in the future.[79] Technology will continue to improve and change the culture of business and the work force and the effects of this technology in the future will continue to be debated.

Human Communication


"Today, we can Skype our colleagues on different continents, use Twitter to track for global trends, manage our multiple email accounts from our smartphones, coordinate with fellow professionals on LinkedIn, share photos and stories from last night on SnapChat and WhatsApp, launch a brand on Instagram, create a community on Facebook, stream our favourite global podcasts, get breaking updates from our news apps, order a taxi to the office with Uber and monitor our daily calorie usage with our FitBit. And we can do all of these things without even getting out of bed." [14]

It is well known that 30 years ago people did not text, face time, go online shopping, etc. The world was simpler and had less technology. Times are changing though and it is common to have a cell phone and text over mailing a letter. The future with technology leading us there holds a promising light. In a recent Gallup survey it was found that around 39% of all adults "Texting, using a cellphone and sending and reading email messages are the most frequently used forms of non personal communication" [15]. Technology is changing the way people communicate everyday. The article also mentions the fact that age creates a massive difference in communication style. Younger generations are using their phones more and rely heavily on them, unlike the older generation. So what does this mean for the future? The younger generations are far more in touch with their friends and family. This could create a atmosphere of always needing to be in contact with others as they age. This also could effect the probability of staying unmarried longer. As the generation ages they will also have more access to things once they become immobile. Unlike today's senior citizens who are mainly isolated from the world in many cases, the seniors of the future will stay a part of things. [16] There is a lot of good that can come of this 'always-on' culture but it has its dark sides. There is a possibility humans will try to invent more communication tools that advise us how to reason, how to act, or even how we feel. Communication is not just limited to what we communicate with others but also ourselves. [17]



Therefore, to conclude this Wikibook consists of many chapters which cover many aspects in regards to Cultural and Technological Determinism and its powerful impact on media and society. As stated previously, cultural and technological determinism has progressed with time and is still developing in today’s world.

In the History chapter it outlined how cultural and technological determinism came about and changed over history. The chapter also highlights who the main theorists were in the early days of cultural and technological determinism, of whom have been very influential as to how the two topics are viewed today.

The Definition chapter focuses on and discusses how the definition of these two terms have changed drastically over the years, with the introduction of new media forms and the continued debate among theorists. The term 'new media' is also looked at in depth and defined since it can be interpreted and thought of in various ways which this section explores since it is such a broad term. It has then focused on the drastic changes and how they may be of concern as well as how they have influenced society's views, while discussing how it is likely to adapt even more in the future.

In the next chapter, Main Concepts explored the main theories behind technological and cultural determinism, and put them into context by applying them to theoretical examples.

On top of this, as shown in the Opposition chapter, both theories have met objections from many prolific theorists in the sociology and technology fields and whilst many of them subscribe to the opposite theory, a couple of them have also put forth their own unique ideas.

Finally, in the Future it is completely possible humans are going to continue to invent automated technologies to perform tasks that are not interesting or not meaningful enough to do ourselves, or are cheaper to create robots to do. Cultural and Technological determinism could view our future in two very different ways. The only thing we can really do is imagine the future because nothing can give us a definitive answer even if we did research for years, the future will always be reshaping and changing as our world does, culturally and technologically.

From our research, we can prove that it really is an Internet of Everything!



Dogmatic Philosophy. Asserting or insisting upon ideas or principles, especially when unproven or unexamined, in an imperious or arrogant manner.

Hard Determinism View on free will which holds that determinism is true, and that it is incompatible with free will, and, therefore, that free will does not exist.

Non-Dogmatic Philosophy. Starts from nature and attaches itself to nature, natural philosophy.

Noumenon. (In Kantian philosophy) A thing as it is in itself, as distinct from a thing as it is knowable by the senses through phenomenal attributes.

Reductionism. Several related but different philosophical positions regarding the connections between phenomena, or theories, "reducing" one to another, usually considered "simpler" or more "basic."

Romanticism. An artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850.

Soft Determinism. A passive view as to how technology interacts with socio-political situations.

Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis. The thesis is an intellectual proposition; the antithesis is simply the negation of the thesis, a reaction to the proposition; and he synthesis solves the conflict between the thesis and antithesis by reconciling their common truths and forming a new thesis, starting the process over.


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