Technology Determinism: Are you Soft or Hard?

I wish I could express that I have a clear stand about this everlasting debate, technology determinism. Perception and narratives play a huge role in this discussion. Therefore, be prepared to be confused. I love the way one of my classmates, Abby, comically puts technology determinism in its place, “What came first the chicken or the egg?” Based on my past experiences as an educator, it’s very difficult to view technology as the dominant role that drives development in society. Note: Beginning this discussion, I was extremely “soft.”

Technology determinism is beautifully described in Marx and Smith’s article, “Does Technology Drive History?” and “Do Machines Make History?” If you’re on the “hard” end of the spectrum, you truly believe at the bottom of your core that technology drives society. You would say:

  • “The automobile created suburbia.”
  • “The bicycle caused the women’s suffrage movement.”

I’m going to go completely “soft” now. This is quite amusing because I question, do machines have brains? How is it that a bicycle can be the sole cause of women’s suffrage? I can’t picture the bicycle thinking, “I’m going to make a change in society and have women view their roles differently by empowering them to move freely.” The women of this era made a choice to change their fashion and become independent.  Speaking of choice and technology, do you think we have a choice to use social media or has our brain been re-wired? Watch the video below:

On the other end of the spectrum is “soft.” This is where you believe that society drives technology based on the history of human actions. You would say:

  • Why was this piece of technology created?
  • Who created it and why did they need it?

Turning the tables, I’m going to go “hard” left. As a society, we should rethink what the word “need” means. A piece of technology that is needed by our society would be the wheelchair. An individual who has difficulty walking, has a physiological or physical illness, injury, or a disability needs a wheelchair in order to build self-awareness and self-efficacy to live independently within a community. Do people really need the iPhone 7 or the iPad mini 4? This Apple technology has gone through the iterative design process, only improving and advancing technology, making it more powerful than ever because it can. This is Moore’s law, Moore’s Law and Technological Determinism by Ceruzzi, to a tee:

“Every three years, as chip capacity quadruples, a new generation of electronic products appears, along with new versions of existing software or new software products. Six years from now probably half the devices in my list of current hardware will be superseded.”

Thank goodness I read this last article by Bruce, Technology as Social Practice, because it put a lot of these arguments into perspective. Reflecting back to my previous blog post, “Why is the Machine Changing Us?“, I want to focus my research on why student’s use technology. If we, as educators, don’t fully understand why and how technology becomes part of a student’s life, how are we going to help them use technology effectively? In my last post, I did not include the educator’s role in teaching student’s how to use technology or even think about how educators view technology. Putting on my educator lense, teachers need to question why the tool is being used rather than focusing on how to effectively use it in the classroom.

“We encode social relations into our technologies, but we also encode technologies into our social relations.” – B. Bruce

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you are “hard” or “soft.” As leaders, in the forefront of educational technology, what’s important is to consider how we are going to shape social practices for students to use in the future!




5 thoughts on “Technology Determinism: Are you Soft or Hard?

  1. Hey Andea,

    Awesome job with this blog post! I’m personally more on the soft side of this argument. Although, if I’ve learned anything from studying Linguistics and Anthropology, both of these arguments are correct (we humans are a melting pot society) . I’m looking forward to your writing♡
    Great job ^_^


    1. Hi Alicia,

      ¡Gracias! Thank you for sharing! This debate drives me crazy. I will provide more insights throughout my semester. My professor mentioned to remember where we stand today. I’m curious to see if my feelings change at the end of the semester. I’m going to check out your blog! I followed you 🙂


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