Amandas Response 11 3

Marx, in The Machine Versus the Worker provides the clearest definition of technological determinism. He writes, “the object of improved machinery is to diminish manual labour, to provide for the performance of a process or the completion of a link in a manufacture by the aid of an iron instead of the human apparatus” (156). Simply, Marx is saying that the technological apparatus is designed to achieve certain, rigid outcomes within social and cultural life. Fundamental to this understanding of technology is the idea that economic production is the dominant means of organizing life. A technological object created in the service of this economic project increases the productive capacities of the factory environment while alienating, deskilling, and marginalizing workers.

The intervention David Noble makes in Social choice in machine design, is to demonstrate that the technological apparatus is not the sole driver of changing social conditions. Rather he argues for a more nuanced analysis and understanding of the environments in which technological arguments are situated. He writes, “although the evolution of a technology follows from the social choices that inform it, choices that mirror the social relations of production, it would be an error to assume that in having exposed the choices we can simply deduce the rest of reality from them” (120). Noble understands technology to emerge out of a certain set of social parameters, but the reception of any given technology does not always produce the intended consequences presumed during its design and subsequent implementation.

To construct his argument, Noble looks at the implementation of numerically controlled machine tools, which at first glance appears to conjure up a technological determinist argument. These tools appeared to be the sole inspiration of a “revolution in manufacturing” (109) and subsequent reorganization of systems of control within machine shops. Yet, Noble argues that there were social forces at work that were not entirely economically motivated. He demonstrates that the design of this technology was not organized by an ideology of managerial control, rather it was designed for a specific user, that of the US Air Force, which funded its development (114-115). Technological determinism takes a blow in this narrative, because although the implementation of this technology seems to mimic a narrative of capitalist consumption, the technology was not designed with those outcomes in mind. An object could not determine specific social outcomes if it was not designed to work towards that end.

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