Standard accounts of technology
There is the life cycle perspective and the famous S adoption curve. One version that is famous although it seems to deliberately leave off TV is from the New York Times.
Like anything there are problems with this graph including the comparisons but its not bad. It gives an idea of how technologies were adopted across the 20th century. But there are other perspectives.
Autio and Hameri 1995 present a kind of hierarchical view that finishes for some unknown reason at national political borders, which for technology I have to say is a bit odd but consistent with 1990s and the blurring of innovation, technology and political jurisdictions.
The Nature of Technology (2009)
Brian Arthur (p41) The standard view - I am talking about the one most technology thinkers have taken - sees a technology as something largely self-sufficient and fixed in structure, but subject to occasional innovations. But this is true of technologies only if we think of them in the abstract, isolated in the lab, so to speak. "In the wild' - meaning in the real world - a technology rarely is fixed. It constantly changes its architecture, adapts and reconfigures as purposes change and improvements occur. A [aircraft] carrier's jet fighters may act as more or less independent components one day. The next they may be assigned to the protection of a radar surveillance aircraft, becoming part of a new temporary grouping. New structures, new architectures, at any level can form quickly and easily, as needs require. In the real world, technologies are highly reconfigurable; they are fluid things, never static, never finished, never perfect. We also tend to think of technologies as existing at a certain scale in the economic world. If the technology is a traditional processing one (the basic oxygen process for producing steel), this is largely at the scale of factories; if it is a device (a mobile phone), this is largely the scale of products.
Arthur has the order differently - the following text precedes the text above butfor the story rvesing it makes more sense.
Following a lengthy breakdown of the technologies within the F35 fighter Arthur writes. We could follow the hierarchy of executables upwards as well. The F-35C is an executable within a larger system, a carrier air wing. This consists of several fighter squadrons along with other support aircraft, whose purpose is to provide both striking power and electronic warfare capabilities. The air wing is a part of a larger system; it deploys aboard a carrier. The carrier is an executable too: its purpose is (among others) to store, launch, and retrieve aircraft. It in turn typically will be an executable within a larger system, a carrier battle group. This, as the name suggests, is a combination of ships - guided missile cruisers and frigates, destroyers, escorts and supply ships, and nuclear submarines - grouped around the carrier. And it has varying purposes .... Therefore the carrier group is an executable....
and on and on up the scale....
All of this is built to support Arthur's three definitions of technology
1 - a means to fulfil a human purpose (an executable).
2 - technology as an assemblage of practices and components
3 - technology as the entire collection of devices and engineering practices available to a culture.
For example the car (a technology) reconfigured the world geo-politically due to the need for petroleum products ( so we have companies, ships oil refineries etc etc), spatially (city structures) spurred many new technologies (road management, health systems - spinal care) etc etc. That gets wildly complex very quickly.
What will the Google car do - maybe just as much. By linking the digital world and cars why not redesign the car all together - put a desk in it (thanks for whichever blog suggested this), car parking spaces on streets can disappear, multistorey car parking can become vastly more efficient, police enforcement will change, hospital ERs potentially will change over time ...etc etc. I gave up trying to illustrate this one example when another my scribblings led me to another idea - every major technological era has been accompanied by institutional, spatial, and soft innovations.
Constructing National (?) Technology AccountsIt has been popular amongst statistical agencies for more than a decade to collect internet sales data, but this about the only 'technology' data being collected. In an age emerging where advanced technology is at once ubiquitous and second fundamental to the economy we need to start thinking about technology like we think of basic economic data. But there are challenges, technology has twin processes - changes in artefacts are preceded by and followed by soft technologies.
Fig 1. Technology Through Time - Till The Digital Revolution.
At any point with any technological era, technologies reshaped the politics, the urban structures, the organisational landscape and the connectedness of the technologies themselves. In this diagram I left off the digital technologies.
In the 1960s Galbraith talked of the Technostructure - the technocrats of large corporations, but the nature of corporations is changing who is in them and who is not. Just as likely today companies are linked together in tight or loosely coupled networks - product networks and chains.
I want to draw the distinction between traditional mechanical, chemical and biological systems because they have proved to be difficult to manipulate. Progress in these technologies is slow, not for some conspiracy but because they are really hard to improve. Getting an object through space takes a lot of energy and the physics of that are a problem for us.
Fig 2: Technology to the Present.
However, we have discovered that we can manipulate technologies that send information signals much more easily. Although obviously the digital has evolved from and remains embedded in many ways in traditional industries it is revolutionising industries, products and space so if we separate it off it helps us look for what might happen.
So far, most energy has been spent examining what the digital revolution means for industries, (incl universities etc), or humans themselves (the arguments over "what this is doing to us"). But it is and will continue changing the institutional identity of our society.
I'll make one argument - this is the cause (not the GFC) for macro-economics as a discipline being in so much trouble. Macro-economics emerged as a necessary technology when other technological changes (globalisation) meant that economic shocks were transmitted between economic zones (continents). With new wave technological change - we need to invent new modes of thinking - a mode I am calling Marco-Innovation in this current series until a better name turns up.
I have not discussed here biotechnology or nanotechnology as I think both of these are still in the hype stage. I know biotech has some wins but I don't think it has really arrived as a technology so I will reserved judgement for now.