So I’m auditing this class on the intellectual history of the term technology. As a result, I’ve been thinking a bunch lately about the ways in which people apply the term today. Over beers at the Thirsty Scholar last night, I asked Scott for his definition, and he produced — without hesitation — the following:
Technology is science applied in the form of tools that solve practical problems.
I laughed at how quickly he was able to give a concise definition, as he quipped, “Technology is not creating a smaller MP3 player.”
“I guess it hinges on how you define your problems,” I replied.
We talked about it a bit more, and the discussion also produced the following delineation, which I found interesting:
Science is in books; technology is in our lives.
Now let’s have a brief history lesson here. The word technology did not appear in English until around the 1830s, when a fellow named James Bigelow (of Harvard, I believe) first used it to refer to the body of books and literature relating to the study of the mechanic arts. (Indicentally, the term scientist also emerges around this time. Science, of course, had been around for ages, but scientist as a professional category simply didn’t exist until this point.) When MIT was founded in 1861, the T in its name referred to technology in Bigelow’s original sense. At some point, though, the term took on a vastly broader and more intricate meaning — this transition is what we’re studying in this class.
I’m interested to hear people’s definitions of technology, so lay ’em on me if you’ve got ’em. Scott’s definition is a good one, but I suspect that it’s more considered and carefully used in his case than it is by most people — which is to say that Scott tends to be, um, a bit particular about technical things, probably to his credit. Of course, the way people define the term when asked may result in something different than the way they use it casually, but both are revealing.
I’ll leave you with the inscription around the interior of the Lobby 7 dome:
Established for advancement and development of science, its application to industry, the arts, agriculture, and commerce.