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Week Two (week beginning March 11): Foundations—Thinkers, Ideas Lecture: Media Change/Cultural and Social Change—Foundations, Thinkers, Ideas

This week’s readings focus around the theoretical frameworks’ of culture and technology. Technologies have changed rapidly over time and are interlinked into most aspects of everyday life and culture, with different technologies often-epitomising different periods throughout history. The readings this week examined theological ideas about social and cultural change in connection to the media and technology, focusing on two particular contrasting theories. The two key theories examined are McLuhan’s controversial theory of Technological Determinism opposed to the theory of Cultural materialism with the reading stating about each theory compared to each other being “a contest between a technological determinist position and a cultural materialist one” (Murphie & Potts 2003, pg 11).

McLuhan stated, “the medium is the message” (Stuart, 2011) which emphasises technologies machanic power in shaping culture and the media landscape and importantly that content is no longer the important part but rather the process and form in which it is viewed and adapted should be. McLuhan’s controversial theory of Technological Determinism underlines that “the cultural significance of media and technology are able alter our perception of the world and generate a new type of society” (Murphie & Potts 2003, pg 13). This suggests that technologies have substantial control to manipulate societies and create somewhat of a technologically innovative “global village” which is becoming increasingly interlinked via technological mediums.   McLuhan’s theory however could be seen as a very simple way of exampling the relationship between media, culture and technology with the evolution of technology being a natural progression however to say that society and culture is determined by technology rather than it being a reciprocal relationship should be questioned. To think that our iPhones and laptops, which are undeniably a big part of our lives, actually determine pretty much our cultural identities seems somewhat simplistic and far-fetched.   

On the other hand, Cultural materialism “emphasizes the social need and political intention as significant factors involved in technological development” (Murphie & Potts 2003, p. 14).” Which Essentially, instead of technology shaping society which the theory of Technological Determinism suggests, Cultural materialism argues that society in fact shapes new technologies with this theory emphasizing “the characteristics of a society play a major part in deciding which technologies are adapted, and how they are implemented and controlled” (Murphie & Potts 2003, p. 20). This theory seems more plausible and complex as it argues that there are sociopolitical and socio cultural factors that necessitate the need for technological mediums to be transformed and created to change as society does, however with all the readings the conclusions presented and critiqued against each other for both theories could be seen as overly simplified. While the control that technology has in today’s culture and society is undeniably significant, characteristics of society play a major role in deciding which technologies are adopted and how they are implemented.

References

[Study kit] Murphie, Andrew and Potts, John (2003) ‘Theoretical Frameworks’ in

Culture and Technology London: Palgrave Macmillan: 11-38

[Study kit] Parikka, Jussi (2012) ‘Introduction: Cartographies of the Old and New” in

What is Media Archaeology? Cambridge: Polity: 1-16

[Online] Jeffries, Stuart (2011) ‘Friedrich Kittler and the rise of the machine’, the

Guardian, December 28, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/28/

friedrich-kittler-rise-of-the-machine>

[Online] Go to the Canadian Broadcasting Site Archives and watch/listen to the

Material on McLuhan. <http://www.cbc.ca/mcluhan/about/&gt;

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