Technology provides a vocabulary of elements that can be put together in endlessly new ways for novel purposes.
– Brian Arthur, “The Nature of Technology”
Brian Arthur in his seminal work, “The Nature of Technology: What it is and how it evolves”, states that the essence of technology is a phenomenon or set of phenomena captured and put to a meaningful use, a programming of one or more truisms of nature to serve our human purposes.(4) Technology provides a vocabulary of elements that can be put together in endlessly new ways for novel purposes.(5) Technology is self- creating; it creates new opportunity niches and new problems, which call forth still more new technology.(6) Economies are in a constant state of perpetual novelty, unsatisfied, and roiling constantly in what is generally known as “creative destruction.”(7) Technologies often group into domains based on the natural effects they exploit.(8) Arthur believes a change in domain is the main way in which technology progresses.(9) (Example: A shift from analogue to digital electronics)
All technologies according to Arthur can be defined simply as:(10)
- Entailing a means to fulfill a human purpose
- Involve an assemblage of practices and components (both devices and methods)
- A collection of devices and engineering practices available to a particular culture(governance system of ideological beliefs).(11)
Arthur proposes the history of technology is one of capturing finer and finer phenomena, enabled by earlier technologies.(12) Arthur also posits that just because we have a theory for how technology evolves, it does not mean that we can accurately predict the future of technology.(13) The reason for this according to Arthur is due to too much indeterminacy.(14) His theory recognizes that the investment and publicity environments, for example, matter in determining what gets developed and adopted and at what speed.(15)
So if technology has a logic of its own, why does it proceed at a different pace on different courses in different places?
The answer to this question is that culture matters too.(16) Culture can manifest itself in many ways but in general they are our economic systems, governance systems, religious beliefs, etc.(17) Arthur’s framework deliberately focuses on the process for technological development and not the people or institutions who create new technologies.(18) In fact, his theory treats societal institutions, like governance, as technologies in of themselves.(19) In my next post, lets now look at the nature of governance through the lens of Arthur’s framework to determine the relevance of governance as a technology.