Technological Momentum

In his essay, Thomas Hughes, clarifies his concept of technological momentum.  He believes technological momentum occurs somewhere in between the poles of technological determinism and social constructivism.  Through numerous examples he shows that younger systems are more influenced by cultural influences and older technological systems are more independent of outside forces, which makes them more deterministic.  Hughes contends that technological momentum gives equal weight to technical and social forces while being time dependent.

Hughes uses the Electric Bond and Share Company (EBASCO) to demonstrate a system with a technical core.  Technical determinists would focus on the technical core as a cause with many effects; however, EBASCO has technical changes interacting with social influences.  Meanwhile, social constructivists would focus on how external factors shaped the technical core of EBASCO.  Hughes concludes to say that neither technical nor social determinism can single handedly describe the complexities of an evolving system such as EBASCO.

Since technological momentum is time dependent, EBASCO became less influenced by social factors as it matured.  By the 1920s, EBASCO started shaping the environment rather than being shaped by it.  At this point, EBASCO represents a technological system that becomes more influential on the environment and social factors that are incorporated in it.

To conclude, EBASCO provides a great example of how a technological system can be both a cause and an effect on society.  It just all depends on time, as the system develops and matures.  Hughes sums up this view of technological progress as technological momentum because of the complexities and variables involved.  Neither technological nor social determinism fully explains all the complexities involved in a technological system.  Especially if it is constantly shifting closer to one form as time progresses like Hughes’ concept of technological momentum explains.


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