Technology was, is, and will be mediated by society. In order to understand it, we need to understand the roles played by technology in human existence and society. When technology is used, it helps to shape the relations between human beings and the world. People have always panicked about the implications of new technologies. They always worried about the nature of technological change today, and also about its pace. We went from having no World Wide Web to a full-blown World Wide Web in 20 or 25 years, which seems astonishing if we consider how much the Internet has changed human life. Take telephones for example, it took many decades to fully spread and become as ubiquitous as it is today. Technological information increases exponentially, and this explosion (technological explosion) is the implication of another explosion called the ‘information explosion’. Improvements in technology lead to increases in knowledge and information, which further helps it to be a better technology. Technology is steadily changing the social good landscape, which in turn influences technology on an ongoing basis. The history of social movements developed in parallel to technological changes in societies.
The interaction between technology and social movements can be seen at different levels, namely, the instrumental level, the symbolic level, and the material level. At the instrumental level, technology has an impact on mobilizing structures, organizational patterns, and protest activities of social movements. At the symbolic level, social movements have an impact on technologies and their role in society, which often includes new technological advancement. Finally, at the material level, social movements have an impact on the actual usage of technology (technological devices), in which activist technical knowledge and competencies lead to the alternative and creative use of technology.
For instance, consider the technology CCTV, also known as closed-circuit television, which today is mainly used for viewing traffic violations or in gas stations, convenience stores, and homes as a security system. This technology helps a lot in the case of protest movements, such as the protest in London in 2009 against the Israeli offensive in Gaza. There CCTV was the primary source of evidence used in court cases against the protesters. The videos recorded by the CCTV helps the court to arrest 100 people, among which 65 people were responsible for their violent actions and at least 29 were sentenced to jail for a few months because of associated criminal activities. Similarly, the conflicts in the Middle East in 2011 are another good example where Internet-based technology is effectively used. This technology is a web application that collects messages, tweets, and photos from protesters and tries to make sense of what is going on, which can help people to stay away from trouble by informing them in advance where to go in such cases.
But it is not always that society gets benefited from technology. Consider the above two examples, if the conflicts didn’t happen in the Middle East, then the specific Internet-based technology mentioned above would not be developed. The technology did progress when there is a need. Now, in the case of CCTV technology which had developed far more before the London Protests, there is a need for further development in the video surveillance camera system. This is because here the quality of recorded video plays an essential role in arresting protesters who are involved in violent activities. It may happen that some evidence got escaped or maybe some innocent got caught by the controlling authority like police, because usually the protests movement do involve a large group of people, and when things go wrong, there is often rush or congestion between the people and the police, and because of which it might happen that the face image was not clear or someone got out of view field of recording camera and due to this wrong decisions can be made, and thus there is a need to make everything state-of-art in the CCTV technology, especially the quality of recorded footage and range of camera recording.
Now consider the famous environmental movement of India, ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ (NBA). NBA is a social movement consisting of adivasis, farmers, environmentalists, and human rights activists against the number of large dams being built across the Narmada River. The main aim of the project is to provide irrigation and electricity to people living in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. In another way, one can say that is a movement against the dam technology, which is a sub-component of electricity-producing technology, as water collected by these dams is used to produce electricity. In previous examples of social protests, technology is implicit gets developed because the agenda or main aim of those protest movements is not related to any particular technology, but instead some other matters, and they make use of technology in order to achieve what they aimed. In this case, the main agenda of the NBA movement is to get rid of the dam technology for many reasons, for example, the poor sections of society get affected by it most and it will cause harm to the environment through deforestation, destroying flora and fauna near the river, etc. Surely, other technology helped the protesters to make their agenda successful, but the development of electricity-producing technology gets halted because of protests against the dam. Thus, it depends upon which technology we are talking about which gets mediated by society.
Another example can be given of the anti-nuclear movement in Russia against nuclear technologies like nuclear weapons, and nuclear power plants, the sole purpose of which is to generate electricity. This social movement formed after the famous terrifying man-made Chornobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. In general, antinuclear organizations tend to emphasize alternative energy sources, the dangers of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, possible environmental hazards, and the safety of nuclear-industry workers. These bring forward big challenges, which will require the creation of new technology or advanced existing technology. For example, after the Chornobyl incident, a major challenge is to confine the remains of the destroyed nuclear reactor unit with some shelter structure. This structure should prevent the release of radioactive contaminants from exiting the reactor, which is causing many problems like water intrusion, and exposure of radio-elements in the air, which can cause many deaths and make the environment unstable for living. In the year 2017, the structure, called ‘New Safe Confinement’, is placed covering the existing damaged temporary structure built a long time back that contains the damaged nuclear reactor. It was designed with the primary goal of confining the radioactive remains of the reactor for the next 100 years. Hence, in this case, because of the anti-nuclear social movement, there is advancement in nuclear containment technology.
Thus, the analysis of the given examples gives the right to assert with full confidence that technology is mediated by society.