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Technological Determinism


Technological determinism is a reductionist theory that aims to provide a causative link between technology and a society’s nature. It tries to explain as to whom or what could have a controlling power in human affairs. The theory questions the degree to which human thought or action is influenced by technological factors.



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The term ‘technological determinism’ was coined by Thorstein Veblen and this theory revolves around the proposition that technology in any given society defines its nature. Technology is viewed as the driving force of culture in a society and it determines its course of history.

Karl Marx believed that technological progress lead to newer ways of production in a society and this ultimately influenced the cultural, political and economic aspects of a society, thereby inevitably changing society itself. He explained this statement with the example of how a feudal society that used a hand mill slowly changed into an industrial capitalist society with the introduction of the steam mill.


Langdon Winner provided two hypotheses for this theory:

  1. The technology of a given society is a fundamental influencer of the various ways in which a society exists
  2. Changes in technology are the primary and most important source that leads to change in the society

An offshoot of the above hypotheses which is not as extreme is the belief that technology influences the various choices that we make and therefore a changed society can be traced back to changed technologies.

Technological determinism manifests itself at various levels initially it starts with the introduction of newer technologies introduces various changes and at times these changes can also lead to a loss of existing knowledge as well. For example, the introduction of newer agricultural tools and methods has seen the gradual loss of knowledge of traditional means of farming. Therefore technology is also influencing the level of knowledge in a society.

Examples of Technological determinism

History shows us numerous examples to explain why technology is considered to be determining the society that we live in. The invention of the gun changed how disputes were sorted out and changed the face of combat. A gun required minimum effort and skill to be used successfully and could be used from a safe distance.  This when compared to how earlier wars were fought with swords and archery lead to a radical change in the weapons used in war. Today with the discovery of nuclear energy, future wars will be fought with nuclear arsenal. Each new discovery causes a transition to a different society. The discovery of steam power let to the development of the industrial society and the introduction of computers has led to the dawn of the information age.

Technological Drift

Winner believed that changes in technology sometimes had unintended or unexpected results and effects as well. Winner called this phenomenon as ‘technological drift’ where people start drifting more and more among a sea of unpredictable and uncertain consequences. According to Winner, technology is not the slave of the human being but rather humans are slaves to technology as they are forced to adapt to the technological environment that surrounds them.

Forms of Technological Determinism

An alternative weaker view of technological determinism says that technology is serving a mediating function because despite it leading to changes in culture, it is actually controlled by human beings. When control of technology slowly reduces from being in the hands of few human beings, it passes completely into the control of technology itself. This view of humans having no control is referred to as ‘autonomous technological determinism.’

Technological Determinism and Media

New media are not only an addition to existing media, they are also new technologies and therefore do have a deterministic factor as well. Marshall McLuhan made a famous statement that “the medium is the message.” This means that the medium used to communicate influences the mind of the receiver. The introduction of news print, television and the internet have all shown how technological advances have an impact on the society in which we live in.

Criticism of Technological Determinism

A critique of technological determinism is that technology never forces itself on members of the society. Man creates technology and chooses to use them. He invents television and chooses to view it. There is no imposition on the part of the technology to be used rather technology requires people to participate or involve themselves at some point or another to use a car or a microwave. The choice of using technology and experiencing its effects therefore lies in the hand of a human being.

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Jamie Nurasan July 11, 2016, 2:09 pm

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  • kelly March 16, 2018, 12:56 pm

    Please assist me with some information attachments to the below discussion – I would really appreciate

    Discuss whether SNSs created the #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou movements or merely facilitated it. You discussion here should take cognisance of the theory of technological determinism

  • olusegun Asoyinkule June 4, 2018, 2:20 am

    Nice work and good content. It was helpful to my understanding of the topic.
    Thank you

  • Irianna Young Yen June 7, 2018, 1:42 pm

    Hi Sir,
    My name is Irianna Young Yen and I am a current student at King’s College in New Zealand. I am doing a research report on whether media controls society or if society controls media. I would like to ask your opinion on this, as well as more information pertaining to Technology Determinism. I would like to gain a wider variety of opinions that will enable me to create an in-depth report.

    Thank You

  • Atting, Koko June 9, 2018, 4:17 pm

    Dear sir,
    I can say you did a great job to put this down as it has been of great help to my research work. Thanks a lot.

  • Comfort Chime June 11, 2018, 7:30 am

    Please what are the theories that are associated with new media. Thank you

  • Anyway Machani November 2, 2018, 3:35 pm

    Great work with clear examples that makes it very easy to understand but how can i access some of your articles concerning “Technologcal Determinism”.

  • sinclair chiwara May 11, 2019, 8:15 pm

    Nice work and good conent.

  • Osita Agha October 9, 2019, 1:38 am

    I am enlightened by this work of yours. It really explained technological determinism.With the current engagement of the old and young in the digital/social media, would you say its a confirmation of the technological determinism or uses and gratification?

  • Lawrence June 4, 2020, 8:41 pm

    I am Lawrence William West, a student of Ajayi Crowther University in Nigeria, studying communication and media studies, I really appreciate this article of yours, and big thank you for the knowledge expansion of this subject. The details are so educative and enlighten. Thank you so much.

  • Francis Dabah June 25, 2020, 10:47 pm

    I am a student of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumase, Ghana and l am so impressed works as such are out there.

  • Diana November 15, 2020, 8:43 pm

    Hie Sir
    I am enlightened by your work. I would want more details on technological determinism especially looking at it as an enabler of cybercrime. I would appreciate your feedback

    Thank you

  • Kivuyo Elisante February 15, 2021, 8:13 pm

    Hi Sir
    I am a student of St. Augustine University of Tanzania (Mwanza Campus) taking bachelor of arts in Mass communication, what I can say about this article is tha, it is a great and impressive work with clear examples which makes it very easy to understand but sir how can i access some of your articles concerning this field of journalism and mass communication?

  • naseem ismail April 16, 2021, 4:41 pm

    Hi Sir
    I am a student of National University of Modern Language Islamabad Pakistan taking bachelor of arts in Mass communication, what I can say about this article is tha, it is a great and impressive work with clear examples which makes it very easy to understand but sir how can i access some of your articles concerning this field of journalism and mass communication?

  • Aashish chauhan October 20, 2021, 12:16 am

    An important name for technological determinism is __?

  • Moses Chinakwugwo January 27, 2023, 2:06 pm

    I am Moses Chinakwugwo, a student of Linguistics and Communication studies University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
    I a so happy that this work helped me in working out my research.
    Thank you so much for making it available.

  • petere April 25, 2023, 4:41 am

    I’m enlightened by your information nice work I would want more

  • Catherine Corner May 10, 2023, 4:36 am

    Thank you for the explanation on the theory of digital determinism which is the same as technological determinism.

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