New And Precise Evolution Of Technology

New And Precise Evolution Of Technology

Directions: Unless otherwise stated, answer in complete sentences, and be sure to use correct English, spelling, and grammar. Sources must be cited in APA format. Your response should be four (4) double‐spaced pages.

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Read the following text (AT BOTTOM OF PAGE); study and review the section titled “Measuring Technological Progress.” Next, use your own words to write a shortcompare-and-contrast essay that defines and explains three distinct perspectives on the evolution of technology. As you write, imagine you are talking to a friend who has no knowledge of this topic. In short, write the way you speak, using a conversational tone. Also, try to alternate short sentences and longer sentences to make your writing more readable.

Your essay should include five paragraphs, as follows:

-Paragraph 1 is your lead paragraph. It will contain an overview of what you have to say in comparing and contrasting the perspectives of Gerhard Lenski, Leslie White, and Alvin Toffler with respect to the evolution of technology.

-Paragraphs 2, 3, and 4, are your body paragraphs.

-In paragraph 2 to describe the perspective of Gerhard Lenski.

-In paragraph 3, you’ll write about the perspective of Leslie White.

-In paragraph 4, you’ll describe and discuss the perspective of Alvin Toffler.

-Paragraph 5 is your summary and conclusion. Here, you’ll compare the three perspectives to show how they are, or may be, similar. You’ll contrast the three perspectives to describe how they’re different. You’ll end this process–and your essay–by expressing your view as to which of these theorists (one or more) offer the most useful insights into the evolution of technology, in your opinion.


It’s permissible to use direct quotes from your reading, but don’t use too many. One to three such quotes should be your limit. Be sure to put a direct quote in quotation marks. For example: According to Smith, “Carbon dioxide is both our friend and our enemy.” 1 TO 3 references must be cited in APA and referenced on last page.


Measuring Technological Progress

Sociologists, anthropologists, and other researchers have developed different ways to measure and understand technological progress. In this section, we’ll review the thoughts of four important theorists. They offer four perspectives on the relationship between technological development and our social world.

Gerhard Lenski

Sociologist Gerhard Lenski (1924–2015) believed that technological progress has been the driving force in the evolution of civilization. According to Lenski, technological progress and civilization are closely related. In fact, the key to human progress is information. The more we know about harnessing and using natural resources, the more we can advance human society.

Lenski recognized four stages of communication, as follows:

  • Stage      1 is      the passing of genes from one generation to the next. We might call      this biological communication.
  • Stage      2 is sentience,      or the ability to feel, perceive, or experience objectively. As we begin      to develop awareness and understanding of the world around us, we adapt      better to the environment of Earth. We’re able to share our experience.
  • In Stage      3, we become capable of logic. We apply observation and fact-based      analysis to the world. For example, if we see dark clouds in the sky, we      recognize that rain is probably on the way.
  • In Stage      4, we master language, writing, and the ability to create symbols.      This stage is the foundation of civilization.

Lenski also proposed four levels of technological development, as follows:

  • At the hunter-gatherer level, we physically work to reduce food insecurity.
  • At the next level, we obtain part of the food supply from horticulture      (growing plants).
  • At the next level, we engage in organized agriculture. Food surplus allows      complex social orders to rise. We experience social class inequality and a      complex division of labor. We pursue technological advances in arts,      crafts, architecture, and civil engineering.
  • Finally comes the Industrial Revolution. At this level, food-based economies are      replaced. We experience a new kind of social class inequality along with      revolutionary advances in the means of production.

Leslie White

Anthropologist Leslie Alvin White (1900–1975) focused on harnessing and controlling energy. White believed that controlling energy is the primary purpose and function of any culture.

White identified five stages of human development, as follows:

  • Stage  1: Energy comes from human muscle power.
  • Stage 2: Humans harness the energy of domesticated animals. We raise and herd livestock      for food energy. We use other animals, especially the horse, as transport      as well as mounts for warriors and hunters.
  • Stage 3: We  engage in the agricultural revolution, which provides surplus food energy      to extend the value of Stage 2.
  • Stage 4: Especially as expressed in the Industrial Revolution, we harness the power of natural      resources, such as coal, oil, and natural gas.
  • Stage 5: We harness and rely on nuclear energy. (White was perhaps too optimistic      about our ability to harness nuclear energy, given its dangerous      drawbacks.)

White developed a formula that remains useful:

P = E*T

In this formula, “E” is a measure of energy consumed. “T” is a measure of the efficiency of technical factors that utilize this energy. “P” is what we get when calculate these two measures.

For example, when we compare early steam engines to steam-powered turbines, the efficiency of turbines increases the value “P.” In White’s words, “culture evolves as the amount of energy harnessed per capita per year is increased . . . or as the efficiency of the instrumental means of putting the energy to work is increased.”

Alvin Toffler

Alvin Toffler (1928–2016) was a journalist, social critic, and futurist. Toffler stands out among the thinkers associated with the postindustrial era. That’s because he was able to reach a large audience.

The following quote gives an idea of Toffler’s view of our current era:

“To survive, to avert what we have termedfuture shock, the individual must become infinitely more adaptable and capable than ever before. We must search out totally new ways to anchor ourselves, for all the old roots—religion, nation, community, family, or profession—are now shaking under the hurricane impact of the accelerative thrust. It is no longer resources that limit decisions; it is the decision that makes the resources.”

Toffler is best known for the concept offuture shock. He defined this as the personal perception of “too much change in too short a period of time.” Toffler argued that human societies are undergoing enormous social and technological structural change. We live in an unprecedented era in which industrial society is changing to a “super-industrial” society. In Toffler’s view, many find the speed of change overwhelming. Millions of people feel disconnected. We live lives characterized by “shattering stress and disorientation.” In other words, we’re “future shocked.”

According to Toffler, we’re drowning ininformation overload. (Toffler invented this term.) In Toffler’s view, future shock is responsible for most modern-day social problems.

Toffler identified three stages in the development of society, as follows:

  • Stage 1 is the agrarian stage. This stage began with the invention of agriculture during      the Neolithic period (New Stone Age). Toffler associated the agricultural      revolution with the move from “barbarity” to “civilization.”
  • Stage 2 is      the industrial stage. This stage began in England with the Industrial      Revolution. According to Toffler, important advances during this period      included machine tools and the steam engine.
  • Stage      3 is      the postindustrial stage. This started in the second half of the twentieth      century. Stage 3 is marked by the inventions of automated manufacturing,      robotics, and the computer. This stage is also associated with the growth      of the service sector. During this stage, the need for “brainwork” has      increased, while the need for manual labor (such as factory work) has      decreased.

William F. Ogburn

Finally, William F. Ogburn (1886–1959) was a prominent sociologist who developed the concept of cultural lag. This is the idea that it takes time for a culture to catch up to innovations in technology. Even though Ogburn died long ago, his ideas are still taken quite seriously by academics.

According to Ogburn, material culture—technology–progresses much faster than nonmaterial culture. Technology changes more quickly than social institutions like family, government, religious institutions, and even the arts.

To quote Ogburn,

“The invention of the automobile . . . freed young people from direct parental observation [and] made it possible for them to work at distances from home . . . Half a century earlier, families were structured … as family farms. Young people were under continuous observation as they worked right on the homestead.”

According to Ogburn, economic systems adapt more quickly to new technologies than other institutions. That’s because such advances offer a return on investment to business. For example, adding robotics to an assembly line can speed up the manufacturing process. Likewise, relying on advances in electronic communications can help companies to share information more easily. In fact, corporate culture and the profit-driven application of technology tend to drive technological innovation (material culture).

It’s interesting to note that religious institutions tend to be particularly impacted by “future shock.” Scientific and technological advances have historically been opposed by organized religion. For example, the Roman Catholic Church continues to oppose birth control. Similarly, evangelical and fundamentalist groups continue to reject long-accepted ideas about evolution and natural selection.

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”

–Carl Sagan, astronomer and theorist

Unintended Consequences

Toffler’s insights began an ongoing debate into information overload. Just how overwhelmed are people by rapid advances in technology? This debate continues, and we’ll revisit it later in this lesson.

Lenski, White, and Ogburn offered useful insight into the relationship between technology and the evolution of society. However, they failed to address theunintended consequences of postindustrial development. This is especially the case respecting social, cultural, and technological progress in an era of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change and global warming.

What unintended consequences do we mean? Let’s look at the basic assumptions of a capitalist economic system. In capitalist societies, continual growth is desired: sell more, build more, develop more markets, and cultivate more consumerism. If we designed a bumper sticker to define consumerism, it might say, “More, more, more!” or “You are what you can buy!” or “Whoever dies with the most toys wins!”

Of course, historically, the world has been minimally concerned with ecological issues. When Lenski, White, and Ogburn were developing their ideas, public awareness of climate change had yet to emerge. Instead, classic assumptions about economic progress still applied; that is, economic progress was measured mainly by its constant growth. Naturally, we now realize this assumption is unrealistic. The world faces too many ecological threats from a focus on unrestrained growth. In fact, from an ecologist’s perspective, unrestrained growth is suicidal. To draw a parallel, in the natural world, unrestricted cellular growth is called cancer.

Capitalism is about return on investment. It’s about the bottom line. It’s focused on reducing costs to increase profits. The simplest ways to reduce costs is to lower wages or replace human workers with technology. Consider the difference between human and robotic workers. Robot can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and might cost a business 30 cents per hour. Obviously that’s much lower than even minimum wage.

Across developed nations, digital technology has shrunken the market for industrial jobs, particularly in manufacturing. Jobs that paid a living wage are vanishing. For example, in the United States, giant corporations—like Walmart, Apple, and Dell—have exported manufacturing jobs to foreign labor markets in China and elsewhere. As a result, the American middle class continues to shrink. Jobs that once paid well have been replaced by less-lucrative jobs in the service sector.

Of course, the situation is complicated. Global productivity has increased enormously due to advances in electronic and digital technologies. However, at the same time, in developed countries like the United States, the ratio of manufacturing jobs to service sector jobs has changed radically. To quote economist Hank Robison, “In 1950, 30 percent of all U.S. jobs were in manufacturing, while 63 percent were in services. In 2011, 9 percent of total employment remained in manufacturing, with 86 percent in services.”

Robison continues: “Does this signify a shift in consumers’ tastes from manufactured goods to services? The short answer is no; if anything, we consume more ‘things.’ The difference is that things are manufactured with far less labor, and they are increasingly made somewhere else.”

Wages have either declined or remained stagnant since the 1970s. Thus, cheaper goods (plus high levels of personal debt) keep the consumerist philosophy alive.

Economically, the world is dealing with two kinds of unintended consequences. Both have been produced by capitalist ideology. First, increases in productivity have led to lower wages and more or less permanent unemployment for unskilled laborers. Second, continual growth requires ever more energy. That means greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase. This, in turn, has led to a global energy crisis.

Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

According to NASA, multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that about 97 percent of climate scientists are in agreement that changes to the climate over the past century can be attributed to human activities. While scientists continue to interpret data and debate causal connections, they agree to the basic premise that humans are negatively affecting the global environment. Scientific debate is about weighing actual evidence. Scientists pose hypotheses and test them. They check results and repeat the process to get ever closer to fact-based truth.

Review the quotes below to get an idea of the scientific consensus on climate change and global warming. These three sample statements can be found in the eighteen covered in NASA’s report (“Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate Is Warming,” NASA. Retrieved May 31, 2018, from

In preview, here are three sample statements out of eighteen provided in the report.

“The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now and it is a growing threat to Society.” American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2006.

“The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.” American Physical Society, 2007.

“The Geological Society of America (GSA) concurs with assessments by the National Academies of Science (2005), the National Research Council (2006), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) that global climate has warmed and that human activities (mainly greenhouse gas emissions) account for most of the warming since the middle 1900s.” The Geological Society of America, 2006; revised 2010.

Life, Water, and Energy

In this part of the lesson, we’ll explore two immediate environmental crises: the rising global demand for energy and the scarcity of freshwater.

Let’s begin with some basic science facts.

Life on Earth is carbon-based. Carbon is the basis for basic molecules like carbon dioxide (CO2) on the one hand and immensely complex molecules like proteins and DNA molecules on the other. The typical carbon atom, written 6C12, contains 6 protons, 6 neutrons, and 6 electrons.

  • The      6 protons carry a positive charge.
  • The      6 electrons have a negative charge.
  • The      6 neutrons have a neutral charge.

Carbon Atom
(Public domain image)

Thus, the atomic number of carbon is 6. Its atomic mass is 12. The unique configuration of carbon’s electrons is the key feature of this atom, which is basic to life.

Atoms follow rules. In all atoms, electrons must be contained in one or more energy shells: K, L, M, N, and O. In the carbon atom, the K shell is closest to the atom’s nucleus. It allows space for 2 electrons. The L shell provides space for exactly 8 electrons. In a carbon atom, the K shell is full, while the L shell contains only 4 electrons, leaving 4 “open” spaces. This means carbon atoms are ready and willing to share electrons with other elements, from simple molecules like CO2 to complex organic molecules arranged along chains of other carbon atoms.

The largest carbon-based molecules are the immensely complex DNA molecules. As you know, DNA creates the genetic code for every living creature on Earth, from bacteria to cats to individual human beings.

Now recall the basic formula for photosynthesis:

6CO2 + 6H2O → sunlight energy → C6H12O6 + 6O2

The sun is Earth’s energy source. Through photosynthesis, energy from the sun is transferred to Earth. Life chemistry is carbon chemistry.

Photosynthesis requires water. Leonardo Da Vinci called water the driver of life. Others refer to water as the “universal medium.” Whatever we call it, life energy simply can’t exist without it.

The next two topics in this lesson address the two most pressing ecological issues facing the world: demand for energy and scarcity of freshwater.

The Energy Crisis

Consider this graphic from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).

GISS is located in New York. GISS continually analyzes surface temperatures around the globe. As of 2018, temperature readings of land and ocean surfaces continue to show a steady rise in global temperatures from 1950 to 2018. In fact, over this period, the ten warmest years have occurred since 1998.

Over this period, the year 2016 was the hottest year ever recorded, followed by 2017, 2015, and 2014. This research is consistent with projections prepared by the Climatic Research Unit and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

You’ll note in the graph that temperatures are somewhat higher during El Niño periods and slightly lower in La Niña periods. That’s because during La Niña, ocean surface temperatures are cooler than average in the central and eastern Pacific near the equator. The opposite occurs during El Niño years.

This data shows that we must sharply curtail greenhouse gas emissions if we are ever to reach environmental sustainability. However, even if greenhouse emissions fell to zero immediately, global average temperatures would likely continue to rise for several decades—and possibly hundreds of years. The situation is simply that grave.

Energy for Life

Any plan for achieving global sustainability must be focused on energy. Every effort must be made to greatly reduce the use of nonrenewable energy sources like coal, oil, and natural gas. At the same time, we must make every effort to increase the use of renewable sources of energy. That means greatly expanding solar and wind power and refining technologies to harvest geothermal and ocean wave energy.

We must also reduce or eventually suspend the use of nuclear power. Nuclear energy is based on a finite supply of uranium. First, uranium is nonrenewable. But, more importantly, the use of nuclear power produces nuclear waste. Disposal of nuclear waste that can remain lethally radioactive for millennia is highly problematic.

Ecological Footprints around the Globe

The need for conservation related to greenhouse emissions varies greatly across the globe. Consider the following chart developed by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The data shows that China’s carbon footprint is the largest, producing 27 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. The United States is next, at 17 percent. Next are Russia (5 percent), India (5 percent), and Japan (4 percent). Other developed countries produce much fewer emissions. The 20 percent attributed to the “rest of the world” is composed of small underdeveloped countries, mainly across the span of Africa, central Asia, and the Mideast.

Total Carbon Dioxide Emissions by Country, 2011
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

Unfortunately, this overview doesn’t even give the whole picture. Consider this jarring quote from Rachel Kaufman in an article inNational Geographic: “Humans are using 50 percent more resources than the Earth can replenish in a year. In other words, humans use the equivalent of 1.5 planets per year. By 2030, humans will use the equivalent of two planets per year.”

This same source claims that the tiny country of Qatar has the highest per capita carbon footprints on the planet, along with its neighbors, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). For Qatar, that’s more than five times the per capita resources consumed per capita in the United States. Of course, the total populations of these oil-rich countries are small, so they compose only a small part of the larger problem.

The United States includes five percent of the global population and uses 24 percent of the planet’s resources every year. In fact, according to Dave Tilford in Scientific American:

  • Children      born in the United States will create thirteen times the ecological damage      over their lifetimes than children born in Brazil.
  • The      average American drains as many resources as 35 natives of India.      Additionally, the average American consumes 53 times more goods and      services than someone from China.
  • With      less than five percent of the world population, the United States uses      one-third of the world’s paper, one-quarter of the oil, 23 percent of the      coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper.
  • American      fossil fuel consumption is double that of the average resident of Great      Britain. It’s also 2.5 times that of the average Japanese.
  • Americans      also produce one-half of the world’s solid waste.


Around the globe, each U.S. dollar spent equals roughly the consumption of one-half liter of energy.

The Freshwater Crisis

The freshwater crisis may very well be the line that can’t be crossed if humans are to continue existing on planet Earth.

As already pointed out, water is the medium of life. Where there’s no water, there can be no life. Indeed, Leonardo da Vinci was correct when he called water the driving force behind all life. The current supply of freshwater in Earth’s hydrosphere is about what’s been available to terrestrial (land surface) life forms for millions of years. About 2.5 percent of the planet’s water is fresh, with about 1.5 percent locked up in glaciers and ice caps. Only a precious 1 percent of freshwater on the planet is easily obtainable.

This image from the U.S. Geological Survey shows the harsh realities in the situation. This image shows the volume of water on Earth compared to land mass.

The total of all the freshwater on Earth (the second blue sphere) amounts to about 10.6 million cubic kilometers. As shown in the graphic, this would have a diameter of about 272 kilometers (about 170 miles). Additionally, 99 percent of this water is groundwater, much of which isn’t easily accessible. By contrast—as the world gets warmer and warmer—if all the freshwater available to us from lakes, streams, rivers, and captured rainwater were compressed into a water sphere, it would be that tiny blue sphere in the image, which is about 56 kilometers (34.9 miles) in diameter. That’s our little life bubble. That’s the precious life sphere we must all share.

If Earth’s burgeoning human population is not checked soon, we could very well run out of water needed to meet the needs of over seven billion people. Additionally, because of climate variations, geography, and resource competition for resources, some regions on our planet seem to have plenty of freshwater, while others find freshwater scarce. The latter situation exists in many underdeveloped countries that must deal with factors like armed conflict and persistent drought. Both of these factors contribute to freshwater scarcity.

Even in the United States, prolonged drought has created crisis conditions. Parts of California and the Southwestern states, for example, have been seriously impacted. In California, officials reported the fourth year of sustained drought through January 2016. That’s the driest period recorded since meteorological data has been available. Over this same period, forest fires have become more frequent and intense. And, in other parts of the country, per capita water use has continued to rise.

Here’s a striking illustration. The Colorado River flows over a 1,450-mile course from its source in the Rocky Mountains. You may know that the Grand Canyon was carved out by the Colorado River. But you may not know that the Colorado River provides water to 30 million people. However, according to sources, “… it is so heavily tapped for agriculture, industry, and municipal uses” that it seldom reaches the Gulf of California. In fact, only about one-tenth of the river’s former flow now makes it to Mexico, where a dam captures it to supply water to farms and cities south of the border.

According to the United Nations, international water use has increased at more than twice the rate of population in the last century. By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity. That means about two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed regions, the result of inefficient water use, destructive farming practices, and climate change. Even today, one in seven people don’t have access to clean drinking water.

In the Middle East, great swaths of the countryside have been reduced to desert, primarily due to the overuse of water. Among Middle East states, Iran has sustained the most damage related to freshwater misuse and overuse. In that country, agricultural output has been devastated as water overuse is compounded by insufficient rainfall, year after year.

The overconsumption of water resources in the United Arab Emirates, coupled with negligible and infrequent rainfall, has spurred efforts to desalinize saltwater from the oceans. UAE’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has commented, “For us, water is [now] more important than oil.”

In south Asia, up to 75 percent of farmers rely on pumping groundwater to the surface. That’s a sobering statistic as it reflects the water needs of around 600 million people living in 2,000 square kilometers of dry terrain. This terrain extends from eastern Pakistan, across northern India, and into western Bangladesh. Satellite images confirm that groundwater supplies are rapidly shrinking.

A direct effect of global warming is glacial ice melt everywhere on the planet. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), the percentage of people likely to be negatively impacted by changing patterns of precipitation and glacial melting is likely to increase during the twenty-first century. Just look at the increase in ice melt in Greenland over time.

Asia is particularly at risk. This is largely due to melting patterns in Asia’s “water towers,” the Himalayas. The Himalayas are the tallest mountains in the world. Their snow melt feeds a number of major rivers, including the Indus in Pakistan, the Ganges in India, and the Yangtze in China. The Himalayas also feed the Mekong, which is a vital water source for many nations of southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia. Overall, the regions’ glaciers provide water for irrigation, hydroelectric power, and drinking water for roughly 1.5 billion people.

One inevitable outcome of freshwater scarcity is rising conflicts between nations competing for dwindling resources. For example, the Nile is the world’s longest river. It has two main branches: the Blue Nile and the White Nile. The Blue Nile emerges from the highlands of Ethiopia. The White Nile emerges from the region of Lake Victoria in Uganda. The two branches meet at the city of Khartoum in Sudan. To better meet its regional water needs, Ethiopia is nearing completion on what will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant. Its reservoir will have a storage capacity amounting to 74 billion cubic meters of water.

Egyptian officials are concerned about this. From their perspective, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project poses a direct threat to Egyptian agriculture. According to Egypt’s irrigation minister, Egypt is currently coping with an annual water deficit of 20 billion cubic meters. Water recycling technology makes up some of this deficit, but this won’t fully address the problem in the long run. Negotiations between the two countries are ongoing.

As another example, consider the tension between Pakistan and India over the mountainous territory of Kashmir. This region has experienced several wars since 1947. Today, Pakistani Muslims occupy about half the northern area. Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs occupy about half the territory in the south. As the southern groups seek independence and the right of self-determination, sporadic violence claims lives along the disputed boundary separating the two regions. One major concern is access to water resources, as these are mainly located in the northern region. Regional glacial melting due to global warming greatly aggravates the Kashmiri dilemma. Given that both nations possess significant nuclear arsenals, this is a dangerous situation.

From a global perspective, former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien comments, “The future political impact of water scarcity may be devastating. Using water the way we have in the past simply will not sustain humanity in the future.”