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The sociology of technology is the study of the interactions between technological advances and human societies. It can encompass the historical development of technologies as well as contemporary issues relating to global interconnectedness. One of the major areas of discussion in the sociology of technology research is whether societies drive technological advances or new technologies reshape societies.
The study of certain aspects of history is closely related to the sociology of technology. Prehistoric inventions like the wheel revolutionized transportation, and the printing press changed the spread of information. The invention of the printing press, for instance, made learning to read an attainable goal for more layers of society.
Most sociology of technology research, however, focuses on more contemporary technologies. For example, the invention of the nuclear bomb in the 20th century changed the face of modern warfare, and therefore of international relations and the politics of society. On a more down-to-earth level, the vast popularity of cell phones in both developed and developing nations has changed the way people interact with one another, allowing them to communicate across vast distances for much cheaper than ever before.
Sociologists often debate whether society primarily drives technological change or technological change drives society. For instance, one might argue that the printing press was invented due to changing social circumstances that led more people to desire the ability to read. The invention of the printing press could then be seen as a result of increased individualism in society, rather than its cause. Similarly, some people studying the sociology of technology would argue that most or all inventions come about due to a particular need in society. In other words, technological advances do not occur in a vacuum, but in response to a particular sociological situation.
The sociology of technology finds practical application as a result of this principle. Companies that produce technological devices may hire sociologists to investigate how their products are used by people in various demographics. The sociologists may advise the companies on how their products could be adopted to the technological needs of their target market.