Understanding Technology’s Trade-Offs

Technology is the current state of humanity’s knowledge of how to combine resources to produce desired products, solve problems, meet needs and satisfy wants; it encompasses techniques, skills, processes, systems, tools and raw materials. It is sometimes viewed as a broad industrial art, or an applied science or a combination of both. As a word, technology is a broad category encompassing many different activities, yet it is often narrowly defined by means-to-ends rationality, with little or no cultural or social components.

As a result, it can be difficult to define what is meant by technology. It has also been argued that, like language, ritual, values, commerce and the arts, it is an intrinsic part of a culture. This view has implications for design, because it is not possible to design a technological system without understanding how its use shapes the user.

Almost all new technologies involve trade-offs. A technological system must efficiently route people’s finite energy and attention, which necessarily implies prioritizing some paths and neglecting others. For example, when digital cameras became popular, they deprioritized the pathway to photographs via film and darkrooms, with their inefficient but gratifying workflows and culture of painstakingly retouching photos for hours at a time. Thus, it is important to understand technology’s trade-offs, in order to make informed choices about its use. The best way to do this is through testing and evaluating all proposed solutions using graphical drawings, reports, and mathematical modeling techniques.

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