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  • Sharvi Richhariya

Invention and Influence: Technology and Politics


The existence of technology is closely associated with politics. Each technological invention either comes out of a necessity i.e. social/political needs or an objective invention could become political after its birth. One thing that hangs as a common thread between the two is the question of ‘choice’, regarding the use and extent of technology. For example, nuclear power could be used to provide electricity or to bomb countries.  While making this choice, society’s biases creep in, in the use, design, and even characteristics of the technology. Technology has truly imprinted on the economy and politics of society, e.g. the internet, and produced new ‘social concepts’ like that of private property, established by the invention of barbed wires. Furthermore, technology can be used to dominate symbolically and literally by influencing cultural narratives, perceptions, and infrastructure, or by instruments of surveillance.

 

The theme of politics associated with technology could be understood as a flow. Starting with navigating the relationship between the two, and then the choices that need to be made by society. Lastly, how the two, in turn, affect our policymaking and economy.


The relationship between technology and politics

Technology is linked with politics in two ways. Firstly, when politics pre-purposes the invention, where society’s wants are established in the form of tech. For instance, the hybrid seeds of the green revolution were sown to give solutions for two political problems: food security for a famine-stricken country and the independence of India in international spheres. Second, is the case when technology inherits politics instead, e.g. the camera, was originally invented by the Lumiere brothers and Edison as an art tool due to the fever for motion pictures, evolving from static drawings. It's now also a powerful tool for politicizing events by spreading news, and awareness about people's movements, parties’ agendas, and much more.


The Choice

The feudal society invented & used the horse's stirrup to instrumentalize power over people by the feudal lords. It could have been used for a variety of different things like agriculture or as a postal service. But this ‘choice’ on what use should a particular technology be put to, comes from the mentality of people. One of the famous grey areas here is the internet, with its vast scope it presents both benign and potentially harmful uses. The time and experiences of people not only affect the use of the technology but also the tech’s characteristics. The prejudiced classist and racist architect Robert Mosses built unusually low overpasses in New York so that the buses couldn’t pass but the cars could. This was done to make the Jones Beach area exclusive for the rich, asset(car) owing individuals, and gatekeeping from the blacks or poor people who could only afford bus tickets. Technological artefacts or architecture all around the world often symbolize prejudices of the decision-making people. From the wide boulevards and Haussmannian streets of Paris to the US’s Harvard University, big courtyards signify the concern over the protest and the attempts to control it. So, the question arises, is there any invention that is non-political or any way to mitigate it?  The answer to this lies in the word ‘choices’ itself, we need to make conscious efforts to learn our biases and use technology accordingly.


Shaping of our economy and politics

Technological advancements can lead to economic boosts or a new age of improved productivity, for example, the invention of air conditioners made skyscrapers a reality as it would prevent such tall buildings from burning, or during extreme heat when it’s extremely hard to work, air conditioners could keep the temperature cooler, increasing productivity. The steering of the economy and politics of a country generally lies with its government and its proposed policymaking. This points to a crucial element that the decisions/choices very often heavily lie with the government. We can elaborates on this through the Cumbria story, the story is about the accidental leak from the Chernobyl radioactive experiment led to the radioactive metals infiltrating the village population’s body. Further, the scientist who had underestimated the effects of the radioactive metals gave villagers the certainty that the metals would phase away from their cattle’s body with time. However, the time taken for phasing out was much more than anticipated by the scientist as their study was based on a different soil profile than that of the hills. This led to sheepherders' losses and neither did the government compensate adequately. This caused the trust in science and government to be reduced by the sheepherders. Here, a lot of things could have been done differently after the accident. After grave considerations, the government with the help of the 'experts', the scientist in this case, and the major stakeholders i.e. the herders could have been consulted for a path forward. Especially because accidents like Chernobyl or the Bhopal Gas Tragedy are examples where human negligence while using technology harmed people on a large scale and was further aggravated by the poor governance of the place.


To conclude, the complicated relationship between technology and politics is undeniable. Technology emerges either in response to political needs or becomes politicized through its usage. The crucial element of choice dictates how technology is employed, often mirroring prejudices, and shaping political dynamics. This intertwining of technology and politics profoundly impacts economies, policies, and governance. Technology’s use demands awareness of biases and conscious decision-making to prioritize human welfare. Effective management is essential to navigate the complexities of technological advancements, ensuring trust between society, science, and government, and possibly attenuating potential accidents caused by misuse or negligence.


About the Author

Sharvi Richhariya is an engineer pursuing a Master's in Public Policy from the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy, integrating technology and governance to bridge innovation with effective policymaking for equity and sustainability.

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