The Impact of Technology on Society
". . . the moment man first picked up a stone or a branch to use
as a tool, he altered irrevocably the balance between him and his environment.
From this point on, the way in which the world around him changed was different.
It was no longer regular or predictable. New objects appeared that were
not recognizable as a mutation of something that had existed before, and
as each one emerged it altered the environment not for a season but for
ever. While the number of these tools remained small, their effect took
a long time to spread and to cause change. But as they increased, so did
their effects: the more the tools, the faster the rate of change."
--James Burke, Connections
"Technology is the application of organized knowledge to practical
tasks by ordered systems of people and machines."--Arnold Pacey
Teachers will need to familiarize themselves with the materials listed
below. Additionally, teachers should locate sources of information for
student use. Although a standard world history textbook provides basic
materials for this lesson, videos, and library materials would enhance
this lesson. Some examples are listed in the resource section of this lesson.
Plan time for students in the library and/or the computer lab.
History demonstrates that when new inventions are introduced into a
society, the society changes. In order for students to grasp the scope
of technological change in society, this lesson will require students to
select a technology from the past and research the impact of that technology
on the economic, social, political, ethical, and art activities of a society.
Students will present their investigations as illustrated group oral
reports. As a concluding activity, students will be asked to make some
generalizations relating to what they learned about how technology changes
society. Students will then research the broad topic of biotechnology and
hypothesize how that technology is changing and will continue to change
society. As a concluding activity, students will be asked what similarities
they see between biotechnology and the technologies they studied in the
Students should understand that there are many factors (i.e. ideas,
events, people) that change a society at any one time in history, but that
technology plays a key role.
- students will classify the economic, social, political, ethical, and
artistic affects of technology
- students will be able to compare the recent developments in biotechnology
and the impacts of technologies of the past
- students will hypothesize the future effects of biotechnology
- students will analyze and interpret information from books, videos,
and other sources
- students will report the results of their findings in an oral presentation
- students will work in groups to solve a problem
Class Time Needed
10-15 class periods. The biotechnology aspect of this extended lesson
should take five days.
- Teacher Overhead #1--Topic list: The History of Technology
- Teacher Overhead #2--ABC SPECIAL: In Search of the Perfect Baby
- Student Handout #1--Student Assignment Guide
- Student Handout #2--How are the activities of a society affected by
- Student Handout #3--How does technology affect society?
- Student Handout #4--Team Presentation Guide
- Scholastic Update, September 2, 1994
- Video: "Making a Perfect Baby" from ABC SPECIAL
- (1 Day) Introduce the lesson by discussing the concepts of technology
- The quote by James Burke at the beginning of this lesson or some other
appropriate quotation presented to the class on the overhead projector,
is a good way to focus the lesson and begin discussion.
- Use Socratic questioning techniques ("Global Strategies: Socratic
Questioning and Role Playing," from Critical Thinking Handbook:
High School is included as part of this lesson package) and lead students
through a discussion where the class understands that new technologies
change societies in a variety of ways: economic, social, political, ethical/religious,
art, etc. It is appropriate to use Student Handout #2 as an overhead
to get this point across.
- (1-3 Days) Give students an opportunity to work together investigating
how a technology affects a society.
- Pass out the student copy of :
- Student Handout #2
- Student Handout #3
- In small groups have students examine the impact of a technology from
their own experience (examples: TV or computers) on society. Make sure
that they use Student Handout #2 to arrive at information to fill out Student
Handout #3. They may not be able to come up activity information for each
"bulleted" characteristic, so encourage them to hypothesize about
areas they find unclear.
- In a large group discuss the completed Student Handout #3. In addition
ask students: For your hypothesized areas, how did you imagine technology
affecting society, what examples might you use? In what major ways did
the technology change society?
- Ask students: If you had more time what sources would you consult to
provide evidence to your data sheet? Where would you most likely find these
- (5-7 Days) Break the class into small groups and complete the following:
- Either have each group agree on a topic that they choose from the topic
list or assign them a topic from the topic list.
- Have them complete the steps in the Student Handout #1.
- Distribute Stand Handout #4.
- (3-5 Days) Use the small groups and the procedures outlined above and
have the students complete an investigation of biotechnology.
- To shorten the research phase, distribute the following material included
with this lesson:
- Scholastic Update, September 2, 1994
- Video: "Making a Perfect Baby" from ABC Special 2
- You might have each group present a part of the overall investigation:
one group present economic activities, another political, etc.
Barbour, Ian G. Ethics in an Age of Technology. San Francisco: Harper
San Francisco, 1993.
Burke, James . Connections. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1985.
Burke, James . The Day the Universe Changed. Boston: Little, Brown,
and Co., 1985.
Dudley, William, ed. Genetic Engineering: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego:
Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1990
Mumford, Lewis. Technics and Civilization. New York: A Harbinger Book,
Paul, Richard, et. al. Critical Thinking Handbook: High School. Sonoma
State University: Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique, 1989.
1. This table was adapted from the study guide for Mary Beth Norton,
et. al. A People and a Nation. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,
1990), p. 35.
2. The Teacher Overhead: In Search of the Perfect Baby is designed
as a questions guide to assist the student in focusing on the significant
biotechnology issues of the video.