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Technology and Society

New inventions can have positive and negative influences on society.

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Technology and Society

The Mars Rover pictured here is a wheeled robot developed by NASA. Its job is to explore the surface of Mars. The rover contains a lot of complex modern technology. But how it moves by rolling on wheels is a very old invention. The wheel was probably invented many times in different cultures, beginning at least 10,000 years ago. In addition to wheeled carts and chariots, early wheels were used for water wheels, grinding wheels, and wheels for spinning pottery. Wheels really changed human life. They revolutionized transportation and made it much easier to do many different kinds of work.  

How Technology Affects Society

Important new technologies such as the wheel have had a big impact on human society. Major advances in technology have influenced every aspect of life, including transportation, food production, manufacturing, communication, medicine, and the arts. That’s because technology has the goal of solving human problems, so new technologies usually make life better. They may make work easier, for example, or make people healthier. Sometimes, however, new technologies affect people in negative ways. For example, using a new product or process might cause human health problems or pollute the environment.

Q: Can you think of a modern technology that has both positive and negative effects on people?

A: Modern methods of transportation have both positive and negative effects on people. They help people and goods move quickly all over the world. However, most of them pollute the environment. For example, gasoline-powered cars and trucks add many pollutants to the atmosphere. The pollutants harm people’s health and contribute to global climate change.

Industrial Revolution

Few technologies have impacted society as greatly as the powerful steam engine developed by Scottish inventor James Watt in 1775 (see Figure below). Watt’s steam engine was soon being used to power all kinds of machines. It started a revolution in industry. For the first time in history, people did not have to rely on human or animal muscle, wind, or water for power. With the steam engine to power machines, new factories sprang up all over Britain.

Model of Watt's steam engine

This is a museum model similar to the steam engine invented by James Watt.

The Industrial Revolution began in Britain the late 1700s. It eventually spread throughout Western Europe, North America, Japan, and many other countries. It marked a major turning point in human history. Almost every aspect of daily life was influenced by it in some way. Average income and population both began to grow faster than ever before. People flocked to the new factories for jobs, and densely populated towns and cities grew up around the factories. The new towns and cities were crowded, and soot from the factories polluted the air. You can see an example of this in the Figure below. This made living conditions very poor. Working conditions in the factories were also bad, with long hours and the pace set by machines. Even young children worked in the factories, damaging their health and giving them little opportunity for education or play.

Polluting smokestacks in Manchester

Dozens of factory smokestacks polluted the air in the English city of Manchester in the 1800s.

Q: In addition to factory machines, the steam engine was used to power farm machinery, trains, and ships. What effects might this have had on people’s lives?

A: Farm machinery replaced human labor and allowed fewer people to produce more food. This is why many rural people migrated to the new towns and cities to look for work in factories. Steam-powered trains and ships made it easier for people to migrate. Food and factory goods could also be transported on steam-powered trains and ships, making them available to far more people.


  • Major advances in technology have influenced every aspect of human society, usually in good ways but sometimes in bad ways as well.
  • Almost every aspect of people’s lives was influenced by the Industrial Revolution that followed James Watt’s invention of a powerful steam engine in 1775.


  1. In general, how do major advances in technology usually affect society?
  2. What was the Industrial Revolution?
  3. What are some ways the Industrial Revolution changed people’s lives?

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Over the past several decades, computer technology has revolutionized human society. Watch this video interview about ways computers have changed people’s lives. Then answer the questions below.

  1. According to Professor Foster, what are some ways that computer technology has influenced human society?
  2. Can you imagine a world without computers? How might your life be different if computers didn’t exist?

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