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Technology and the Individual

BEHS 103: Technology in Contemporary Society

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Week 5

Credit: Katherine Im (2021, July)







Origins of Individuality



Image source: http://www.plantsciences.ucdavis.edu/plantsciences_Faculty/Bloom/CAMEL/individual.html






Early Civilization

Individual needs not as important as community needs

Agriculture and domestication of animals – allows for settlement – required many hands doing the same tasks

Families form – early form of individuation















Why this changed:

It all started with technology!

Technological advances in agriculture (e.g., plow) lead to better crop yield

Better crop yield led to population increases






Image sources:







Greater population = more workers available to do non-farming work

Led to crafts-based industry – can be done by individuals rather than as a collective


Controlled their own yield (production)

Had portable skills

Were motivated to innovate






Image source: http://gnc3.wordpress.com/category/middle-ages/






Beginning of the concept of “personal property”

Creates a desire to have more, desire for wealth

Folk tales – begin to celebrate individuals, identify with heroes and accomplishments


Image source: http://kootation.com/fairy-books-traditional-folk-tales-and-stories-from-around-the.html




Government & Law


As civilization became more advanced, there was a need for government and laws to manage an increasingly specialized society

Hammurabi code (1772 BC) – King of Babylonia – 1st set of laws organizing society, establishing punishments for crimes (“eye for an eye”)

Individuals held accountable for their own behavior







Throughout history, the concept of governance in the Western world has increasingly focused on individual liberties.





Magna Carta – 1215

Signed by King John

Created Parliament, limiting the power of the King

Established a system of courts to protect the rights of people

Ensured that all free men would have due process

Established property and inheritance rights



Image source: http://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&docid=tlDM0P5CFrGTcM&tbnid=KWEd0rHce___kM:&ved=0CAcQjB0wAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fliverpool.fluxtime.com%2Fhistory3.html&ei=Dt7uUYKXCvSt4AO5o4HADA&psig=AFQjCNEgP8-C1T7DqcarWQY2ApeRgKiWKA&ust=1374695310327768




Renaissance (14th – 17th century)


Ostentatious displays of wealth

Art, education, commerce flourish

Predominant philosophy of the era was the belief that man was the center of his own universe.

Why is that important?










Suggests that the answers to human problems lie within humans themselves

Magnified the importance of invention and technological advances









Exploration and the New World



Rise of entrepreneurship – high risk, high reward

Rise of banking – borrowing and lending

Rise of consumerism due to worldwide trade – sugar, tea, spices, silk





Age of Enlightenment (1700-1800)



Rise of scientific inquiry, independent thinking, reason

The world operates according to unchanging laws of nature

People of reason can make the world better





Image source: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_SggBiqeyvJg/SxLEDTSc7yI/AAAAAAAAAvs/xw5Krdh-oIw/s1600/experimentwithanairpump2.jpg



John Locke (1632 – 1704)

Government’s job is to protect natural rights of individuals

These include “the right to life, liberty, and the ownership of property”

Incorporated into the Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man




Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)


Challenged the divine rights of Kings

Political power comes from the will of the people, not God

By the end of 19th century most European monarchies had given up considerable power to the people





Rise of Nation States


As people prospered during Enlightenment, the middle class rose in numbers and in power

Masses were better educated and began to demand more freedom, legal protection, participation in government




American Revolution (1775–83)


Declaration of Independence (July 4,1776)

Inalienable rights of individuals




French Revolution (1789-1799)


Overthrow and dissolution of the monarchy

Allowed people to be upwardly mobile in society

Middle class began to stratify



Industrial Revolution (1750-1840)


Paradox – dehumanizing work conditions, but also allowed some people to thrive

Spawned new industries and technologies

New wealthy class, middle class growing

Fed the appetite for consumerism and cheap goods

Personal identity evident in the “things” people possessed





Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

Created after WWII to prevent future atrocities

All human beings have rights and freedoms

Rule of Law applies equally to all people and all nations/states are required to abide by it



Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/26/Eleanor_Roosevelt_at_United_Nations.png

Video about UDHR: http://vimeo.com/1823335




In the modern Western world, the purpose of government and law is to protect the rights of individuals.






The purpose of government and law in modern democracies: To protect the natural rights of the individual













The pursuit of happiness



Freedom of speech, religion, and press











Contemporary social movements and policies supporting individualism




Public Education in the United States





Increasing access to education over time



In the 20th century, greater efforts to include all segments of the population




Public Education in the United States – Timeline






First 6 presidents: Discussion federal involvement in public education to prepare for citizenship in a republican form of government



1785/1787: Required a system of public education to be established in each township



1820: First public high school opens in Boston



1841/1848: 77+ million acres of land in the public domain granted for schools



1647: Mass Bay Colony – every town of 50 families should have an elementary school




Public Education in the United States – Timeline






1954: Brown v. Board of Education



1972: Title IX



1973: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act



2001: No Child Left Behind



1944: GI Bill



2015: Every Student Succeeds Act



Social Movements




Civil Rights Movement – 1960’s



Gay Rights Movement – 1969



Americans with Disabilities Act – 1990



Women’s Rights Movement – 1800’s through 1960’s



Social Security Act – 1935



Welfare – 1800’s – ensures that all citizens are provided for – upholds the value of the individual



Globalization of individualism

Individualism has become a global phenomenon due in part to technology.

Advances in mass communication have allowed ideas to spread around the world, including democracy and individualism.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, mass communication messages were predominantly grounded in Western values and capitalism.

Even in traditionally collectivist cultures like China, the internet has given rise to a “me culture.”


1 – http://gaz.sagepub.com/content/72/3/287.abstract






Implications of the rise of individualism



Laws about technology that protect individual rights




American with Disabilities Act (1990)



Assistive Technology Laws – “Tech Act” (1998)



Intellectual Property laws



Information Privacy laws





Leisure & Mass Entertainment



20th century – leisure, vacations, holidays, touring became accessible to the middle and working classes

Entertainment has become a daily occupation

The “right” to enjoy oneself becomes a prevalent theme


What technologies made this possible?



Image source: http://steadystaterevolution.org/work-and-leisure-in-a-steady-state-economy/





Consumerism: The customer is always right

Sears introduces money-back guarantee in 1900

Satisfaction is a personal matter and should be honored

BY 1920, Sears became the largest retailer in the world

Replaced caveat emptor (buyer beware) with the customer is always right.





Romantic Love & Self-Fulfillment


Marriages originally revolved around economic and social considerations

Divorce, not being married were stigmatized

Social and economic freedom makes romantic love possible

High rates of divorce indicate that people are interested in romantic love and self-fulfillment





Knowledge/Service Industry Era


Emphasis on technology use – driven by technology

Value on professional development of technical skills, leadership skills, and soft skills – all about the individual and what they know or have the ability to know

Managing multiple selves

Continued materialism – want things, want them fast

Throw-away mentality vs. hoarding – attaching values to objects

Redefining the nature of social relationships






Online Activism


Social media increasingly powerful impact on politics and policy

Simplifies petitions, fundraising, and raising awareness

Vast and global audience

Activism vs. “slacktivism” – does it matter if it is effective?



Image: “Activism is Learning” by John Englart CC BY-SA 2.0









How does the evolution of the “individual” relate to technology?



Mirrors the path of work & technology


Work: hunter-gatherer

Individual: subservient to the needs of the group

Level of individuation: survival, subsistence living







Agrarian society

Work: agriculture and domestication of animals

Individual: group work required for farming

Level of individuation: physical freedom









Craftsman society

Work: surplus of workers, specialization

Individual: individual skill development

Level of individuation: productive, creative freedom








Work: rapid production, specialization

Individual: easy access to inexpensive goods

Level of individuation: materialism










Work: no production, focus on information

Individual: development of technical and social skills

Level of individuation: multiple selves, highly driven by technology, still defining what the new “self” is

Knowledge/Service Era







What’s next in the evolution of individual needs?



survival needs =>

physical needs =>

need to provide =>

need to be loved =>

need to feel successful =>



Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943)

The evolution of human needs parallels that of Maslow’s famous theory about the “hierarchy of needs.”


Individuals must have their most basic needs met before they can worry about higher level needs.

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