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Understanding technology

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What is technology?

We often say that today we live in the Age of Technology. What is technology? When did it start? What are its benefits and side effects? What factors aid or constrain the use and spread of technology?

Technology can be defined variously as –

  • All the ways in which people use inventions and discoveries to satisfy their needs and desires.
  • The combined set of knowledge, skills, experience, and techniques used by humans to create tools, machines, products, and services.
  • The use of tools, machines, materials, techniques, and sources of power by people to make work easier and more productive.

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It can be argued that technology began with the Stone Age when the fire was discovered, tools were first invented, crops were planted, animals were raised. Fire and tools, crops, and animals, all are extensively used by humans even today. But when we speak of technology nowadays, we generally refer to the Industrial Technology Era that began about 200 years ago with the advent of power-driven machines, the establishment of factories, and the mass production of goods and services. Today we are surrounded with the benefits of technology in everything we see or do –

  • Transportation – from bicycles to automobiles to rockets
  • Communication – from telexes, faxes, and pagers to telephones and cellphones
  • Entertainment – from radio and television to apps and social media platforms

From mechanized agriculture to electricity supply, from engineering goods to electronic devices, from mining to medicine to the military– they all are aspects, uses, outcomes of technology.

Benefits of technology

From the examples above, the obvious benefit of technology is how it helps us lead a comfortable and civilized way of life. Deeper down, there are the following key benefits of technology –

1. Increased production of goods and services

Agriculture, for example, used to be driven by people and animals. Now, tractors, threshers and many more machines do most of the work, powered by gasoline or electricity. Fertilizers increase yield of farm produce. Automation in almost every industry has tremendously increased the production of goods and services.

2. Reduced labor to produce goods and services

The amount of labor needed to produce goods and services has gone down vastly. In other words, productivity has increased, giving workers much more leisure time. Powered machinery has replaced hand labor in factories. Mass production happens through mechanization and automation.

3. Easier and safer labor

Labor is still deployed in many industries but the work itself has been made much easier and safer. Mining, for example, used to be hard toil and unsafe. Today, although still a dangerous industry, machines perform most of the labor, there is better lighting, ventilation, safety standards.

4. Higher standard of living

The sum total of the benefits of technology is that it has enabled humans to live better, longer, healthier, safer, more comfortable lives. The biggest determinant of this is the impact it has had on Life Expectancy.

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Side effects of technology

The impact of technology – quarry mining depletes resources; unemployment; industrial pollution

Despite its humongous benefits, technology has created serious problems too.

These are known as its side effects.

Some undesirable effects of technology are –

  1. Environmental pollution

This has been the most harmful side effect. Industrialization has polluted the air, water, soil and generated undue noise. Automobiles, insecticides, smoke from power plants, factory waste, all contribute to this pollution. Much of this impacts Climate Change, a hotly debated subject in recent decades.

2. Depletion of natural resources

Much of the advancement of technology in the past century has been on account of wood, oil and coal use in industry. These are natural resources which deplete over time. The use of wood depletes forest cover. Oil has limited supply. Coal is polluting. The world is gradually becoming aware and shifting to cleaner sources of energy.

3. Unemployment

Industrial automation in the form of machinery and,in recent decades, the increased use of computer automation, have both taken over the labors and livelihoods of humans. However, this has not been as severe as was predicted, though it continues to remain a threat. Many industries have been able to provide alternate jobs to displaced workers.


Technology benefits are the highest in industrially developed nations as compared to industrially backward countries, and consequently so are the side effects. Many developing and populous nations still largely rely on availability of cheap labor to do most work, while advanced nations are highly automated.Globalization in recent decades has rapidly increased the transfer of knowledge and technology from advanced nations to poorer nations, but this has also led to global proportions of undesirable effects, from pollution to unemployment, resource depletion to climate change. Humanity must continue to strive to correct the balance between benefits and side effects of technology in times to come.

Check point

  1. The use of technology is as old as the ______ Age.
  2. Power-driven machines, factories, and mass production indicated the start of the _______ Era.
  3. The mechanization of labor is generally termed as _______.
  4. Which of these is NOT a serious problem due to technology?
    1. Noise pollution
    2. Climate change
    3. Life expectancy
    4. Unemployment
  5. One result of ___________ has been the rapid increase of knowledge and technology transfer from advanced nations to poorer nations.

Answer key

  1. Stone
  2. Industrial Technology
  3. Automation
  4. c) Life expectancy
  5. Globalization

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