Laws of Technology

Laws of Technology
Mumford's Evolutionary Model, Kranzberg's Laws,
Ogburn's Lag, Amara's Law

The Evolutionist Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) predicted the massive technological development and utilization as a necessary component of civilization. In his Stages of Technological Evolution (Evolutionary Model), Mumford correctly characterized his prediction in the 20th century Biotechnic Stage (the last stage after Eotechnic, 10th-18th centuries; Paleotecnic, early 19th century; and Neotechnic, late 19th century) where civilization has become complicated and complex. The evolution of technology is best characterized by the historian Dr. Melvin Kranzberg (1917–1995) from the Harvard University, who was known by the so-called Kranzberg's Six Laws of Technology:

1st Law:
Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.

2nd Law:
Invention is the mother of necessity.

3rd Law:
Technology comes in packages, big and small.

4th Law:
Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions.

5th Law:
All history is relevant,
but the history of technology is the most relevant.

6th Law:
Technology is a very human activity -
and so is the history of technology.

True to its origin, the Kranzberg's Laws seem to be value-free, solely based on historical chance. However, some views offer a serious departure from the fortuitous tendency of the Kranzberg's Laws, especially the Ogburn's Lag and the Amara's Law.

The rapid and uncontrolled change in technological development has resulted in many undesirable consequences. The sociologist William F. Ogburn (1886-1959) was among the first who strongly put forward the idea of social chaos brought about by the lag between technology and culture. Ogburn correctly commented: when human culture lags behind the fast-pace development of technology, social inequilibrium arises. This view has been reinforced by the so-called Amara's Law: "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." Simply put, the overestimation of the short-term technological benefits dangerously blinds people from the utter disregard of the long-term potential technological damage. The Amara's Law was associated with Dr. Roy Amara (1925-2007) of the Stanford University in California.

INSIGHTS: The Ogburn's Lag and the Amara's Law have cautioned us from the wanton consumerism of technological development, acquisition and utilization. They have underscored the importance of technology, so important to be just left to historical chance. Technology is invented to serve mankind, and not the other way around. Problems start to develop when people begin to be enslaved by technology (who can live nowadays without cellphones?). People need to get rid of technological myopia and become really critical about long-term effects of any technological innovation. Techno-savvy, yes! Techno-slave, nope! Albert Einstein was very profound when he exhorted: "It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity!"


So, Alvin. 1990. Social Change and Development. London: Sage Publications.

Vago, Steven. 1989. Social Change. Englewood, NJ: Prentice Hall.