1.2.1 The genesis of technology evaluation and assessment
Emerging from the development over millennia of technologies such as tools and weapons, technology evaluation and assessment pre-dates almost any other type of evaluation – at least in simple forms. We can assume, for example, that prehistoric peoples would have evaluated the merit and worth of flint arrow and spear heads compared to those made from other materials. Similarly, we can assume that Bronze Age peoples would have evaluated the merit and worth of bronze tools compared with those made from stone, while the Romans presumably evaluated the merit and worth of short swords compared with long swords.
The Bronze Age and Roman examples are significant because they illustrate that technology evaluation has several fundamental dimensions. The first is that even the simplest technology consists of components constructed from combinations of natural and/or man-made materials, such as bronze. It is unsurprising therefore, that the evaluation of technology invariably became bound up with the physical sciences, such as chemistry and physics, which are concerned with understanding many of the materials that humans use to produce artefacts. Of course, the significance of this relationship was initially limited, but as our understanding of the physical sciences grew, it became increasingly important in shaping the practice and scope of technology evaluation.
The second dimension is that the context in which a technology is employed is also crucial when evaluating its merit and worth. Consider the Romans’ choice of a short sword over a long sword. What made the short sword such a successful application of a technology over such a long period was that the Romans took into account not just the merits of sword technology, but also the context of the other weapons technologies (such as shields, chariots and siege engines), and the strategies and tactics they and their (potential) enemies tended to employ in battle.
While brief and rather simplistic, these examples clearly demonstrate that a multi-dimensional approach is required to obtain a realistic evaluation of technology – even when dealing with what appear to be relatively simple technologies. This is why the central claim underpinning this unit is that technology evaluation involves much more than evaluating the properties and/or components of a technology – it also requires an evaluation of the interaction of the components of the structural, cultural and social context (e.g. organisations and institutions, value and belief systems, and stakeholders) in which a chosen technology is or will be used.
Review your list of pros and cons from Activity 1, identifying how many of the factors you identified are technical (i.e. those based on features of the technology, e.g. colour) and how many contextual (i.e. those based on the environment in which you might use the technology, e.g. under water).
Keep your notes from this activity as you will need them again.