Technology has been a primary driver of social change for thousands of years. In particular, four technological innovations were responsible for social revolutions: The domestication of plants and animals over ten thousand years ago, the invention of the plow, the invention of the steam engine, and the invention of the computer all led to massive social change (Henslin 390). The transition from hunting and gathering to a pastoral society changed earlier societies by enabling them to abandon migratory practices and establish fixed residences. The invention of the plow revolutionized agricultural techniques and increased yields, allowing societies to sustain larger populations. The invention of the steam engine in the 18th century ...view middle of the document...
In particular, he identified three processes by which technology drove social change: Invention, discovery, and diffusion. While invention can refer the combination and transformation of existing materials into new items, it can also refer to social invention and the propagation of new ideas. The aforementioned invention of the plow is one example of a physical invention, but the invention of economic and political systems are also types of social invention. The second process of social change – discovery -- refers to new ways of understanding reality. An example cited by Henslin is the “discovery” of North America by Columbus; while the continent existed prior to Columbus setting sail, this knowledge was new to Europeans, and it radically altered history (395). The third process of social change, diffusion, refers to the spread of either an invention or discovery from one area to another. Examples range from the usage of gunpowder (originally discovered by the Chinese) to the spread of democratic ideals across the globe.
To complement his description of these three processes of social change, Ogburn also identified the concept of cultural lag. Cultural lag refers to the propensity of cultural elements to “lag” behind the social changes brought about by invention, discovery, and diffusion. Thus, while the processes are ultimately powerful drivers of social change, it is typically technology which changes first, with culture reacting and adapting to the technological innovations brought into the world.
Henslin, J (2001). Essentials of sociology: a down-to-earth approach. US: Taylor & Francis.