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The word technology comes from the Greek τεχνικός technikós and is derived from τέχνη téchne , in German about art , craft , artistry . "Technology" can mean:

  1. the artes mechanicae or the "practical arts". During antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance they were summarized under the term "technology".
  2. the totality of man-made objects ( machines , devices, apparatus, etc.);
  3. a special ability in any areas of human activity ( skill , dexterity , dexterity etc., e.g. physical: technique of long jump ; mental: technique of mental arithmetic; social: technique of corporate management );
  4. a form of action and knowledge in any area of ​​human activity (plan, rationality , repeatability , etc.);
  5. the principle of human world empowerment.

There have been attempts to reduce these different meanings to a common basic concept . But the technical terms seem too different to be easily standardized. In the following, extensive word usages especially after (2), (3) and (4) are left aside. “Technology” is viewed as a well-defined expression in technology research and theory that contains the meaning (1) as a necessary, if not sufficient, determinant.


In terms of VDI guideline 3780, technology includes:

  1. "The amount of benefit-oriented, artificial, objective ( artifacts or factual systems )"
  2. "The amount of human actions and facilities in which factual systems arise"
  3. "The amount of human actions in which factual systems are used"

This definition does not contain any speculations about the “essence of technology”, but merely describes which phenomena can be summarized under the name “technology”. “Technology” thus initially refers to man-made objects, but also to the creation and use of technical objects and the skills and knowledge required for them. In this understanding, technology is not an isolated, independent area, but rather as a planned procedure and appropriate equipment for the completion of tasks intertwined with human work , economy , society , politics and culture .

There are flowing transitions firstly to objects of fine art ( architecture , handicrafts, industrial design ) and secondly to natural phenomena and living beings , insofar as these are more or less changed by human intervention ( cultivated landscapes , gardens, cultivated plants and animals , today increasingly also genetic engineering some of which already assume the character of artifacts). The programming of electronic data processing devices, which is sometimes viewed as a novel, “abstract” or “transclassical” technology, can be assigned to the subset (3) of the modern definition of technology, as it represents a special skill for using computers . Today the term “ technology ” is often used synonymously with “technology” (e.g. space technology). For reasons of technical history and linguistic logic, some technology researchers believe that this term should be reserved for the science of technology ( general technology ).

Technical factual systems

In the technical sciences - this expression is gradually replacing the name " engineering sciences " - a general term for any technical product has recently emerged with the model conception of the technical (material) system , which replaces the inconsistently used and poorly delimited expressions "machine" , "Device", "Apparatus", etc. Ä. occurs. A technical system “is characterized by the function of converting, transporting and / or storing material (mass), energy and / or information. It is material-specific and consists of materials with defined properties that result from systems of (physical, chemical, biological) process engineering . It is a three-dimensional structure with a geometrically defined shape and is made up of components “with a geometrically defined shape”. The design takes place in systems of manufacturing technology ”. All technical engineering is objectively realized in the technical systems of material transformation. More and more often, new technologies are based on creative combinations of already known ones (“combinatorial evolution”), whereby the respective purposes pursued can be expressed in different sets of components.

The functions of the technical systems and the partial functions of their subsystems are realized through natural interdependencies that are subject to natural laws (known or not yet known) . W. Brian Arthur defines the quintessence of technology as the ability of the "capturing phenomena", i. H. the encapsulation of reliably controlled causal mechanisms of action. Luhmann puts it even more pointedly: Technology is "functioning simplification in the medium of causality"

This fact has led to the idea that technology is synonymous with applied science . This, however , greatly overestimates the importance of scientific knowledge for technology, especially with regard to earlier stages of development . Even with the increasing scientification of modern technology, the forms of knowledge of the technical sciences and technical practice differ from the natural sciences in such a way that one cannot simply speak of a simple application. Conversely, scientific research is often also applied technology, insofar as it can only represent and examine its objects with considerable expenditure on equipment. Science and technology are different, relatively independent areas that only partially overlap.

In spite of all the artificiality of modern materials, technical systems are ultimately based on natural substances, they convert material and energy when they are used, and at the end of their lifespan they themselves become waste. In principle, they interfere with the natural ecosystem , which, however, was often neglected in the past. Only with the enormous increase in environmental pollution does the insight spread in engineering and technical practice that the scientific findings of ecology must also be taken into account in technical systems so that the consumption of natural resources and harmful emissions and landfills are limited in favor of environmental protection become.


Conventionally, the technique is by engineering fields or industries divided ( mining and metallurgy , structural engineering , mechanical engineering , automotive engineering , precision engineering , chemical engineering , electrical engineering , etc.). The particular characteristics of the technology used and produced can only be characterized very inadequately; z. B. in mechanical engineering, energy technology, production technology, as well as conveyor and traffic systems are manufactured.

The description features of the technical system now allow a consistent classification according to the type of function (conversion, transport, storage etc.) and according to the category of the objects (substance or material, energy, information etc.). If you combine these two divisions, there are nine fields of technology:

  1. Material conversion technology (e.g. process technology , manufacturing technology , in summary also production technology )
  2. Material transport technology ( e.g. conveyor technology , traffic technology )
  3. Material storage technology (e.g. storage technology , partly construction technology)
  4. Energy conversion technology
  5. Power transmission technology
  6. Energy storage technology
  7. Information processing technology (including measurement, control and regulation technology);
  8. Information transmission technology (e.g. communications technology )
  9. Information storage technology (including printing technology , sound technology , photo technology , film technology ).

The scheme of this division is widely accepted. However, the terminology in the technical sciences is still very inconsistent, and so the terms vary. Sometimes the conventional expressions are used, some of which are given in parentheses for explanation. The sub-areas (4) to (6) are often referred to as “ energy technology ”, while sub-areas (7) to (9) are collectively referred to as “ information technology ”. For their part, the nine technical fields must be further subdivided. The energy conversion technology can be classified according to the type of energy inputs and outputs. Or you can classify information storage technology according to the physical principle of the storage medium ( book , record , film , magnetic tape , magnetic sound disk , memory chip, etc.).

Use of technology

The fact that technology does not merge in applied natural science becomes completely clear when one looks at the context in which it is used. Technical systems basically only realize their functions within the framework of socially shaped work and action systems, technical systems are always parts of socio-technical systems , and they embody human purposes, patterns of action and work processes . They either replace human action and work functions (substitution), e.g. B. book printing, which makes the manual reproduction of fonts superfluous, or they add new, only technically representable sub-functions to human systems of action, which humans with their organic equipment could not provide ( complementation ), e.g. B. the airplane that enables wingless people to fly.

In addition to the social division of labor (socio-economic division of production, occupational differentiation, operational breakdown of work), the socio-technical division of labor, the division of action and work functions between people and technical systems , occurs in the course of mechanization . In the course of the history of technology , more and more action and work functions have been implemented with technical systems. A clear pattern is particularly evident in substitution: first tools replace pure manual work, then drive systems replace muscle power, later control systems replace human coordination of sensory perception and work movement, and computers are now also replacing simple intellectual activities. In some production and administrative processes, the socio-technical division of labor has reached the stage of automation , whereby people do not have to work constantly or in a forced rhythm for the work processes. Whether the "deserted factory" will be possible and useful is by no means undisputed, and in information processing technology the question remains to what extent the "artificial intelligence" of computers can really replace people.

Like every division of labor, the socio-technical division of labor is dependent on complementary work connections. Human and technical components in the socio-technical system are coordinated with one another and influence one another. The use of technical systems is linked to certain conditions (e.g. usability and operating competence, controllability and reliability, supply and disposal systems, etc.) and has certain consequences (e.g. change in needs and the psycho-physical functions of people , Shaping of behavioral patterns and social relationships , etc.).

Originally, ergonomics and industrial sociology only investigated such interrelationships between humans and technology for industrial work. In recent decades, however, technology has increasingly penetrated everyday life and private households (cars, building services, telephones, radio and television, photo, video and computer technology), so that the psychosocial consequences of the use of technology take on considerable dimensions, which have so far only been insufficiently researched.

Some general development trends in society related to the use of technology are known. This includes the initial centralization and population concentration in the urban and industrial districts, but also the renewed decentralization that has now become possible thanks to traffic and communication technology. In the employment structure, the focus had initially shifted from agriculture to the industrial sector and is now increasingly shifting to the service sector . Traditional occupations have become less important and numerous new occupations have emerged. Vocational training initially reacts to this, but gradually the general education system as well. The proportion of free time that has grown, not least due to the use of technology, is often devoted to the use of technology, especially technical hobby activities, the car and television consumption.

Technology development

There are different phases in the development of new technical systems:

  1. the invention , which may be inspired by knowledge of applied research;
  2. the innovation as technically and economically successful introduction of an invention; and
  3. the diffusion than the mass dissemination of innovation.

The invention differs from scientific knowledge primarily in that, at the same time as the technical solution idea, it specifies a possible use, that is, a technicizable action or work function which the solution is intended to serve. Since the invention always anticipates a possible purpose, technology is in principle not neutral. The way in which the invention creates the idea of ​​a new kind of reality has so far only been inadequately described. Experience and knowledge are usually part of it, but the actual creativity , the ability to conceive something new that was previously completely unknown, remains difficult to understand even if it is partly with intuitive- unconscious association processes and partly with systematic-rational combination work explained. If an invention is really novel, usable and clearly superior to the known state of the art, a patent can be granted on it, which secures the exploitation rights for the inventor .

However, it is up to you whether an invention becomes an innovation, if military or other state interests are not involved, especially economic considerations. The initial idea for a solution must be determined in all details through construction work, tested in a prototype and, if necessary, improved. After all, the production facilities have to be made available or even created in the first place, and the market has to be opened up for the new product. These technical and entrepreneurial activities require considerable financial input, which is only raised if the innovation promises a corresponding demand in the market and thus sufficient profit. In this way, apart from political impulses and legal regulations, technical development is primarily controlled economically.

The individual innovations are linked in their entirety to form a process that until recently was referred to as technical progress . Since it has now become doubtful whether all technical innovations always mean real progress for people, one speaks today more of technical development, technical change or the genesis of technology. This process is increasingly being examined by interdisciplinary technology research, but has so far only been inadequately explained. Until the last third of the 20th century, an idea that is criticized today as “technological determinism ” prevailed, namely the assumption that technical change follows an independent autonomy. In the meantime, technical development is understood as a social process in which natural and technical conditions, scientific knowledge, technical inventions, human needs, competing economic interests, political interventions and socio-cultural orientation patterns interact in a way that has been controversially discussed so far.

In connection with “technological determinism” there is also the division into “primitive” and “progressive” technology. This suggests a transfer to the alleged “cultural level” of a society. What is overlooked is that any technology primarily serves the purpose of ensuring survival. In this respect, the use of so-called “primitive” technology in cultures that live in a very natural way can adequately fulfill this purpose. The difference lies primarily in the amount of energy required.


The attribute “technical” describes a quality of substances (gases, solvents) that are suitable for industrial use. The substances are not suitable for medical or food technology applications because they do not comply with quality standards.

Evaluation and interpretation

Triggered by the experience of increasing environmental damage, increasing risks and growing stresses on the psychosocial quality of life due to accelerated innovation dynamics, a normative change in the understanding of technology occurred in the last third of the 20th century . New technology is not condemned across the board as a curse, but it is no longer celebrated unreservedly as a pure blessing. The requirement for technical innovations is that they take into account overarching values and quality of life beyond functionality and economic efficiency . Instead of particularly risky innovations, alternative solutions are increasingly required that would almost always be technically possible. With programs of an ethics of technology and a social technology assessment one tries to influence the technical development in such a way that technical innovations are optimally designed from the outset with regard to environmental and social quality, see for example.

The insight into the design openness of technical development, which is more limited by socio-economic than technical factors, also puts some interpretations of the philosophy of technology into perspective . If one understands technology as a continuation of the divine plan of creation ( Friedrich Dessauer ), as an overpowering skill of being ( Martin Heidegger ) or as a continuation of natural evolution ( Hans Sachsse ), one fails to recognize that the concrete phantasy of human beings corresponds to the potentials in nature Exploit purposes very differently ( Ernst Bloch ). Regardless of whether one understands technology as a biologically necessary survival strategy of the human "deficiency" ( Arnold Gehlen ) or as the objectively superfluous luxury of human culture ( José Ortega y Gasset ), one will have to examine in each individual case which specific types of Technology are indispensable and which one could do without.

In its basic tendency to facilitate human life support and development, technology follows the principle of functional rationality ( Friedrich von Gottl-Ottlilienfeld ), which admittedly sometimes becomes independent as economic rationality and neglects the complexity of the consequences. That technology can also be interpreted as the outflow of an elementary human creative will, as the objectification of the subject in the products of one's own work ( Karl Marx ), as a vehicle for inner-worldly salvation-historical self-redemption (Donald Brinkmann) or as a medium of the “will to power” ( Friedrich Nietzsche , Oswald Spengler ), refers to irrational deep structures that must be considered and mastered by technological enlightenment .

See also

Portal: Technology  - Overview of Wikipedia content on technology



  • Otto Lueger (Hrsg.): Lexicon of the whole technology , 2nd edition 1904–1920, DVD-ROM edition, new sentence and facsimile, digital library volume 116, Directmedia Publishing Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-89853-516-9 (in to a large extent only of interest in terms of technology history)
  • VDI guideline 3780: Technology evaluation - terms and principles. 2000.
  • Duden basic knowledge of technology. Mannheim 2001.
  • Brockhaus science and technology. 3 vols. Mannheim / Heidelberg 2003.
  • Hut - the engineering knowledge. Berlin etc. 2008.
  • How does this work? Technology. Mannheim 2010.

Orientation knowledge

  • Karl Marx: Capital. Vol. 1: The production process of capital . 8th edition. Dietz, Berlin 1959 (first edition 1867, especially chapter 13).
  • Martin Heidegger: The question of technology (1953), in: Ders., Lectures and essays , Stuttgart 1997, pp. 9–40.
  • Klaus Tuchel: The challenge of technology: social requirements and effects of technical development . Schünemann, Bremen 1967.
  • Hans Lenk, Simon Moser (ed.): Techne, technology, technology: philosophical perspectives . Publication documentation, Pullach near Munich 1973, ISBN 3-7940-2622-5 .
  • Siegfried Wollgast, Gerhard Banse: Philosophy and technology: on history and criticism, on the requirements and functions of bourgeois "technology philosophy" . VEB Dt. Verl. D. Sciences, Berlin 1979.
  • Armin Hermann, Wilhelm Dettmering , Charlotte Schönbeck (eds.): Technology and culture. 10 volumes and register volume, VDI, Düsseldorf 1990ff.
  • Karl-Eugen Kurrer : Technology, in: European Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Sciences , Volume 4, ed. v. Hans Jörg Sandkühler . Felix Meiner Verlag , Hamburg 1990, pp. 534-550.
  • Friedrich Rapp: The dynamics of the modern world: an introduction to the philosophy of technology . 1st edition. Junius, Hamburg 1994, ISBN 3-88506-244-5 .
  • Günter Spur : Technology and management: the self-image of technical sciences . Hanser, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-446-21033-4 .
  • Günter Ropohl: Technological Enlightenment: Contributions to the philosophy of technology . 2nd Edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-518-28571-8 .
  • Christoph Hubig, Alois Huning, Günter Ropohl (eds.): Thinking about technology: the classics of technology philosophy . Ed. Sigma, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-89404-952-9 .
  • Johannes Rohbeck: Technology - Culture - History: a rehabilitation of the philosophy of history . 1st edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2000, ISBN 3-518-29062-2 .
  • Gerhard Banse, Armin Grunwald, Wolfgang König, Günter Ropohl (eds.): Recognize and shape: a theory of technical sciences . Ed. Sigma, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-89404-538-8 .
  • Johannes Weyer: Sociology of technology: genesis, design and control of socio-technical systems . Juventa-Verlag, Weinheim / Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-7799-1485-3 .
  • Günter Ropohl: General technology - a systems theory of technology. 3. Edition. Karlsruhe 2009, ISBN 978-3-86644-374-7 , (PDF), accessed on January 11, 2011.
  • Wolfgang König: History of technology . Steiner, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-515-09423-8 .
  • Gerhard Banse, Armin Grunwald (ed.): Technology and culture. Karlsruhe 2010, ISBN 978-3-86644-467-6 , (PDF), accessed on January 11, 2011.
  • Martina Heßler: The cultural history of technology . (Series: Historical Introductions 13). Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2012, ISBN 978-3-593-39740-5 .
  • Alfred Nordmann: Technology Philosophy. for introduction . Junius, Hamburg 2015, ISBN 978-3-88506-724-5 .

Web links

Commons : Technology  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikibooks: Wiki books on technology  - learning and teaching materials
Wikisource: Technology  - Sources and Full Texts
Wiktionary: Technology  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
  • Hartmut Pätzold: Technology . In: Wulff D. Rehfus (Hrsg.): Manual dictionary philosophy (=  Uni-Taschenbücher . No. 8208 ). 1st edition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht / UTB, Göttingen / Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-8252-8208-2 ( ( memento of April 25, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) - formerly online document No. 882).
  • Technology . In: Online Lexicon of Basic Concepts for Natural Philosophy

Individual evidence

  1. VDI guidelines. VDI 3780: Technology assessment. Terms and basics . September 2000, p. 2
  2. z. B. Günter Ropohl: Allgemeine Technologie, Karlsruhe 2009, p. 31f
  3. Brockhaus 2003, Vol. 3, p. 1954; likewise in other reference works by Brockhaus and Meyer
  4. ^ W. Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology , New York etc .: Free Peess 2009, p. 18
  5. E.g. replacement of mechanics by chemical processes, fluid systems or electronics, so-called "redomaining", W. Arthur Brian, p. 73
  6. ^ W. Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology , New York etc .: Free Press 2009, p. 56
  7. Niklas Luhmann, Sociology of Risk , Berlin 1991, p. 97
  8. ^ Gerhard Banse, Armin Grunwald, Wolfgang König, Günter Ropohl (eds.): Recognize and shape: a theory of technical sciences . Ed. Sigma, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-89404-538-8 .
  9. ^ First, Johannes Müller: Fundamentals of Systematic Heuristics , Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1970, p. 59. Further evidence and explanations on the classification can be found in Ropohl 2009, p. 129ff. For general distribution z. B. Duden 2001 and Spur 1998.
  10. ^ Johannes Weyer: Technological sociology: genesis, design and control of socio-technical systems . Juventa-Verl., Weinheim / Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-7799-1485-3 .
  11. King 2009
  12. ^ Dieter Haller (text), Bernd Rodekohr (illustrations): Dtv-Atlas Ethnologie . 2nd Edition. dtv, Munich 2010, p. 135
  13. Armin Grunwald: Technology Assessment - An Introduction. Ed. Sigma, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-89404-950-8
  14. ^ Günter Ropohl: Ethics and technology assessment. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt / M. 1996, ISBN 3-518-28841-5
  15. cf. Christoph Hubig, Alois Huning, Günter Ropohl (eds.): Thinking about technology: the classics of technology philosophy . Ed. Sigma, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-89404-952-9 .
  16. ^ Donald Brinkmann: Mensch und Technik , Franke, Bern 1946, z. B. 105 ff. Et passim.