The end of the 19th century will be forever remembered as the birthday of the modern automobile. The first vehicles were created in Europe. It was a real scientific, social, and cultural breakthrough. The automobile gave humans the speed and immediacy they wanted and needed in an increasingly hectic world. The first car was a triumph of science and rational thinking. It also gave rise to a whole new industry (or industries), turning vehicles into a dream for many and a routine possession for many others. The purpose of this essay is to review the history and current use of automobiles from the perspective of the following concepts: technology as a product of knowledge and organization, technology as a subversive force, and the growing interdependence of technology and science. The modern automobile is both a product of knowledge and a subversive force, and it is due to the growing interdependence of technology and science that many disruptive impacts of car technologies can be successfully resolved.
The automobile is fairly regarded as one of the revolutionary human inventions. The car became a turning point in the technological, industrial, economic, and social evolution of the world. The vehicle has brought speed and convenience that were not known to humans. Today, it is a routine possession in the developed world and still a luxury for many people in developing countries. According to Volti, technology can be defined as “a system created by humans that uses knowledge and organization to produce objects and techniques for the attainment of specific goals” (6). Putting it simply, any technology is a logical outcome of human learning. It is a product of knowledge and organization, and the automobile is not an exception to this rule. For centuries, humans struggled to create a prototype of the modern vehicle that would give them a transportation and speed advantage over bicycles and horses. In fact, bicycle mechanics and specialists organized their knowledge and used the latest scientific advances of their era to compile the first gasoline automobile in the last decade of the 19th century (History). They used and organized their knowledge to attain specific goals – speed of safety. Once the first automobile was created, the new goal was to make it affordable without compromising its efficiency and speed promises. It was a broad shift in public consciousness, but it certainly came at a cost.
The best technologies are also the costliest ones. Volti refers to technology as “a subversive force” (21). One may immediately think of the financial and economic costs involved in the creation of the first automobile. Yet, the notion is much more pervasive and complex. The automobile is an example of technology, which has altered the existing social arrangements (Volti 21). On the one hand, with the creation of the vehicle, many industries quickly became obsolete. Who would want to ride a horse when an automobile was faster and, oftentimes, cheaper? Who would want to ride a bicycle if the automobile offered greater convenience irrespective of weather conditions? Countless workers presumably lost their jobs the moment the automobile came to the scene. On the other hand, societal values and beliefs also shifted. The automobile came to represent a new American dream, a symbol of affluence and luxury, a major attractive feature for those who could afford buying it. As the car became more affordable, the number of car owners quickly increased. Owning two or more cars became a standard for many middle-income households in the developed world. The automobile was no longer a luxury; however, it became an ecological and transportation issue, mostly due to heavy traffic congestion and air pollution. That was when the growing interdependence of science and technology became more evident.
The relationship of technology and science has always been changeable and uneven. The automobile symbolizes the growing symbiosis of science and technology in the 21st century (McGinn 26). According to McGuinn, the twentieth century saw the growing reliance on scientific data in different areas of technological activity. That is, manufacturers want to rely on scientific achievements when they propose a new solution to the existing problem. This is also what happened to the automobile – with the growing awareness of air pollution due to traffic congestion, new technologies were developed to ease the problem. Hybrid and purely electric vehicles have become a new symbol of the productive technology-science relationship. Science stands behind many new automobiles and vehicle features currently available to owners. Automobile manufacturers conduct numerous scientific experiments and tests to measure the safety and efficacy of their products. However, even when science brings the desired result, to make it work is still a technological challenge. Despite these difficulties, science and technology walk side by side, creating optimal conditions for the gradual evolution of the automobile – a piece of technology and a subversive force that has changed the world.
To summarize, the automobile illustrates how the use of organized knowledge helps humans achieve their goals. Speaking of the car, these goals include speed, safety, and convenience. The automobile is also a subversive force, which has killed a few industries and has displaced thousands of workers. Traffic congestion, air pollution, and changes in social values are the hidden implications of the technological revolution caused by cars. A closer relationship of science and technology provides new opportunities for addressing the social evils brought by cars – some of the most significant forces behind the human evolution in the 20th century.
- History. “Automobile History.” History, 26 Apr. 2010,
https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/automobiles. Accessed 28 September 2018.
- McGinn, Robert. Science, Technology & Society. Prentice Hall, 1977.
- Volti, Rudi. Society and Technological Change. Worth Publishers, 2014.