Society, Technology and the Future in Tech Development

Helene Thaa


Much attention has been brought to the techno-futures of “Californian
Ideology” (Barbrook/Cameron 2001) and the popular discourse of Silicon
Valley. This paper explores techno-futures as collective orientations (Bohnsack
2010) of tech developers outside of tech world’s epicentre. Two group
discussions among tech workers are used to identify their understanding
of society, of technology’s role in it, and visions of the future. This analysis
relates to two sociological approaches: the sociology of future imaginaries
and utopias and the sociology of critique. These perspectives shed light on
future imaginaries as interpretations of society and technology’s role in
shaping it as well as normative judgements on capitalism and technology.
The findings suggest that variations of the well-researched Silicon Valley
technology discourse can be detected in the discussions. In contrast to a
Solutionist Polis legitimising the Silicon Valley model of disruptive innovation
(Nachtwey/Seidl 2017), the respondents demand democratic and social
control of technological development. Yet, this is only associated with the
sphere of the application of technologies, while the production of technologies
is imagined as independent from the social and political sphere. The orientations
thus indicate a technologized vision of the future, in which society
has a reactive role vis-à-vis technological changes.