Claremont, Calif. (February 9, 2017)—The first edition of Pitzer College Professor Emeritus Rudi Volti’s book, Society and Technological Change, was published in 1988, a time when—in the author’s words— “tweets were something birds did, and Mark Zuckerberg had not yet entered kindergarten.” Nearly 30 years later, Worth Publishers has issued the eighth edition of Volti’s crucial work, calling it “the definitive introduction to the study of society and technology.”
Eight editions over the course of nearly 30 years reflect the ongoing relevance of Volti’s scholarly research in the ever-evolving world of technology. In the book’s introduction, he says that the “animating spirit” of the publication has remained the same through the years. The new edition, like the first, explores “the many ways in which various technologies have influenced our lives,” he writes.
“At the same time, it shows how these technologies have themselves been shaped by social, economic, cultural and political forces. And that the study of technology is important not just for its own sake, but also for what it tells us about the kinds of societies we make for ourselves.”
The new edition includes discussions about recent innovations that are changing the way people live: the advent of Uber, the increased use of drones in warfare and the threat of cyber-attacks. The 448-page book is divided into seven parts that focus on different aspects of the relationship between technology and society, including technology’s impact on the environment, how technology transforms workplaces and forms of communications—from the use of movable type in seventh-century China to touch-screen keyboards on a smartphone—and its role in both ancient and modern weaponry. Each of the book’s 20 chapters ends with a section devoted to questions for discussions.
Volti initially wrote Society and Technological Change because he couldn’t find the right textbook for his course Technology and People at Pitzer College. The book was published just as social scientists were beginning to see the relationship between technology and society as a subject ripe for academic study and scrutiny.
Volti was at the forefront of that shift. The sociology professor started teaching about the sociological aspects of technology when he arrived at Pitzer in 1969, and he is a co-founder of the Science, Technology and Society program at Pitzer. A sociologist and expert on China, he drew on an interest that stemmed from his childhood, when he was a self-described “gadgeteer” fascinated by planes, trains and automobiles.
In addition to Society and Technological Change, Volti is the author or editor of several books, including Cars and Culture: The Biography of a Technology; Technology; Politics, and Society in China; and Technology and Commercial Air Travel.
Volti says he has no plans for a ninth edition of Society and Technological Change, but he is always reading and always taking notes. An avid observer of the relationship between humans and technology, Volti declines to speculate on the Next Big Thing.
“I’ve learned it’s very dangerous to make predictions, especially about the future,” he says.