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DEBATES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES

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Why the Social Sciences Matter in a Technological Society

In the academic field, there are jokes thrown around about the supposed rivalry between the physical sciences and the social sciences. But the truth is that these sciences do not have to be at odds with each other. In fact, it’s essential for all that the social sciences converge with technology.

The Importance of Understanding Humanity

Not all businesses can thrive with just the digital in mind. There is no point in always being at the forefront of technology if it does not serve any real purpose. At the least, a product or service won’t sell well if it fails to identify what the current market needs — or will need. Innovation alone won’t do.

In other words, companies cannot succeed in the long run with tech-minded people alone. They need employees who will focus on the customers; understanding human behavior is essential. This is where sociology, anthropology, psychology, history, and the other social sciences come in.

The social sciences contribute to the process of creating technology by showing how people behave. It’s not about making countless simulations with baseless assumptions. Rather, these sciences look at the empirical data on how individuals interact with social units — families, schools, work, the government. Technological companies can get a  boost from applying a behavioral perspective in the design stage.

Identifying the Other Whys

Here’s the thing with technology and the physical sciences in general: They don’t tell society why a product or service should exist in the first place. It’s all about bringing the seemingly impossible into the realm of possibilities. On the other hand, the social sciences examine the implications of technology.

Technology provides answers to technical questions on how to setup VPN on FiOS router and what is the maximum speed of a Tesla under optimal conditions. It may explain why fireworks appear the way they do, but it doesn’t answer the other whys that only social sciences can solve.

It is the social sciences that help people understand why they need to have a VPN in the first place. There is a technical reason why, but it’s also because people care about their privacy and their right to Internet freedom. VPNs help fend off cybercriminals, repressive governments, and shady ISPs.

Putting Technological Marvels in Context

Not all products of technology arise just because someone had a great idea. At times, they come into being because the society at the time was looking for something new. It’s not a positive example, but the Cold War and the Second World War pressured countries into building more devastating weapons.

On a more recent note, tech giants such as Facebook and Google are constantly developing new ways to provide Internet access in order to help the most distant and economically struggling communities. Many ideas in tech are brought about due to a real, societal need.

The social sciences will not lose their value as the world becomes increasingly connected. On the contrary, they will only become more relevant as society grapples with the unknown socioeconomic, political, and psychological implications of new forms of technology.