History can be seen reflected in technology

The impact of specific events in history can be seen reflected in technology, social institutions, cultural values, and even consumer behavior. For instance, much of American trade policy has depended on the happenstance of tobacco (i.e. the technology of a new cash crop) being the original source of the Virginia colony’s economic survival in the 1600s. In a like manner, the Declaration of independence, and thereby American values and institutions was fundamentally influenced by the coincident 1776 publication of Adam Smith’s’ Wealth of Nations. Notice too that the military conflicts in the Middle East in 2003 bred new coal brands — Mecca Cola, Muslim Up, Arab cola, and Cola Turk.

The Political economy:

For most of the 20th century three approaches to governance competed for world dominance fascism, communism, and democracy / free enterprise. Fascism fell in 1945. Communism crumbled in the 1990s. One pundit even declared the end of history. Unfortunately, we have September 11 and the conflicts in the Middle East to keep the list of bad things growing. Much more details are included on the influences of politics and the legal environment on the culture, commerce and consumption so we will leave this important topic until then. The main point here is for to appreciate the influence of the political economy on social institutions and cultural values and ways of thinking.


Sit back for a moment and consider what technological innovation has had the greatest impact on institutions and cultural values in the last 50 years in the United States.

There are many good answers but only one best one. Certainly jet aircraft, air conditioning, televisions, computers, and the Internet all make the list. But the best answer is most likely the pill. Thatis, the birth control pill or more broadly birth control techniques have had a huge effect on everyday life for most Americans. Mainly, it has freed omen to have careers an freed men to spend more time with kids. Before the advent of the pill men’s and women’s roles were prescribed by reproductive responsibilities and roles. Now half the marketing majors in the United States are women. Now 10 percent of the crew on American Aircraft Carriers are women. Before the pill this was unimaginable.

Obviously, not everyone is happy with these new freedoms. For example in 1968 the Roman catholic church forbade use of the birth control pill. But the technology of birth control undeniably has deeply affected social institutions and cultural values. Families are smaller; and government and schools are forced to address issues such as abstinence and condom distribution.

Social Institutions:

Social institutions including family, religion, school, the media, government, and corporations all affect the ways in which people relate to one another, organize their activities to live in harmony with one another, teach acceptable behavior to succeeding generations, and given themselves. The positions of men and women in society, the family, social classes, group behavior, age groups, and low societies define decency and civility are interpreted differently within every culture. In cultures where the social organizations result in close knit family units for examples, promotion campaign aimed at the family unit is usually more effective than one aimed at individual family members. Travel advertising in culturally divided Canada has pictured a wife alone for the English speaking market segment but a man and wife together for the French speaking segments of the population because the latter are traditionally more closely bound by family ties.

The roles and status positions found within a society are influenced by the dictates of social institutions. The caste system in India is one such institution. The election of a low caste person – once called an untouchable – as president made international news because it was such a departure from traditional Indian culture. Decades ago, brushing against an untouchable or even glancing at one was considered enough to defile a Hindu of high status. Even though the caste system had been outlawed, it remains a part of the culture.

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