Technology Choices: Why Occupations Differ in Their Embrace of New Technologies
University of Texas, Austin
Date: November 22, 2013
Time: 10:00 am - 11:30 am
Location: Room 245
In a ten-year field study of engineers at work, we sought to understand how and why engineers used advanced computational, logic, and graphical computer applications, and what impact engineers’ use of these technologies had on their work. In this talk, I address the specific question of what tasks engineers allowed computers to do for them. In our study, we found that the answer to this question varied along occupational lines, with structural engineers who designed buildings making a choice that differed from that of hardware engineers who designed computer chips; automotive engineers who designed vehicles made yet a third choice. I discuss the occupational factors (such as product liability, testing capability, and technology cost) that shaped engineers’ technology choices in each case. The occupational perspective on technology choice that we put forward is an alternative to existing perspectives, including technological determinism, social constructivism, and sociomateriality. The benefit of an occupational perspective over these alternatives is that it permits prediction in the case of new technologies or new occupations while allowing for variation in choices.