What is technology? A new definition for the information age

What is technology? A new definition for the information age

To take control over technology means first to understand it. Clear language is key. Yet, in English, the word ‘technology’ is clumsily defined. Our current definition does not recognize the key defining properties of the thing we are trying to define.

As a business analyst, I spend a lot of time helping people to understand the meaning and purpose of different types of technology. Throughout my career, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of language.  That the meaning behind the words we use is one of the key reasons why people find themselves with business systems that are both expensive and ineffective. We have all met people who use jargon words to sound important or impressive in the workplace and in the sales process. Misuse and confusion over language one of the reasons why people become so confused and overwhelmed when trying to make sense of Customer Relationship Management software.

Definitions of ‘technology’

Have you looked up the word technology in the dictionary.

Oxford Dictionaries says: “The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry;” and “advances in computer technology.”

Merriam-Webster says “the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area : engineering“, and “a capability given by the practical application of knowledge.”

Dictionary.com states the word technology means, “the branch of knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means and their interrelation with life, society, and the environment, drawing upon such subjects as industrial arts, engineering, applied science, and pure science.”

I find these definitions to be both clumsy and they kind of miss the point. These current English definitions do not explain the key premise of what we are trying to describe. That is that technology and knowledge are two completely different things.    I feel that these definitions miss the true and important definition of the word technology.

Knowledge is not technology

The key thing about technology is that it is something that exists beyond the knowledge of some individual human mind. It is a creation of the human mind.  That we have the ability to think of an idea, and turn that idea into a real world object. That object, whatever it maybe is a technology. It exists independent of the knowledge of the person who created it.

The keyboard upon which I type and the computer screen on which I am writing and you are reading these words exists without either of us having any idea about how they were created.  Could I create a keyboard or computer screen?  No way. Does that matter, no sir.

What I am saying is that any physical object that exists because of human ingenuity is a technology. The examples are obviously far too many to list, but it extends far beyond the limited definitions presented above. Once created, it exists without the knowledge that created it.  This is the primary difference is that knowledge implies intelligence, whereas technology does not.  Someone can have access to the most advanced technology in the world and not be smart. The precursor to being able to control technology is understanding what it is.

For me, a better definition of the term is this:

Technology (noun): “any physical object created from the application of knowledge.”

Understanding the difference

We spend a lot of time with our customers, helping them to understand how data and technology can impact and improve their business performance. One of the key benefits of the AGContext Rapid Review is directly helps people get onto the same page about the language and meaning.  By developing a shared understand of your purpose and being clear about your language, you set yourself on the foundation of success.

Carl Sudholz is the founder at AGContext and specialist in the integration of information technology within organisations. He holds two degrees, is a certified Business Analyst and a Director of the Australia Chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Carl’s expertise and experience spans 15 years serving public, private and non-for-profit organisations to take control over technology.