One of the major problems in any examination of information technology is that of cause and effect. This is not the place for a detailed discussion of causality, although the problem is far from unknown in archaeology (for examples see Gibbon 1989 and Trigger 1989, for instance). Certainly archaeological interpretations of the past frequently have to wrestle with causality — whether it is the impact of a particular event, a change in environment, the introduction of a new technique, arrival of a new population, or contact with a new area, for example, the question of whether such things, or combinations of things, actually cause subsequent observable changes to take place is a difficult one. This is equally true of information technology — we may see changes taking place, we may link those changes to the introduction or use of some form of information technology, but we cannot demonstrate that one followed from the other. At best we may suggest that IT may have been a material factor. To do otherwise is to invite claims of determinism, and determinism has long dominated studies of technology. The idea of technological development equating to social progress has a lengthy history dating back to the early Renaissance, and has been more recently supported by archaeologists such as Childe, Binford and others (as pointed out even by observers outside archaeology, for example, Hadjilambrinos 1998, 182-3). While some would deny the existence of technological determinism — 'Technology does not determine society: it embodies it. But neither does society determine technological innovation: it uses it.' (Castells 1996, note 2) — it is difficult to avoid it. The ubiquity of information technology and its increasing pervasiveness throughout life means it would be perverse to deny its influence, but naïve to claim that we are entirely powerless in the face of its development. A wide range of non-technological, social and cultural variables will also have a role to play in explaining both change in general, and the relationship between information technology and that change. Consequently, the following discussions, while focussing on information technology, should not be read as deterministic statements of the type x + IT = y but as observations about areas in which information technology may at least appear to be implicated.
'Implication' is the key word here — technology may be involved in change, be part of change, without necessarily causing that change in the first place. It emphasises that there is a dialectic at work that cannot be easily disentangled; nevertheless, the coincidence of information technology and change has meaning. For example, Wainwright (2000) has described the kinds of structural and institutional changes that have occurred in English archaeology since the 1950s. While it would be foolish to claim that such changes are directly linked to technological changes over the same period, it is reasonable to propose that information technologies will be implicated in those developments and changes in a variety of ways, without necessarily being the cause of them. The nature and extent of that implication, along with any consequences, remain as yet unknown.
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Last updated: Wed Jan 28 2004