BOX 2-1

A Taxonomy for the Designed World

To study technology, it is useful to have a taxonomy, or classification system, that divides the products and systems of technology into pieces that can be explored individually. The taxonomy must be flexible, so as technology changes over time, the taxonomy can change with it. A thousand years ago, for instance, a taxonomy of technology would not have included information and communication technologies, and a thousand years from now—or perhaps only a hundred years from now—the taxonomy may include a major new category that we cannot yet imagine. In addition, the categories in the taxonomy are not mutually exclusive—there is a natural overlap among them. Nevertheless, dividing technology up in this way makes it easier to study.

Many different taxonomies are possible to describe the designed world. One useful taxonomy (to which the committee refers in other sections of this report) is provided in Standards for Technological Literacy:

  • Medical Technologies. Technologies associated with diagnosing, treating, and preventing disease and other damage to the body or mind.

  • Agriculture and Related Biotechnologies. Technologies that relate to raising crops and animals for food, feed, fiber, fuel, or other purposes.

  • Energy and Power Technologies. Technologies related to harnessing energy resources and converting energy to power.

  • Information and Communication Technologies. Technologies, including educational technologies, developed for gathering, manipulating, classifying, storing, and retrieving information.

  • Transportation Technologies. Technological processes and systems by which people or goods are moved from one place to another.

  • Manufacturing Technologies. Technological processes and systems that convert materials into finished products.

  • Construction Technologies. Technological processes and systems associated with the construction of buildings, roads, levees, and other structures.

Source: Adapted from ITEA, 2000.

know-how, and other expertise necessary to make technologies work; and so on. Thus, technology can be thought of as a general process by which humans modify the natural world to suit their needs, and the designed world consists of the artifacts created through this process. The word technology in this report is meant to express this expansive, all-inclusive concept (except in specified cases when it is necessary to distinguish between processes and artifacts).

We sometimes fail to appreciate that humans the world over depend on technology for comfort as well as survival. In countries like the United States, technology is central to the way people go about their daily lives, to the health of the economy, and to national security. The dramatic destruction of much of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina is an example of this dependence (Box 2-2).

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