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Technology and Its Impact on Society in 20th Century

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Today it seems as if no one could live without technology, as it means much more than just iPhones and televisions, it can be defined as knowledge that is put into practical use to make life easier. Smartphones seem to be taking over, especially for younger generations, as it’s normal for children to receive their first smartphones at relatively young ages. With smartphones, comes the increasing use of social media. Social media has become an important part of how people view one another, and it has become a problem that no other generation has had to experience before. These are just two examples of how technology can affect a society, and how people learn to adapt to that shift. Our society today tends to take technology for granted, for it has come a long way since the beginning of U.S. history. Technology has made life easier in many generations and is also a big factor in a successful economy. Technology also contributes to a better quality of life. Although technology has a huge impact on society today, technology’s biggest strides come from the 1900s, 1920s, and 1940s because these were times where society shifted most. 

Technology’s first major influence can be seen in the 1900s. The introduction of the Industrial Era allowed for many societal changes. The most important inventions during this time were the different creations for transportation such as canals, steamboats, and railroads. Railroads allowed for a national marketplace, something different than the U.S. had ever seen before. Railroads were a big investment, and many companies chose to take shortcuts instead of going into further debt, resulting in injuries and deaths due to dangerous working conditions. Greed for money caused many unnecessary railroads to be built, and the economy couldn’t support it. Although the railroad boom had some faults, it still provided many jobs and even more opportunity for the nation. Another new technology that led to opportunity was the telegraph. Instant communication, such as the telegraph, made life easier and increased production for the economy. Telegraphs allowed businesses to sell goods and services easily and more efficiently. With the growth of railroads came the growth of big corporations. These corporations became significantly large, powerful and very competitive with each other. Monopolies started to arise and resulted in the elimination of all other competition. This changed life for both consumers and businesses because the consumer could only purchase their goods from one source, and small businesses could not survive due to prices the main companies were offering. Some of the biggest business owners during this time included John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. These men were especially successful because their companies produced things such as oil and steel, which were in high demand. Since these products were in high demand, the treatment of workers was often very poor. Unions started to become prevalent in society and weren’t always formed for the best. As noted in the primary source, strikers would do anything possible to torment those who weren’t striking. Families would be afraid to go to sleep at night, fearing that their homes may get looted or burned down. Many men would have to take secret routes to work just to avoid conflict and harassment. Technology in the 1900s was one of the first eras where society was greatly influenced by its new inventions. Many jobs were provided, which influenced economic success, and allowed for a shift in society. 

The next societal shift due to technology was during the 1920s. This time period is often referred to as the “New Era” because there were so many drastic changes within technology and the economy. As a result of this there was a rise in jobs and income. With a rise in income, people had more money to spend which led to consumer culture. The time period is essential to this shift because it took place after the war, and people were able to find joy in spending their money recklessly. Electricity started to become more abundant in the average household, which allowed families to spend their money on new appliances. Many homes started to pay for convenience with technology like indoor plumbing, washing machines, irons, fans, vacuum cleaners, and cigarette lighters. All of these new technologies increased business productivity, especially for entertainment industries. Movies became the nation’s greatest form of entertainment. Movie attendance during the 1920s averaged 80 million people each week. Although movies were a great form of entertainment, they also influenced society by setting standards. New fashion, dancing, and music emerged from the production of movies and even influenced a sexual revolution. Another common technology during this time was the radio. Many families had radios, which would change home life forever. All family members were able to bond over the radio from listening to live music during dinner, to listening to sports broadcasts. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took advantage of this by introducing his “fireside chats” to a broad audience. In addition to the 1900s, the 1920s also saw an advance in transportation with automobiles. There became a widespread ownership of cars during this time which led to a “Car Culture”. Although the first automobile was invented in 1895, Ford Motors allowed cars to be more affordable with their production of the Model T. Ford was able to make their cars extremely efficiently, which allowed them to sell them for cheaper than any other car was during this time. Ford accomplished this by using an assembly line of sequential workstations. With the demand for cars being so high, Ford was able to pay their workers with the highest wages in the industry. 

Cars also influenced people to start living in suburban areas because they were able to travel back and forth between home and work. The production of cars also increased the production of businesses whose sole purpose was to support cars. More roads needed to be paved, gasoline stations were built, and traffic lights needed to be constructed. It was evident through the primary source of the Middletown studies that technology significantly changed the lives for many families. Especially with the automobile becoming more normal in many households, and families needed to consider where they were spending their money. Many believed having a car was a luxury, but some would prefer spending money on their car, instead of buying clothes. Those who did have an automobile felt as if it brought the family together. Times that were spent in the car seemed irreplaceable and became a good bonding experience. Not everyone felt this way though, as having a car also brought up many disagreements. Since most families only had one car, kids and parents began to fight over who gets the car. During the 1920s children would rather go out driving on a Sunday, instead of attending church with their parents. Another advantage of having an automobile was a change in leisure activities. Families were able to take vacations more often and at further places. Due to technology, another leisure activity that was abundant in Middletown was the use of radios. Teens were quickly distracted by this, and would often stay up all night listening to the radio instead of doing school work. The 1920s is one of the first decades were leisure activities and convenience became a part of society. Many of the new technologies during this era not only contributed to the economic success, but many things also brought families together. 

The next influential increase in technology came in the 1940s. America faced a post-war prosperity, or extreme economic growth. Growth in the economy affected all U.S. citizens, for everyone was able to sustain themselves easier during this time. The nation benefited from new technologies that came from the war, and the budget from the military demonstrated that the war took up most of the government spending. After the war, the U.S. became superior in production, and this was represented through a successful economy. Many military research projects were used for things even after the war, including improvements in the beauty industry, electronics, and aviation. One of the biggest technologies that came from postwar prosperity was the first generation of computers. This allowed for big businesses and companies to become “automated” which increased efficiency. The economy was also able to grow due to an oil boom, which would provide fuel cars and trucks at very low costs. In the late 1940s, the mass production of identical houses came to many states including New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico. These communities were called Levittowns and were sold at a low price with appliances built into the houses including a television set, refrigerator, oven, and a washing machine. All of these things added convenience for families, which led to a better quality of life and a shift in society. Most of the technologies during the 1940s were influenced by the war and would go on to affect how businesses are run, causing an increase in economic success. 

Society has seen a lot of shifts, and for different reasons throughout all of U.S. history, but the biggest societal shifts came in the 1900s, 1920s, and 1940s, due to technological influences. Technology affected many different things including economic success, leisure activities, convenience, communication, and business productivity. All of these changes affected society because it changed the way of living, and created a better quality of life. Technology has come a long way, and Americans today have the 1900’s, 1920’s, and 1940’s to thank for the technologies they provided.   

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