The Evolution of Techno-Social Systems: From the Clock to the Cyborg


  • Rohil Jethmalani Comenius University in Bratislava


Technology is often considered to be a tool. A tool being something that is neutral and lacks its own inherent values and biases. Through this thesis, I posit that technology and the values of the individuals or groups that created it, are inseparable. Every technology, whether new or old holds some implicit assumptions about how human societies ought to function. Additionally, technologies are embedded in society; that is they are shaped by societal values and also shape them in return. Thus, as is revealed in the title of my thesis, technologies must be studied as techno-social systems that go beyond the framework of ‘technologies as tools’. To do this concept justice, I look at the evolution of one important historical technology, on which much of human society today, depends upon. This is the evolution of linear time, or more precisely the science of timekeeping through the use of various clocks. Today, we take for granted that our days are comprised of 24 hours of 60 minutes each, etc. It was not always that we ordered our days/ months/ years in this way. Time itself might be thought of as an objective phenomena, but its measurement by humans makes it a human construct - laden with human values [1]. The techno-social system of timekeeping is composed of technologies, individual horologists, timekeeping institutions, religious establishments, governments and so on.

I extend insights gained from the study of timekeeping to a more modern techno-social system - the internet of things. Apart from studying these two technologies as techno-social systems, I also study their impact on human cognition. Human cognition is extended through the tools we use. These tools belong to larger techno-social systems, influence and mould our cognitive abilities. I argue that the type of tool used to extend cognition must also be considered. For instance, using an atomic clock to measure the time of day versus using the sun’s movement through the sky have differing effects on cognition. Both of these are effective at getting us to the end result of bringing order to our day. While we may achieve bringing order and predictability to the passing of time, the tools we use to do so affect the way we cognize and interact with the world. 

I conclude by exploring the assumption that technology can provide the solutions for various problems or challenges we find ourselves in. I question whether better technology can mitigate global issues like the environment, economy, happiness and improvement in cognition. I underscore ethical dimensions of these new technologies, along with philosophical questions that are both timeless and prescient. My intention with this thesis is not to proselytise a particular point of view or moral perspective, but rather to open up further discussion on these important topics.


[1] C. Orzel, “A Brief History of Timekeeping: The Science of Marking Time, from Stonehenge to Atomic Clocks”. Published by oneworld, 2022. 

[2] B. Frischmann, and E. Selinger, “Re-Engineering Humanity”. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2018.

[3] C. Mackeller, “Cyborg Mind: What Brain-Computer Interfaces Mean for Cyberneuroethics”. 2019