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ThinkUKnow e-Newsletter July 2012

13/07/2012

ThinkUKnow e-Newsletter - Volume 3 Issue 7

 
A question I'm often asked is this "Do you think technology is changing society, or is society changing technology?" I've often responded by saying that, in my opinion, it's a combination of both in a cyclical fashion, a kind of chicken and egg situation. Lately, however, I've been leaning more towards society changing technology as I often feel that technology is the scapegoat of society's ills. Inventions and innovations have little power until they are adopted by society and society will adopt things which resonate with who they are and who they want to be.  In this month's e-newsletter, I'd like to explore the relationship between technology and society a bit further.
 

What's old is new again

Technological innovation in change is definitely not a new phenomenon: humans have been creating and adapting since the beginning of time. With each innovation, we've had to learn a new form of technical literacy.  With the printing press we learned to read and write, not just listen; with the motor car we had to learn to steer and brake; with the telephone we had to learn to dial, answer and hang up.
 
Alongside these new forms of technical literacy, we also had to develop new forms of social literacy.  With the printing press we learned that money could buy ideas; with the motor car we learned it was not appropriate to "hoon" and could tell class by model; with the telephone we learned not to call people during meal times.
 
With the rise in information and communications technologies (ICTs), particularly the Internet and mobile phones, we've had to develop new technical literacy skills. We've had to learn how to use Facebook, text someone or even Skype family and friends. Alongside this technical literacy, we are also in the process of developing a new social literacy. We're developing social norms around the language we use online, etiquette around using mobile phones on public transport and how much technology is too much.
 
The current tension we're experiencing around the use and abuse of technology is an echo of the tensions we've survived in the past.  We can learn from these tensions of the past, apply them to our present and anticipate the future.
 

Meeting our needs and desires

Let's be honest, learning and applying new technical and social literacy skills is not always easy and it can often take some time. So why do we introduce and adopt new technologies if we have to put a lot of effort into using them?  The simple answer is: they provide something that we need or desire.
 
Often, technical developments have occurred to provide greater efficiency to a pursuit we were already chasing. Whether it be information (printing press), transportation (motor car) or communication (telephone), technical developments have offered society something which it was searching for. The development and widespread adoption of the Internet and mobile devices have allowed us to be more global, individual and more informed; in other words, they have helped us achieve what we were searching for.
 
These technologies may provide us with new solutions to our concerns, but how we use these technologies is no different to how we are behaving in our offline interactions and are symptomatic of other changes in our societies. There are many influences on our behaviour but I'd like to focus on two which are particularly relevant for children and young people: celebritification and personalisation.      
 

Celebritification

It's difficult to say but very easy to see around us.  Celebrities, whether they be royalty, actors, musicians or reality TV stars, take centre stage in the world's media. They are spokespeople for products, ambassadors for charity organisations and some have even become politicians.  The "celebrity" is omnipresent and held up as a role model for young people.  Becoming a celebrity yourself is portrayed as a possibility through the examples of reality TV stars and our current batch of YouTube personalities. 
 
This isn't a new phenomenon: the first reality TV show appeared in 1948 and we've loved seeing ourselves on camera ever since camcorders and handy cams became readily available in the 1990s.  Is it no wonder then that we now have cameras in our pockets and the ability to share our photos and videos with a worldwide audience?
 

Personalisation

Much of Western culture focuses on advancing the individual, not the family, so is it any surprise that much of the last century has seen an increase in desire to be recognized as a unique individual? From personalized license plates and 'my family' stickers to individual workplace agreements and personalized stationery, we all want to be different from the pack.
 
In a digital environment, it's even easier to customize our possessions to reflect our individuality. You can change phone covers, ringtones and apps, create your own tumblr background, add different details on Facebook and even have your own YouTube channel.  But with so. Many people using these digital tools, and all trying to present themselves as unique individuals, is it no wonder, then, that some people take outrageous actions to stand out from the crowd?
 

How can we change this?

I'm not suggesting that celebritification and personalization are entirely to blame for the misuse of technology, but they are useful examples for showing the influence of societal priorities in digital behaviour.  What is clear is that society has a great influence on how technology is adopted and utilized and it is therefore a society and community issue and responsibility to ensure that we raises all children and young people to utilize technology in a safe and ethical manner.