The Shadow of the Future: Computers changing the way we live

Based on Shirky’s and Rheingold’s interpretations of social cooperation in today’s environment, I cannot help but be convinced that our strives and means subconsciously loop through the ideas of social construction of technology [SCOT] and technological determinism, but lean toward the latter. 

Today’s understanding of what it means to be social and collaborate in group settings is fairly altered to what it meant years ago.  Shirky argues that there is a decline in our need for and ability to obtain social capital due to the “increase in transaction costs” (Shirky 193).  People prefer an ‘easier’ method of communicating.  Scott Heiferman brings up a striking point, stating that “treating the internet as…[a] sort of separate space…was part of the problem” (Shirky 194).  There is a growing disassociation of cyberspace from real world; “of social from real space” (Shirky 194). 

This describes the idea of ‘technological determinism”, wherein technology essentially manufactures how society is run.  David Reed describes that collaborations and transactions that typically occurred outside the Internet “became absorbed into the growth of the Internet’s functions” (Rheingold 61).  This is understood further in the founding of Meetup, with which people use the Internet to find others with similar interests.

Today’s individuals and societies are very smart.  We are able to do, create, and develop the unthinkable.  I think, however, that we tend to rely on technology to shape how we conduct ourselves.  The understanding of the reason and capital behind forming a group or network has evolved drastically.  Whether it is for better or for worse, technology and computer-mediated forms of communication have truly changed our sense of what a community is.

Do you agree that there this understanding has evolved?  To what extent?

What might be some driving forces for or against this ‘change’? 

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2 Responses to The Shadow of the Future: Computers changing the way we live

  1. jlpirr says:

    I think that you are definitely onto something when you say that our society leans towards technological determinism. It is very obvious that many people in our society rely on technology to do things, such as getting in touch with your neighbor instead of walking next door. That is just one simple example of how people rely on technology, but as time has gone on, technology and social media seem to have gained a larger presence in the lives of every day Americans. I do agree that this understanding of forming social groups has evolved. The example that I would use would be the ways in which people use social media. They measure their popularity by how many likes a picture gets on Instagram, or how many people follow them on Twitter. People often brag about how many friends they have on Facebook, when the reality of the situation is that they probably only talk to a handful of those people. Our society is constantly absorbed in the idea of online social communities, and some people take this to such lengths that they do not see a need for in person interactions anymore.

    I think that there is definitely a benefit to social media and online communities. If used correctly, it does give people a form of creative expression and a way to connect with others of similar interest (such as MeetUp in the reading). But if someone gets too absorbed in technology then it could actually take them further out of our society instead of keeping them “in the loop”. To an extent, I think that it is acceptable for society to be driven by technological determinism, but I think that there also needs to be a push and pull between determinism and social constructions of technology so that people still can have control over their environment if they so choose.

    One of the driving forces in this “change” towards technological determinism, in my opinion, is that technology has become so convenient, effective, and helpful that it has consequently made users lazier. Our society has become more and more dependent on technology, for example, how people depend on their phones to communicate, or their GPS to get them to where they need to be. This dependency has allowed technological determinism to take hold. I do think it is possible to be more in control of our technology, but not everyone cares to do so.

  2. erikpeulicke says:

    First off, I agree that technological determinism plays a large role in the apparent decline of social capital. However, I’d argue that it is not the sole reason as to why social interaction is on the decline. As you mentioned, Shirky thinks that the perception of the internet is one of the issues. I think that perception is the real culprit of the decline of social capital.

    We’ve seen some evidence as to how the internet can generate social capital. For example, the lost phone story that Shirky presented and the numerous meet up groups that he described how social interactions online can benefit a community. That being said, I don’t think the technology is the main problem. In fact, it has the ability to create new opportunities for social capital that we have not had before. The problem lies with many of the users not taking advantage of what it offers. Many internet users focus on the ease of communication rather than the potential substance of that communication, and this misconception makes it seem as though the fault lies in the technology.

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