Reading Response Week 2

Second Reading Response for LS 583


As I approach this week’s reading response, I feel my mind drifting in what feels like every direction – we digested a whole lot of information, from a wide variety of perspectives, all relevant and in many ways intertwined.  To narrow down the scope of my response, I have chosen to specifically focus on the second portion of required texts, highlighting the concepts deeply rooted within the Ellison and Turkle readings.  Ellison and her team selected to analyze this topic by completing a study of a specific sect of college students, while Turkle approached the topic in a much more in depth and philosophical way.

A common concept defined within each text is social capital. This is the base, the foundation for each text, in a sense – as both are looking at how the current standard of relationships has been impacted by interaction with technology.  Ellison focuses on the social media site of Facebook, although by including factors such as, self-esteem and life satisfaction, as they compare to use of the platform, the team looks deeper into the psyche of the users.  This is acknowledgment that the demographics and personal state of individuals is a key component when evaluating their use of online social platforms.  It helps those studying the topic to better understand the motivation for use of specific technologies to connect with others.  The concepts of bridging versus bonding relationships, surfaces within the text of the Ellison study, they are meant to categorize the connections made online – on Facebook, for this study.  After reading through the study I decided to review my personal interactions and “friendships” on Facebook.  I found that roughly 80% of my connections could be considered “bridged”, meaning that I have no offline relationship with these individuals (only 6% of them, had I ever considered “close” friends).  This left 20% of the connections to be those with people I interact with on a regular, or at least semi-regular, basis and know that I could turn to them for emotional support.  I was not surprised by my findings, and it fell in line with research completed at a national level.

Ellison’s study also discussed that users who were considered to use Facebook at a heightened intensity level, who also indicated lower self-esteem and life satisfaction, found that the interaction and connections made online increased their self-esteem and satisfaction levels.  It is mentioned within the text, that it can be speculated, users who would typically not interact or be social offline, may be more likely to reach out to other users in the online setting.  I have to say, that this is definitely something I have found to be very true.  In an article related to brain activity and neurological reactions to online interactions – including Facebook “likes”, comments, and even just being notified of activity – it is understandable that many young people (and otherwise) turn to online connections to find intimacy and emotional support.  In a study completed in Australia, it was found that when individuals interact online, or receive responses from other users, the brain releases dopamine and a momentary spike in happiness is felt.  This means, “the same brain areas [that are activated for food and water] are activated for social stimuli”, this is similar to receiving “…a smile, someone telling you you’re doing a great job, or you’re trustworthy.”

Turkle’s introduction, titled “Alone Together”, takes the concepts introduced within the Ellison study a step further.  Ellison’s study, for me, was an example of one specific platform and its interactions with a particular type of individual.  Turkle opens the discussion to reach more broadly, to see how online and artificial intelligence technologies, as a sect, are creating more connections than ever, while simultaneously disconnecting humans.  In one portion, when she shares the story of her daughter at the museum, she looks at how the younger generations (and many others) are viewing artificial life as superior to reality.  The fact that we have more control over robot animals, than wild ones, heightens the appeal to use one in place of the other.  We are seeking to heighten efficiency in our world, and this is spilling over to our personal lives – which is leaving us disconnected from those we consider our closest loved ones.  Texts and emails have replaces visits and phone calls, make our world feel impersonal.  Since we are always connected, we are unable to take moments to focus on ourselves.  We can be in a room full of people and not realize it, looking past real people to view those online.  How will these changes affect us long term?

In the second part of her discussions, Turkle writes about how it appears that with the advancement of robots and artificial intelligence, people are becoming more reliant on these technologies to provide the interaction and support that was once given by another human.  Her analysis of how authentic these relationships actually are, and how do they ultimately impact our psyche (emotional stability and ability) were very interesting.  She brought to light the questions that we should all be asking, is the decrease in human contact – physically, verbally, emotionally – really a good thing?  Perhaps it’s good for some, but not for all?  Essentially, one of my takeaways from the reading is that people are seeking ways to remove themselves from the human experience.  We have decided that living and feeling all of the “good” emotions – happiness, love, joy – are not worthy having to live through the other, “bad” emotions – anger, sadness, depression.  Many would elect to avoid these emotions and connections, by retaining only relationships with robots (AI’s) and online connections.

Summer Class in Session – Reading Response #1

First Reading Response of summer classes.

I admit, regardless of the consequential judgements that may result, prior to completing the readings for this week I lived in what could be considered a naïve state.  Yes, I understand that injustice and hatred thrive in our world.  Although when I read through the syllabus and saw that we were initiating the course by analyzing the implications of technology on society I thought, “implications, as in the advancement of humankind?”.  I could not comprehend the idea that technology could have such severe consequences – nor had several of those that are not so exaggerated, crossed my mind.  Let alone ones that were intentional and could be inherently political.  As I progressed through the four assigned readings, each seemed to build off of the next, taking these concepts and the analysis a step further.  Hutchby, Pacey, Winner, and the Selfe’s all took varying perspectives on the issue at hand, although all acknowledged the reality and necessity for those developing technologies to consider factors beyond just the intended function of a technology.

In my opinion, Hutchby laid the groundwork for the concepts that are presented in the other three articles, he provides the basis for all of the papers – does technology shape society, or is it vice versa?  Hutchby also introduces the concept of technological determinism – the idea that technology is always good and offers improvements by merely existing, without any social or cultural implications.   Although throughout his paper he brings to light how crucial it is for us to consider the reality that technologies impact all parts of life, and how apparent it is that the relationship between users and technology is a two way street.  The flow of his article was at times difficult to follow and often left me wondering what his purpose was, or where he was taking the conversation.  Though necessary clarifications were made, at the beginning and in his conclusion, specifically.  He could have utilized a more logical order and flow, this thought became more ironic after reading through the Selfe’s piece. Although, if nothing else he allows the core of this research and work to surface.   He also acknowledges how the analysis completed prior to his work, was lacking and how it could and should improve into the future.

Pacey takes the concepts introduced by Hutchby, and breaks them down in a more focused and specific way.  He acknowledges the fact that the term “technology”, itself, has had its meaning muddied through its exploitation and overuse throughout the years.  His article sets to great define and clarify the concept and its cousins.  He makes the perspective which Hutchby ultimately took, and refines it down to a single phrase – technology practice.  This concept is broken down into three relevant aspects: technical, organizational and cultural.  For me the further breakdown, in addition to the more tangible and relatable examples – such as the snow mobile and the water pump – provided me more reference and deeper understanding of the discussion. With the water pump, and its failure at the maintenance level, I was able to realize parallels within any multi-level organization, where no one wants to take responsibility for a failure, fingers are always pointed elsewhere.  We all view situations through tunnel vision and never want to take the blame.  This applies to the idea of technology in the way that support and willingness exists in the beginning, during creation and employment, but often the thought of “how will this be sustained long term” is often not asked.

To review the issue from a more specific perspective, Winner writes about the political characteristics of technologies – whether inherent or otherwise.  This article was the one that brought to light the most severe cases of how power has been used in our country to create physical, tangible technologies in order to intentionally impact trends within society – including active prejudice. This is the one that made me uncomfortable, that made me realize I live in what could be considered a “bubble”, where I am shielded from so much of the injustice that others experience.  The low hanging bridges that exist to this day in Long Island, in particular were completely eye opening.  Social class bias and racial prejudice, so blatant, and yet so accepted.

Selfe and Selfe were able to apply the reality of prejudice that exists for Americans who are more darkly colored, to how this type of precedence has been widely accepted and allowed within our society – in ways that are much more subtly than an individual being excessively searched and questioned when re-entering the US.  Realization of the design of computers and even the Internet, came while I was reading this piece.  I have never once stopped to think about the fact that each of these platforms were geared to an English speaking, white collar, male audience – in the way that English is set as the default language, systems are designed in a hierarchical way, and the metaphors that exist in the naming of features within each.

Overall, I think that the readings for this week provided me foundational insight in the reality that exists within the interwoven relationship between technology and society.  I think that the groundwork laid and historical references provided by the four articles, will allow me to better grasp the topics to come in this course.  This has been the first step in my I hope to have my naivity transitioned to awareness.