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New technology impacts on social practices and our own perceptions

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New technology impacts on social practices and our own perceptions

  1. 1. 1 Ronglin Yao Walter Ong saw the development of computers and technology as the third great shift in perception brought about by ‘literacy’. To what extent does the new technology reflect social practices; to what extent does it change social practices and the ways we think? Introduction We are now living in a time with highly developed electronic technology represented by computers and technology. According to Walter Ong (1982), electronic technology has brought us into the age of ‘secondary orality’ (p.136f) which is seen as the shift from orality through writing and print to electronic processing of the word over the centuries (p.158f). The shift from the primary orality to writing represents the first great shift; the shift from writing to print represents the second great shift; and the shift from print to the electronic processing of the word represents the third great shift. Here I have understood that each great shift changes our perception toward literacy, with the third great shift having a particular importance. That is, literacy can no longer be narrowly interpreted and understood as simply the literacy skills in reading and writing; instead, it should be interpreted and understood broadly as multimodal literacies or multiliteracies in the information era. The multimodal literacies or multiliteracies include not only the reading and writing literacies but also computer literacy or information literacy (see Note). In an electronically mediated world, “technological innovation is identified most closely with the Internet” (Saperstein and Rouach, 2002, p.2). According to
  2. 2. 2 Newhagen and Bucy (2004), the Internet will likely remain as a medium dominated by text and image (p.5f). Thus, the literacy practices are now associated with screen- based technologies. Snyder (2002) offers us his perception towards literacy: Being literate is to do with understanding how the different modalities are combined in complex ways to create meaning since the written, oral and audiovisual modalities of communication are integrated into multimodal hypertext systems which are made accessible via the Internet and the World Wide Web (p.3). The new technology reflects social practices to a great extent Social practices play a significant role in the acceptance and usefulness of a technology (Committee on the Internet in the Evolving Information Infrastructure, National Research Council, 2002, p.104f). Castells (2001) states that “people, institutions, companies, and society at large, transform technology…this is even more so in the case of the Internet” (pp.4-5). We know that the Internet was first developed and used by the US military, and later extended to other civilian use as a social practice. As the Internet increasingly gains the popularity among people, institutions, companies and society, the Internet developers have been thus spurred to undergo a continuous innovation process. In so doing, the new Internet technology caters to the social needs and the demands placed on it. Take the Internet speed as an example, it starts from dial-up internet to broadband (ADSL or cable), and then to ADSL2. The Internet speed goes from a slow speed of 28-56 kpbs to an awesome speed of 20,000 kpbs. Since Internet users always demand high Internet speed; it has transformed the Internet technology. As the internet speed continues to
  3. 3. 3 increase, coupled with the global spread of the Internet technology, the number of the Internet users has increased dramatically in recent years, and thus become a social practice. According to eMarketer, there were 476 million Internet users globally in 2001 (Kasdorf, 2003, p.602f). By the end of September 2005, Internet World Stats (2005) reports that there is now 642 million Internet users globally (p.1f). This shows that we are increasingly using the Internet as a new form of social practice. Hence, the new Internet technology reflects the social practices to a great extent. Furthermore, new technology can reflect social practices as a result of the changes in social practices. According to Tuomi (2002), technological innovation occurs when social practice changes. (p.23f). For example, entrepreneurs develop new technological products with the explicit purpose of addressing the needs, and they interpret the meaning of technology from the point of view of potential users. They will design products that address the users’ needs. Also the entrepreneurs may address latent needs that have not yet been articulated as well-defined needs. Under such circumstance, the entrepreneurs could invent both the needs and the technological products that address such needs (Tuomi, 2002, p.24f). If such technological products are accepted by the users, and subsequently brings about changes in the social practices, then it is evident that the new technology reflects social practices. Grubler (1998) asserts that it is only through diffusion that inventive and innovative potentials are translated into actual changes in social practice (p.50f). Tuomi (2002) argues that technology makes new forms of social practices possible; therefore, technology itself can promote social changes (Tuomi, 2002, pp24-25ff). In
  4. 4. 4 this sense, the new technology reflects social practices to a great extent through the changes in social practices per se and via the use of the new technology. The new technology changes social practices and the ways we think to a great extent New technology changes social practices to a great extent First of all, let us look at what the leading academics have informed us: Gradwell (1999) claims that technology is a force that reshapes society, changes social patterns and values (p.241f); this prompts Murray (2000) in advancing that technological revolutions entail rapid and far-reaching social change (p.43f). Snyder (2002) asserts that: New technologies have made massive incursions into all facets of life…they have altered everyday modes of communication and are becoming so fundamental to society that most areas of social practice in day-to-day life are affected by the information revolution (p.5). Snyder (2002) further elaborates that our whole way of life is profoundly affected by the extension and development of new information and communication technologies (p.4f).
  5. 5. 5 Saperstein and Rouach (2002) maintain that “the convergence of innovative technologies…will dramatically change the way we live, work, and relate to one another” (p.1). Baron (2000) states that “global networking will redefine how we work, how we socialise, and how we learn” (p.18). The aforementioned remarks made by the leading academics have argued strongly that new technology changes social practices to a great extent. Now I shall address how the new technology changes our work patterns, our ways of living and literacy learning to a great extent. ---The new technology changes our work patterns to a great extent The new technology has changed our work patterns dramatically. A good example of work pattern change is the e-work. A survey by IST finds that e-work is indeed taking place on a significant scale in Europe. The dominant forms of e-work within organizations are the use of remote offices, and the employment of multi-locational workers (2001, p.28f). IST quotes another example: with a laptop computer, we could take work into new settings such as the street, train, café and home. Similarly, conferences could be held online, offering all the conveniences of a real conference (2001, pp.52-53ff). Shields quotes an example of Wal-Mart using the Internet for product procurement on a global basis. Such e-commerce systems can be linked with other multimedia software to drill store attendants in company practices (2003,
  6. 6. 6 p.123f). Shields further describes that clerical workers coordinate their work less through the telephone, and more and more through email (2003, p.145f). A further example is media publishing. With the use of computer technology, media publishers can now use Desktop publishing systems to incorporate graphics into written documents, which is totally different from old-time media publishing practices. All these examples are evident enough that the new technology has changed our work patterns to a great extent. ---The new technology changes our ways of living to a great extent According to Castells (2001), “the Internet transforms the way in which we communicate, our lives are deeply affected by this new communication technology” (p.5). This implies that “the Internet has become a key technology in many areas of our everyday life” (Tuomi, 2002, p.3). Many analysts view the Internet as a technology with possible social repercussions as potent as those of the automobile and telephone (Kling, 1991, p.150f). Now let us find out how the new technology has brought about changes in our ways of living to a great extent. The Internet technology changes our ways of living in many ways. Woolgar (2002) states that electronic technologies can enable communication via computers that replaces face-to-face interaction (p.2f). This is absolutely true if people can get access to the Internet. And for people who want to see each other’s images, they can get the webcams to conduct online chatting. In addition to this, “the Web allows for
  7. 7. 7 the inclusion not only of texts but also of graphics, sound files, and full-motion video” (Warschauer, 1999, p.8). As such, people can use the Web to get access to various text types, pictures, radio and video programs. “As high speed connections become more common, a growing number of users may use their computer to download sound files or stream music in the background, while working at other tasks” (Newhagen and Bucy, 2004, p.5). In social life, people use the Internet to do shopping such as ebay, on-line banking, read the weather report, check airline’s flight schedule etc. These examples demonstrate that our ways of living have been changed greatly as a result of the use of the Internet. Another example is that “computer mediated communication systems give us choices in establishing interactive communities” (Andersen, Holmqvist and Jensen, 1993, p.389). This is exactly right as many people use e-mail and Messenger services to form such interactive communities. Apart from this, Warschauer (1999) mentions that the Internet allows greater numbers of people to put forth their views and publish their messages (p.17f). For example, many people nowadays use Blogger or have their personal Web sites to express their views and publish their messages directly online. Again, the new technology has changed our ways of living to a great extent. The new technology has also changed children’s ways of living. Papert (1993) finds that children have an enduring and passionate love affair with the computer, with a lot of their time playing games (p.ixf). There are many arguments relating to
  8. 8. 8 whether children should be allowed to play computer games. But one thing is for sure, computers have changed children’s ways of living to a great extent. New technologies also offer significant opportunities for people with special needs. Through the web, they can access information, electronic commerce, and participate in society at large (IST, 2001, p.72f). This example clearly illustrates that new technologies change the ways of living for people with special needs to a great extent. All in all, we could now conclude that technology has changed our ways of living to a great extent. ---The new technology changes our ways of literacy learning to a great extent Warschauer (1999) claims that electronic literacies are going to become increasingly prominent in the coming years (p.11f). This claim associates with literacy education as Bruce and Hogan (1998) maintain that “an important part of literacy education now is to consider a range of options for learning, including a wide range of technologies” (cited in Reinking, McKenna, Labbo and Kieffer, 1998, p.280). Bigum and Green (1992) suggest “applying computer-based technologies in literacy practices” (p.4). Currently there are many computer-based technologies in literacy practices such as email, CALL (computer-assisted language learning), WebCT, Bulletin Board, ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) etc. The application of these technologies in literacy practices has changed our ways of literacy learning to a great extent.
  9. 9. 9 As Warschauer (1999) puts it, the most important current development affecting reading and writing is the development and spread of the Internet. He gives such examples of Computer-Mediated Communication in literacy learning: E-mail, bulletin boards, various kinds of conferencing systems and linking with a worldwide database (pp.6-7ff). Bolter (1991) once claimed that “The computer is an ideal writing space for our networked society, because it permits every form of reading and writing from the most passive to the most active” (p.238). This view is shared by Landow (1992) who claims that the use of Internet facilitates a critical and dynamic approach to literacy that is an extension of the best traditions of print world (cited in Warschauer, 1999, p.11f). Besides, Kim and Kamil (2004) hold that “computerised literacy instruction has afforded both new opportunities to offer students reading guidance that extends beyond the printed text and specialised writing assistance” (p.351). Hence, incorporating new technologies in literacy learning has inevitably changed our ways of learning. When commenting on children playing computer games, Gee (2003) considers such social practice as learning a new literacy (p.13f) since “literacy in any domain is actually not worth much if one knows nothing about the social practices of which that literacy is but a part” (Gee, 2003, pp.14-15). This informs us that with the use of computer gaming technology, literacy learning for children take place from playing games. Thus, the technology greatly changes children’s ways of learning literacy. From the aforementioned, we can therefore conclude that technology has changed our ways of literacy learning to a great extent.
  10. 10. 10 The new technology changes the ways we think to a great extent Murdoch (1994) advances that the next century will be the century of networking (p.5f); similarly, Bosco (1994) maintains that there is little in contemporary life which is not touched in some significant way by information technology (p.34f). Bruce and Hogan (1998) assert that “more people are recognising ways in which technology can be used to gather information surreptitiously” (cited in Reinking, McKenna, Labbo and Kieffer, 1998, p.278). According to OECD (2001b), “In a world with easy access to huge stores of information, the skills of accessing, handling and using data and materials become more important” (p.19). This perception is particularly true in the information explosion era. OECD (2001a) considers that “the ability to produce and use information effectively is a vital source of skill for many individuals” (p.100). This view is in line with McCormick’s claim (1999): “A modern citizen has to have an understanding of technology to be able to function, and to be collectively in control of the development of society” (p.217), as having such kind of literacy skill is “the organ of social progress” (Olson, 1994, p.5). As such, schools should educate and prepare students for today’s technological world since “technology has become an unquestioned, taken-for-granted ‘must have’ in order to function in everyday life” (Rassool, 2002, p.40). It is for this reason that “teachers’ work will clearly involve developing students’ use of multiliteracies in computer-based and conventional formats” (Unsworth, 2002p.73). OECD (2000) points out that schools need to develop the learning environment that support “the ability to find information and transform it into knowledge” and
  11. 11. 11 provide skills as to “how to find interesting, relevant and reliable information, and how to work with it” (p.104) whilst Bosco (1994) holds the position that: schools need to take advantage of information technology so as to make the immense capability of information technology a means for improving the lives of our children and for enabling them to live productive and satisfying lives in an increasingly complex and changing world (p.26). IST (2001) deems it that “In the Information Society, we have to provide young people with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage with the new technologies, so that they have a high level of ‘digital literacy’” (p.66); similarly, COIMBRA Group of Universities (2002) maintains that students should be enabled to learn using digital information sources (p.21f). The aforementioned perceptions by the heavyweights and the leading academics represent our current thinkings on the new technology. Therefore, we could claim that the new technology has greatly changed the ways we think. ____________________________________________________________________ Note: concurrently, there are many other terms used to describe computer literacy and information literacy, such as information technology literacy, electronic literacy, electronic information literacy, network literacy, Internet literacy, hyper-literacy, digital literacy and digital information literacy etc.
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