Saturday, December 10, 2011

Access to the Internet and other Electronics as a Social Force

A true classless society has likely never existed. However, historically, social divisions have been based on external accumulations of wealth. In the past there has been another division, often overlooked or linked with wealth, that is the availability of education as a social divider. I believe that the social divisions of the near term will still be based, superficially, on wealth but that the real social divisions will start to evolve along the lines of electronic usage.

When people lived in small socially closed groups, isolated by the time it took to travel to the next town, almost all social contacts were obviously concentrated in the immediate family and neighbors. There has been a lot of analysis of the impact transportation had and continues to have on the nuclear family, but now the Internet has become a predominate force in establishing societal relationships.

This is a recognizable trend going back to before the Internet became as prevalent as it is today. Here are some of the books and articles about the subject.
  • Loader, Brian. Cyberspace Divide Equality, Agency, and Policy in the Information Society. London: Routledge, 1998. 
  • Wyatt, Sally. Technology and in/Equality Questioning the Information Society. New York: Routledge, 2000. 
  • Wresch, William. Disconnected: Haves and Have-Nots in the Information Age. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1996. 
  • Bargh, John A. and Katelyn Y. A. McKenna, The Internet and Social Life, Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 55: 573-590 (Volume publication date February 2004) 
You might notice that most of these articles are now outdated. The issue of the impact of technology in the form of electronic communication has become so complicated that there are not so many universal assessments. 

Many people either ignore the Internet or use it only for very limited purposes. But the real use of the Internet is to acquire and use information. In a social context, the Internet (and by extension, all use of electronic communications) has become the dominant force in creating social division. Associations are no longer limited either by physical distance or even time.

A significant segment of our society has become addicted to online activities such as real-time online gaming, gambling, pornography, and alter-egos such as Second Life. Any one of these has ability to create a dysfunctional or marginalized member of our society as completely as drugs or alcohol did in the past. They also have the potential of creating a subgroups of violent secret societies that are undermining the fabric of our entire society.

What is apparent is that society in general will no longer be structured along any kind of traditional lines but along lines described in hyperspace, a true network society. The real losers in the future will not be those who do not have access to technology but those who don't choose to participate. Skills such as keyboarding will be come more and more important. Even a professional who lacks adequate computer skills will eventually lose all ability to function.

Education, in the traditional sense, is losing out to online activities. I can learn more about any subject online than I would ever have the time or resources to acquire through traditional, attend the classroom, education.

Current economic losses have been concentrated in the non-information areas of our society. For example, during the present economic downturn real estate values have collapsed while at the same time technology has continued to evolve at an every increasing rate. New types of electronic devices such as smartphones and tablet computers have sold millions upon millions of units while the rest of the economies have languished.

I will continue to explore the impact technology has on individuals and families in the near future.

No comments: