• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


What Does Technology Have to Do With the Bus Monitor?

Has technology left people such as Mrs. Karen Klein behind?

June 25, 2012

Has technology left people such as Mrs. Karen Klein behind?

Pedestrian observations about the use of technology to broadcast the good and the bad of humanity are noted.  A slightly deeper observation might refer to the student who videotaped the incident, posted it on Facebook, and may or may not have known how it could be transferred to YouTube and go viral.  Chalk another one up for information literacy at the earliest levels of development and take note without civility information literacy lacks depth.  For those interested in culture, one might want to ponder the nature of the adolescent "auteur."

I come from Rochester, the city, not the suburbs, but that fact only speaks to my particular interest in this matter. That it could have emanated from just about anywhere in the world leads me to wonder about a yet unnamed, ineffable effect that the information economy may be having on social relations.   In addition to all the obvious statements that could be made about civility, respect for elders, the harm in bullying, adolescent cruelty and peer group pressures -- world wide -- comes this thought:  Has the allure of shiny things that can make us all famous for fifteen seconds altered who, how and what we value?

Agricultural societies had slaves, serfs, indentured servants, share-croppers and migrant helping hands to serve the warrior classes and later landed gentry.  The industrial age marginalized agriculture, created a new elite of industrialists that had laborers, middle managers and ultimately unions.  The information age has created a new elite, replaying the Horatio Alger myth for another generation of Americans, and, by extension abroad, to everyone in the world.  If you know how to write code, manage a project, advertise or move stuff into the marketplace, Apple, Microsoft or Google might have a job for you.  If you make the devices, or sell them in the white, sterile stores in a mall near you, you might also have a job but not at a living wage.  We don't have a name for you yet as a class.  You hover in a cool social sphere, however, recognized, acknowledged by the world, so perhaps all we need to do is throw a few more dollars and some benefits your way and we won't have to name you anew.  But what about all of those people who used to do the jobs that software does now?  Maybe it is not outsourcing but skill set shifting that has contributed mightily to our unemployment numbers?  Or whose work is so far beyond the pale of this brave new world of information technology that we have almost completely forgotten about you?

A pack of adolescents stalking prey is hardly new and does not require this brave new world to exist.  If you stand out in any way that the leader of the pack can identify to throw the scent of his or her own insecurities, you might as well draw a target on your back, and especially if you cannot, will not or are not in a position to stand up for yourself.  This brave new world adds a twist, however.   You stand on nothing that matters, and so there is nothing to back you up.  Four generations ago, the New Deal helped the marginalized farmer out, at least a little bit.  A generation or two ago, if you did "lowly" work but belonged to a union, you had support.  If you did not but worked in a faith community, school district or respected industry (Kodak would be a good example), those identifications had your back.  We have so devalued our public schools, we don't even recognize the decompensated symptoms: violence, lack of morale, paucity of respect, with gang like behaviors filling in the gaps.  Technology is the phoenix rising from the ashes, President Clinton's lucky bullet, the hope upon which we all hook so many dreams.  With it comes a new social psychology.  That which is cool is related somehow to this world.  A mobile phone.  A videocamera function.  Facebook, YouTube, the Internet.  You belong.  You matter.  And if you don't, or are perceived not to be a part of that world, then you might as well disappear because for all intense and purposes of social perception you don't exist.  Except to be humiliated.

Sherry Turkle has written about how technology alienates us from ourselves.  Any number of other dystopian observers have written about how technology alienates us from each other (including a NYT article last week about the correlation of depression and Internet use).  There might be one more step for us to take in our observations about the potential adverse effects of technology on the human experience in the twenty-first century.  It not only adds scope and amplification to the voices expressed via those little packets, it not only transfigures and exaggerates humanity, it might have also warped our perceptions of who's in and who's out.  Who matters or who doesn't.  Just think about what we would not know, and how Ms. Klein might be feeling today without … Indiegogo and the Internet.  Makes me wonder about all the other people about whom we don't know, haven't heard of or have left behind, without even a term of social science art by which to know them.


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