New technology impacts on social practices and our own perceptions
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
Saperstein and Rouach (2002) maintain that “the convergence of innovative
technologies…will dramatically change the way we live, work, and relate to one
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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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