Technological Determinism: How Much Technology Is Too Much?

There’s no denying technology can be addictive. We can instantaneously access new information and entertainment, communicate faster and more efficiently than ever before.

Technology has always garnered its far share of criticism, from being blamed for ruining relationships, to making us fat, unhealthy and stupid.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently reported that there are now more than 12 million internet subscribers (not counting mobile users), while 60% of adults go online daily.

However, these statistics are only the tip of the iceberg, the rate at which these statistics manifest tells the rest of the story, especially in relation to social media. It took Facebook 5 years to attract its first 150 million users, but just 8 months to double that number.  Equivalently, 1 million accounts are added to Twitter every day.

Though are the developments and introductions of new medias and technologies creating an over embrace of technology? Technological determinism is a theory that points to technology as being the force that shapes society. The issues raised by technological determinism question the role of technology in shaping our future.

To what extent do the tools we make and use determine our behavior?

Those who fear the impact of technology are often the strongest believers in technological determinism, while critics believe technology is not the sole component of social change.
In advocating technological determinism it could be argued that social spheres (eg. Facebook & Twitter) now allow the opportunity for multiple types of electronic communication for individuals, without ever having to leave the house – thus, the technology creating a social change (technological determinism).

Mark Federman, a researcher at the University of Toronto who specializes in communication theory, says “when an individual communicates through the Internet (social networking sites, chat rooms, weblogs etc) it creates additional manifestation of an individual’s identity. These multiple identities operate independently from the (individual’s) real world identity and develop autonomously through experiences within the various virtual worlds and their participants”.

In accordance, Tama Leaver, a lecturer in Internet studies at Curtin University has said of society’s relationship with technology ”people disconnect a little bit and forget that what they are doing is just a continuation of other forms of communication rather than something that is fundamentally different”.

Previously, “cyberspace” was perhaps scene as a separate communicative medium, with separate ideals and communicative values from the “real” world.

Leaver believes this theory is a myth which is gradually being erased and users are realising the same rules apply whether you are communicating on Facebook or chatting at a party. ”Cyberspace was this place that was somehow disconnected from the real world but now most of our technologies are about the online and offline being deeply connected,” he says.

”They are not tools for doing something ‘in’ cyberspace, they are communication tools that use networked communication as a medium, not as a place.”

Conversely, critics of technological determinism argue that we need to move beyond the idea that there is something ”bad” about technologies and communicative mediums such as Facebook and smartphone, and instead the onus is self-determinate on the individual and the way the use it.

Recently, there has been a flurry of moral panic-type stories saying that internet addiction, or to give it its formal name, internet-use disorder (IUD), has been identified and as a mental health issue.

Young people who extensively communicate through technology, particularly the Internet, instead of physical relationship communication, have said to be lacking social competences and interpersonal skills – indicating how the Internet and its communicative functions can validate the theory of technological determinism.

But while there is some research showing changes in the brains of people who spend unhealthy amounts of time online, IUD is in fact a long way from being officially classified as a mental health disorder.

It’s fair to say technology and culture are intertwined. The argument is to the extent to which they influence each other. There is evidence to support theories that technology can at least provoke social change.

Technological determinism helps to explain the past as well as what is happening in the present. Due to its exponential growth and development, even “experts” are often hard-pressed to predict technology’s future ramifications. By creating technology, we create our future, whatever that may be.

2 Responses to “Technological Determinism: How Much Technology Is Too Much?”
  1. Edward says:

    Your post, Technological Determinism: How Much Technology Is Too Much? | Alex Connell, is really well written and insightful. Glad I found your website, warm regards from Edward!

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