The Use Of Technology To Infuence Previous Generations Essay

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The Use Of Technology To Infuence Previous Generations

Introduction

There is a common saying that necessity is the mother of invention. Most inventions were designed to make our lives more comfortable and to improve our standards of living. The internet was initially designed to provide a reliable communications network that could be used even if some sites were destroyed by nuclear attack (Howe, 2007). Routers would be used to direct traffic around the network by means of alternate routes if most direct route was not accessible. It was made solely for national defense. In those days, the internet was not user friendly and it was solely used by computer professionals, engineers, scientists and librarians. Due to its complex system, home or personal computers were not available.

The Baby Boomers or those who are within the age of 43 and above have seen the advent of telephone, transistor radios, black and white television sets, typewriters and automobiles that created changes in the lifestyle of some individuals. As technology progress, we can now see a lot of modern appliances and better equipments than ever before. These days, we have digital phones and mobile phones, mp3 players and iPods, high definition television sets, computers and more sophisticated automobiles.

The days of heavy and bulky gadgets that are often left at homes and offices are over. These days, we can see people walking around carrying a phone, listening to music or radio on the streets, watching the news on their mobile phones and using laptops in the restaurants. The functions and the features of these gadgets are getting better each day. Smaller, slimmer and lighter gadgets provide comfort and portability for most consumers.

We have grown to be totally dependent on technology. The question that we need to raise now is for whom was these gadgets designed for? Were the electronic companies targeting the mature consumers or the young generation users? Did the present generation influence the Baby Boomers to use their technology? What are the effects of technological determinism in our society and culture?

Technological Determinism Defined

Technology means tools and gadgets such as mobile phone, computer, internet, iPod, etc. while determinism means that it is technology which determines the type and degree of social change and the course of history (Johnson, 1955).

The term technological determinism was coined by Thorstein Veblen, an American sociologist and economist (Chandler, 1996). It refers to the assumption that the new technologies are the primary cause of major cause of major social and historical changes at the macrosocial level of social structure and processes and/or subtle but profound social and psychological influences at the microsocial level of the regular use of particular kinds of tool (ibid.). It is the belief that technology develops by its own laws, realizes its own potential, limited only by the material resources available and regarded as an autonomous system controlling and ultimately permeating all other subsystems of society (Web Dictionary of Cybernetics and System, n.d.).

Marshall McLuhan, the philosopher and electronic media guru defined technological determinism simply as “we shape our tools and in turn they shape us” (Huster, 2000). McLuhan (1962) state that when media technology was introduced, it has shaped the way people in a society talk, write, feel and think and the channels of communication are the primary cause of cultural change. It also change the way our society operates from one technological age to another. Hence, a change in the medium is a change in society’s way of communicating. Today, people use mobile phones for wireless communication and instant messaging for talking through computer.

Technological determinism is a school of thought believing that technology is the single most important factor in determining the success of an organization (Oxford University Press, 2005). The advancement of technology is a sign of the countries’ progress. The creation of technology cannot be avoided. The believers in technological determinism often fear the impact of technology. They are the critique of technological progress and oppose the belief that technology is the only determinant of change.

Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y

The early Baby Boomers were born between 1946 to 1964 and aged between 43 to 61 (Marchand, 1979). They are starting to retire. Generation X is a term used to describe generations who were born between 1965 and 1980 and aged between 28 to 42 and they are noted for being the most tech friendly generations in American history (Wikipedia, 2007). They are referred to as Gen X, Gen Xers or Xgen. These generations have founded billion-dollar companies like Yahoo, Google, and You-tube among others.

The term Generation Y is used to describe those children born between 1981 to 1995 (Markiewicz, 2003). Today, the term has changed to include anyone born as early as 1976 to late as 2000. The term Generation Y is often shortened to Gen Y, Gen Yers or Ygen or Gyen. They are primarily children of the Baby Boomers.

Baby Boomers and Technology

New research shows that the Baby Boomers nowadays are overwhelmed by high-tech gadgets that often make them feel embarrassed, unhappy or plain dumb (Hendrick, 2005). The age of the person is a factor that contributes to the feeling of intimidation. Only 36 percent of those who are below the age of 40, said that they were tech-shy. However, 43 percent of those who are above 40 and 49 percent for those who are 55 and above claimed to be intimidated.

Among the 28,000 people interviewed, close to 50 percent of those who are younger than 40 adapt to new technology while 29 percent of those older than 40 are not willing to try out the new gadgets. Findings also show that the new gadgets are not attractive to people who are using corrective lenses. Hence, some products need to be redesigned without complicated instructions and intimidating features if companies intend to attract the older Baby Boomers.

A strong preference for a human guide or instructor on the usage of any gadget is evident for those who are 50 years old and above. These people are intimidated, annoyed and less patient to read the instructions written on the manual and prefer sales people to show them how to operate a digital camera, mobile phone, TiVo, iPod or PDA. The rapid change of technology magnified their inability to catch up and accept change. Just when they are comfortable with the gadget that they have mastered, a new one emerge on the market that makes them feel that they need to relearn things all over again when they upgrade their device.

Although more women are using instant messaging on computers or cellphones, gender is not a factor in terms of being intimidated with the new gadgets. Age remains to be a deciding factor in their acceptance of these new devices. The older they are, the less interested they become. It is very common that older people have poor eyesight and they have difficulties in reading the messages, menus, icons and toolbars. Therefore, when manufacturers design products, they must consider the needs of the aging population.

The Influence of Technology

The present technological environment is the major crossroad in the history of communication. Today so many people rely on the internet as a source of information and a medium of communication. Instead of going to the post office to mail the letters that we have written, we use the email as a quicker and convenient means of communication. The internet has also provided a cheaper means of communication. Now, people use the broadband to keep in touch with anyone instead of spending for costly overseas calls. Students use the internet to do their research homework instead of using the school or public libraries.

People read the news on the internet instead of reading the newspaper or watching the news on television. Some prefer to shop online instead of going to the department store. On one hand, technology has reduced time consumption, eliminated the inconvenience of traveling, and facilitated inexpensive global communication. On the other hand, the electronic advantage has also made human interaction and socialization suffer as a lot of people these days prefer to spend so much time staying in front of their personal computers. The ultimate effect of the internet is undefined and unpredictable. Its long term impact remains uncertain. However, the internet is a typical example where we shaped a tool, and now that tool is shaping us.

In the 1700s, fossil coal was developed as a source of energy when England ran out of wood. However, the continuous digging of coal mines resulted in a flood and the removal of water from the mines using hand operated pumps became inadequate. Hence, the steam engine was developed to solve the problem.

As time progresses, the steam engine was used in textile factories, locomotives, steamboats, farm equipment and power plants that resulted in an increase demand for iron, steel and coal (Merkel, 2000). This demand resulted in large-scale coal and iron ore mining and steel plants. Labor union movement and industrial revolution emerged that gave rise to human progress and wealth. The steam engine is also a classic example of technological determinism.

Mobile Technology for all Generations

In terms of connective technology, mobile phones and internet usage are widely used around the world. In a study made by InsightExpress (2007), 80 percent of the 2015 mobile respondents in the USA owned a mobile phone, while 78 percent of the Americans have internet access spread evenly across the generations. Leading the survey is Gen Y (ages 18-24) at 85 percent, followed closely by Gen X (25-44) at 82 percent, younger Baby Boomers (45-54) at 80 percent, and older Baby Boomers (55-64) at 79 percent.

With regards to their plans in upgrading their mobile devices, over half of Gen Y-ers and 37 percent for Gen X-ers plan to upgrade next year or so, and 30 percent of younger Boomers and 24 percent of older Boomers plan to upgrade next year. This indicates that all generations want the latest mobile gadgets.

In terms of having mobile phones that allow users to connect to people and information in a variety of ways, 51 percent of Gen Y-ers have mobile phones that can access the internet followed by 47 percent of Gen X-ers, 39 percent of younger Boomers and 32 percent of older Boomers. This shows that the Boomers are not far behind from the Gen Y-ers and Gen X-ers. In addition, 75 percent of younger Boomers have text messaging capabilities, 54 percent have ring tones, and 52 percent have camera phones.

Mobile Behavior

Sending text messages is a cheaper means of communication in comparison with making phone calls. Forty-three percent of the Gen Y sends text messages on a daily basis while 16 percent of the younger Boomers and 10 percent of older Boomers text daily. This may be attributed to the fact that the Gen Y-ers are not as financially stable as the Baby Boomers; hence their preferences for an economical mode of communication. A strong preference for calling instead of sending text messages may be due to the Boomers desire for a faster and easier ways of communicating.

When it comes to accessing the mobile internet daily, the survey finds that 8 percent of Gen Y uses the mobile internet while 4 percent of the younger Boomers and 3 percent of the older Boomers do so. The temptation of using the mobile phones is strong for individuals of all ages. In spite of the laws in many states against using mobile phones while driving, the survey reveals that 47 percent of Gen Y-ers, 42 percent of Gen X-ers, 37 percent of younger Boomers and 28 percent of older Boomers send and receive text messages while driving. All generations engage in the practice of talking on the phone without a hands-free device.

The research conducted by InsightExpress clearly shows that mobile technology is widely used and accepted by the consumers regardless of their age. Although the Gen X-ers and the Gen Y-ers grew up with the sophisticated gadgets, the Boomers have managed to adapt to the rapidly changing technology. Regardless of whether the internet or mobile devises were designed, produced and marketed today or tomorrow, people of all generations will accept anything that would make their lives comfortable.

Generation Gap

Although there are studies made that the older generations are moving towards acceptance of the technology of the present generation, a generation gap still exist in terms of the usage of the latest gadgets. A survey and news articles revealed that a conflict between generations exist when it comes to using online services (Pew/Internet & American Life Project, 2005). While the younger generations are impatient with the older generations’ sluggishness to adopt the latest online product, there is a strong value for privacy among the older generation who believe that any private information should not be published on the internet (Nussbaum, 2007).

Hence, while the youngsters are having fun with the social networking tool as MySpace, Skype, ot YouTube, in searching for friends, and contacts, the oldsters still prefer a face-to-face contact (Hamm, 2007). They also use the information superhighway to post videos to and pictures of their weddings, and the birth of their children.

Teenagers prefer to use instant messaging or text messaging for talking to friends to reach them wherever they are or post to a communications network and they use e-mail to communicate with old people and with their professors (Carnevale, 2006). Although 86 percent of more than 1,300 students at the University of Illinois at Chicago have not given up on email, they often consider messages coming from their colleges a form of spam (ibid.).

People who are born from the internet generation have innate technological skills and they require little or no training in usage. This however, does not suggest that older adults do not go online. They also use the internet for banking activities, do online shopping, share pictures of their families, and download music and movies. The big difference lies in the fact that the seniors have the money to pay for these activities.

The older groups were not as fast to pick up on the information on a Web site and they do not see the links as quickly as the younger group (Zook, 2007). The web designs are not as comfortable to the older generations although suppliers of user generated online content are not age restricted and all generations are included when describing social networking phenomenon (Dye, 2007).

The major purpose of using new technology in creating blogs, website, emails or text or instant messages is to enable the users to communicate effectively and to connect people with a shared purpose, regardless of whether they belong to the generations of Baby Boomers, X-ers or Y-ers. What matters is to know how to reach them in their own world and in their own preferred medium.

Technological Determinism

One of the debates in the field of science, technology and society studies is whether technology has shaped society or has society influenced the development of technology. The former is associated with technological determinism and notions of technology as a force dominating other basic social institutions. The latter is associated with social construction of technology.

Langdon Winner was the leading defender of some aspects of the technological determinism thesis in his first book, Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control (Cutchliffe and Mitcham, 2001). In the chapter “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” of his second book, The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology, Winner noted the irony of the contentions of the strongest defenders of technology who felt that although technology is beneficial, it is impossible to change the direction of its development.

With this contention, we can now question ourselves as to whether our history has been defined by its technologies considering the technological development of our times. If we trace our technological development, we can say that we have progressed from “stone age”, “iron age” and now “computer age”. If the change in technology is good for all, why can’t we just accept and live with it? If technology is not good, why is there an absence of control in its progress and why is there no move in stopping technology? These questions can help us assess the strength or weakness of the self-directed force that technology has brought in our culture.

The focus on technology and society debates was believed to be the important features of technology and technological change. One can only recognize that since Generation Y has grown with technology and Generation X started to modernized technology, they may welcome its progress and changes without even considering about its outcome in the society. In contrast, the economist, historians and social theorists would continue to stress that the force of technological change followed a path where its outcomes are predictable. To understand the effects of these changes will lead us to investigate the effects of modernization on human communication.

Modernization means the appearance of modes of social life or organization that emerged in Europe from about the seventeenth century onwards which became worldwide in their influence (Giddens, 1991). Modernization theory has evolved in three waves and it explains the changing ways of communication and media use in traditional and post modern societies (University of Twente, 2004). The first wave of theory produced three variants in the development of economic, literacy and cultural and national identity most of which have been discredited because of their pro-Western bias (McQuail, 2000). The second wave of modernization theory does not support but criticize the influence of Western modernization that became popular in the 1970s and 1980s (Schiller, 1976).

The third wave of theory that has risen in the 1990s attempts to expose the contradictions in the modernization process and explains the consequences of modernity for individuals in modern-day society (Giddens, 1991a, 1991b). It is neither in favor nor against modernization. Giddens showed that while traditional society is based on direct interaction between people living close to each other, modern society is characterized by time-space distantiation and disembedding mechanisms. Hence, Van Dijk (1993) stressed that the rise of computer networks and mobile telephony is an important tool for modern life. This will enable us to keep our interactions with people across the globe. As Stewart Brand (1995) explains to the readers of Wired magazine, “Technology is rapidly accelerating and you have to keep up.”

Technology is the product of human action and the result of the workings of dynamic processes. As the outcome of past action and constraint, it has the potential to shape and enable action. It is not analogous to social structure because it takes material form; hence, technology does not acquire the status of a natural resource. Technology is always a product of human action and knowledge and always requires further knowledge and action to maintain and reproduce it (Garnsey, 1994). The experience of technology is often the experience of an ineluctable force which structures our way of life in ways we cannot control, as the forces of nature might do (Hill, 1988).

An analysis of technology is presented in studies of the sociology of science and technology (Latour, 1987; Bijker et al., 1989) and resolves many of the problems of determinism that gave rise to the mechanical conceptions of technology. Barley (1986) and Orlikowski (1990) have shown that the concepts of structuration theory can be applied to the analysis of the role of technology in organizations and in social systems. But because technology takes material form, it may be misleading to treat it as a structural property of social systems as Orlikowski (1990) has proposed.

Unlike technology, social structures and structural properties have no material existence. Social structures exist by virtue of the knowledge and actions of those who instantiate them through their practices; structure is seen as both ‘medium and outcome’ of human action (Giddens, 1984). The physical interactions which are manifestations of social structure are not exhaustive of the relationships associated with those interactions; in giving primacy to physical interaction certain behavioral approaches come close to reifying social structure (Wellman and Berkowitz, 1988).

Social structures draw on shared knowledge, on rules and roles, on shared symbolism and mutual expectations. Unlike social structure, technology can take material form. Technology has a physical form and is manifest as a set of entities, though a broader conception includes the knowledge and social practices required to create and activate technology. The problem of reification does not arise in relation to technology. With the growth of information systems, technologies have a symbolic dimension in the written word and number, reminding us that social systems are made up of symbolic as well as physical interaction.

Mowery and Rosenberg (1979) pointed out that human needs are almost infinite and often long felt, and cannot explain the emergence of a particular invention at a certain time. They also criticized a series of confusing studies undertaken in the 1960s and 1970s which illustrated market demand as the force behind innovation. Eventually, Mowery and Rosenberg came to the conclusion that innovation is the result of the interaction between science and technology push factors (Katsikides, 1994).

Freeman (1987) states that new technological systems can offer such great technical and economic advantages to a wide range of industries and services that their adoption becomes a necessity in any economy exposed to competitive economic, social, political and military pressures. Increasingly in this century, the world-wide diffusion of such new techno-economic paradigms dominates the process of technical change for several decades and powerfully influences economic and social developments even though it does not uniquely determine them (ibid.).

Technological developments, like other social, economic and technical approaches, are not socially neutral, and in the end they deal with different traditions e.g. European, US, Scandinavian, Japanese, etc. (Katsikides, 1997). They accumulate social processes and reflect them, or, as Thomas Kuhn (1970), put it, ‘a failure to assimilate fully new conditions and technology will strain the existing structures’ of society.

Conclusion

As we examine the progress of technology, we cannot deny the impact that technological development and innovation has brought to our society. Although researches have shown that the latest gadgets are challenging and frustrating for the Baby Boomers, there are studies that also revealed that this generation have accepted the use of the internet and mobile phones for communication. Although generation gap exists in terms of technology usage among the Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y, there are companies today that are designing user friendly gadgets for the Baby Boomers. This only shows that the industry has seen a growing market for the older group of people who are financially stable and have better purchasing capabilities. Hence, the design of the future technology will be made for all generations regardless of age.

Technology, being a product of human action and knowledge, require further knowledge and action for its maintenance and reproduction. It has structured our way of life in ways we cannot control. The use of technology to enhance communication has greatly influence people to adapt to the medium that will enable them to send and receive messages that are commonly use by the norm.

This explains that with every development of new systems of technology, our culture or society will change and adapt to that technology. There is no end to the continuous development and improvement of technology because we are living in a fast paced world where everyone spends more time away from home. Changes are inevitable and necessary. The theory of technological determinism will only be proven wrong if a new technology is invented and nothing changes in our society.

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