The Headache of Technology

Linda Miller, in the Huffington Post, discusses the “headache” brought on by social technology. She’s not opposed to new technology. Rather, she advocates, as most of us do, for new and better technology that makes our lives easier and daily routines less complex. She argues that over the last few decades technology has failed making certain aspects of her life easier, working its way from “our functioning/working lives and moving rather aggressively into our social lives.” Social technology and online communication has her overwhelmed, going so far to associate herself with Lucy “working at the chocolate factory, scrambling to keep up with an ever-faster conveyor belt, desperate to hold everything together but doomed to failure.” The belief that social technology is aggressive and overwhelmingly altering our social lives reflects the discourse of technological determinism discussed in Baym‘s book Personal Connections In The Digital Age. This idea views new media technology as an “external agent that acts upon and changes society” (Baym, 25).

This article attributes power to the technology saying metaphorically that she “feels the pull” of Facebook in the morning and thinking her Twitter is full of information she should be reading or responding to. Miller suggests, with regard to social technology, that instead of having in mind the goal of creating “more, bigger, newer” social technology, we should focus on better. She proposes issues such as, multiple email accounts, no way to get priority information, and too many platforms with disconnected purposes, that are in dire need of  solutions. She longs for the time of simplified social communication; a time when technology gave her “leisure time” and she can sit down with her family or leave work early to go out for drinks with her friends. She attacks new technology for taking away this leisure time. In my opinion, too much power is being attributed to these new social technologies. Miller says the next wave of technology is going to give us back our time, but I don’t see this  wave coming anytime soon.

In her paper, Donath defines sociable media to be “media that enhance communication and the formation of social ties among people.” The computer is bringing us new social technology at a rapid pace and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Miller wants solutions and by understanding her ability to take action and using the technology to her advantage, she create a different discourse on technology namely, social shaping. As Baym points out, social shaping views technology arising “from a mix of “affordances” – the social capabilities technological qualities enable – and the unexpected and emergent ways that people make use of those affordances” (Baym, 44). Donath concurs with this point of view, writing the history of communication technologies have not always been designed for sociability, but people have found social uses for that medium. The computer gives us the freedom to design rather than being technologically determined.

Miller wants more face time, but I believe we’re moving in the opposite direction. Rather than wait for this “new wave of great technology,” we need to start to understand the social implications of the communication media, as Donath suggests. Donath ends her piece on sociable media with the idea that it is the goal of the designer of new sociable media to understand the world he or she “hopes of foster” and to create technologies that will lead to it.  New sociable media won’t cease any time soon, but leisure time is important  and it’s our responsibility to understand the media, the technological affordances, and respond to the new technology the way we want. Miller calls for more unmediated social interactions. Dr. David Beer, in his response to Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison, titled Social Network(ing) sites…Revisiting The Story So Far: a response to Danah Boyd & Nicole Ellison, claims we are leading lives with little or no unmediated interactions. The new technologies are so integrated into our lives, leading to an “increasingly mediated way of life.” Social shaping involves the co-production between what we want the technology to do for us and what the technology already allows users to do. While we may live in a time without any unmediated social structures, it’s important to take some responsibility and power away from technology. We need to move away from the technological deterministic approach and use the technology for what we want.


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