Are we ready for the consequences of a technology-ruled world?

Posted Apr 19, 2017 by Tim Sandle
Technology plays an increasingly big part of our lives with an array of gadgets and the development of the Internet of Things. Is the rise in technology a good thing for the human condition? A top academic thinks we need to pause for thought.
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Thomas Samson, AFP/File
Is our very deepening dependence on technology eroding some of our core principles? While much technology is ‘neutral’, how we use it is a matter of societal concern. How we use or misuse technology extends to areas like ‘fake’ news to dangerous activities like texting while driving. These are some of the concerns expressed by Michael Bugeja, professor and director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. Professor Bugeja has outlined his concerns in an article.
The questions posed by the researcher include why, if electronic communication keeps us more interconnected with the world, do increasing numbers of people appear displaced and isolated? That is as how access to the world becomes bigger, many of us feel smaller. One trigger for this, Bugeja argues, is that a wider access to media and the technological platforms to access this media has led to a ‘social gap’ which has eroded, for many, a sense of community. This void arguably seems to develop most greatly with people who spend an excessive amount of time in virtual rather than in real communities.
One concern the researcher has is with the dominance of advertising across digital platforms. Here he cites so-termed “media ecosystems” which have led consumers into a “global mall rather than a global village.” The consequence of this is impacting on society. "We are losing empathy, compassion, truth-telling, fairness and responsibility and replacing them with all these machine values," Bugeja argues, adding: "If we embed ourselves in technology, what happens to those universal principles that have topped wars and elevated human consciousness and conscience above more primitive times in history?"
The researcher takes ‘fake news’ as an example. Here social media has a tendency to cultivate news stories, based on our online habits, so that we are provided with a news feed that reflects our individual beliefs and values. This is replacing the broad spectrum of viewpoints offered by traditional news channels. The new way of accessing media provides an easy way for fake news stories to spread. There easier such stories spread, the more credence they attract. An example is with Facebook, where increasing numbers of younger people are using the social media network as there only source of news.
Professor Bugeja also sees a tendency for journalism in the current sphere to be more often than not dumped down. Too much journalism, he sees, is about correlation (that an event has happened) and not about causation (explaining why something has happened).
Professor Bugeja has further developed his ideas in a forthcoming book which is titled “Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine.” The treatise is not all doom and gloom. The researcher acknowledges the importance of technology in making people’s lives easier and he thinks the alienation that arises can be overcome if we seek to "repatriate to the village" (that is reinvigorating our local communities and interacting with our surroundings). The academic is also calling on schools and colleges to offer media and technology literacy courses so that younger people become more away about how news and advertising is directed at people and how much of what is read is based on algorithms; and that these programs assume we are provided with content that the algorithm calculates is best for us rather than opening up the user experience to a wider source of news and information.