ISSUE: Is Technology making us more connected?

7 pairs of students created the following consensus statements on this very issue


Although technology promotes in some cases individualism and challenges the coherence of an active society, it offers unique opportunities for social interactions that could not be realized through traditional methods of communication. Hence, technology ‘can’ contribute to social capital. However, so far, it is unable to fully substitute for the traditional face-to-face experience. Current technologies such as the interactive video-sharing websites (ie. Youtube) have evolved beyond the passive one-way television and allowed for individuals to interface with content and users in ingenious and iterative methods. Those types of collaborative and democratic associations enhance the social capital and often strengthen human interconnectedness (i.e twitter in support for the Iranian cause). Fluid web 2.0 technologies and social networking sites are a platform that is able to support human engagement, freedom of expression and access to this flat world. Nonetheless, those online communities lack many of the human elements related to emotion and group processes which can not be fully duplicated virtually. Woolfolk recognizes that “the need for relatedness is the desire to establish close emotional bonds and attachments with others.” She also comments on the concept of “hot cognition” or the emotional influences on learning. Derry questions “whether anything is lost in the process of reducing the world to numbers. We certainly pay a price in the sense that we have lost both the raw sensory experience of what we study and any aesthetic dimensions it may possess.” In conclusion, whilst media yield to new avenues for sociability and affiliation, it is vital [...More...]

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Controversy3 Synth2 Putnam’s study on the interaction between technology, social capital and trust demonstrates a positive correlation showing decline on all fronts. All the factors analyzed point to television as the most likely initial cause, as it transcends generation, education, and other socio-economic factors. However, the shift to a service economy now requires more social-connectional ability which mobile technology supports, causing us to connect more through these venues in both our work and personal lives.   For instance, tools like Google Docs and Google Spaces can link together one person’s ideas with another and broadcast these in a much more expedient fashion than committee-style work, even at the global level. The implications of this cultural shift require more data and research not available at the time of Putnam’s study.  For instance, technology has enabled individuals to obtain education at unprecedented levels and Putnam acknowledges the correlate between social capital and education level.    Though he raises many interesting points and describes very relevant data regarding our changing society, his definition of social capital may also be out-moded.  This combined with the rapidity of technological changes creating interactive technologies make it imperative to collect new and continued research in this area to create a more complete picture of the effects technology has on social capital. Technology makes us more connected given the constraints in existence in our society today, but without further study, it is not apparent if these constraints are themselves a by-product of technology.

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New technologies allow people to interact with one another in new and expanded ways and participate in more organizations because their participation is not limited by time or geographic location. However, the capacities of these new technologies are yet not fully understood, nor are these new types of membership fully realized in today’s society. Whether virtual participation yields the same benefits as face-to-face participation (in terms of social trust, social capital, and social connectedness) is an empirical question, and one we desire to explore more fully. Putnam’s research investigates the role of television in the decline of social trust and civic engagement; however, the nature of new technologies is potentially more interactive than the consumptive nature of television. Therefore, Putnum’s research does not directly apply to technology as it exists today. New technologies definitely do allow for asynchronous joining of groups and group membership across great distance, two affordances that could potentially lead to better social connection experiences. Research is needed to better understand actual membership patterns and how those change with new technologies (e.g., are people members of the same types of organizations?) and investigate the effects of these new types of membership (how these types of membership affect members’ experiences, social trust, sense of belonging, etc).

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We, as a society, are less connected in our communities than generations prior, but we are more connected to smaller core groups.  There is one single factor that has contributed to both of these trends and it is technology.  With the rise of television, participation in social activities declined because television viewing is a completely passive activity and connectedness requires action.  Today’s technology has improved in terms of interaction, but it has not reached a level so as to replace the benefits gained from personal connections.  It does however give us the ability to communicate with more people, over a larger geographic region, within a shorter amount of time.  It allows people to stay more connected to their family, the nucleus of social connectedness.  Thus, as technology improves allowing more interaction, we can expect social capital to increase resulting in individuals that are not only connected to their families but to their communities as well. Tim Xeriland and Angelina Zeller

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Consensus Statement: Is technology making us more connected? A decline in social capital, as measured by participation in civic groups and political causes, is correlated with the popularity and passivity of television viewing.  However, there is evidence that technology is both isolating and connecting us as a country. We are more technologically involved than any preceding generation. However, our membership in traditional organizations such as Boy Scouts, Eagles Clubs and PTA is declining.  While television viewing may contribute to a decline in social participation, Internet use increases social capital. The versatility of the Internet far outweighs the constraints of the television.  Therefore, technology has the potential to help us be more connected when we chose to use it in ways that increase social capital.

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The unidirectional nature of the television and the rate at which Americans consumed the technology and its programming pulled Americans out of social gatherings and into living rooms, therefore disengaging them from that which produces social capital. However, technology is no longer unidirectional. [...More...]

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Summary Statement While trends in civic engagement and social capital may have been cause for alarm, the shift of technology away from passive consumption and towards content creation and social interaction may in time reflect different trends in civic engagement and social capital.  Clearly, passive consumption of media has been linked to societal ills from lack of newspaper reading to impacting childhood obesity rates. Yet newspaper reading is no more social an activity than Internet reading, and if technology provides greater opportunities for accessing and interacting with news, the possibility certainly exists that an increase of civic engagement, hence social capital, might result. In the end, it’s about how one utilizes one’s time and tools–all of these technologies can be connecting or disconnecting depending on how one chooses to apply them. The fact that there are more technologies simply means there are more choices, and probably there is more of a burden on the individual than before to consider those choices carefully. As we raise a generation of young people saturated in a multimedia environment, it is incumbent upon educators and parents to guide the responsible use of such diverse media.

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