Sunil Garg

Questioning the Internet’s Social Implications

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A large component of the trip to Amsterdam consists of social research in the region. We will be working with the Virtual Knowledge Studio, which is a relatively new Dutch think tank concerned with the evolving use of technology in research.

I’m particularly interested in how technology usage patterns differ in various regions of the world. For instance, the use of mobile phones differs greatly between most continents. These differences are especially evident when looking at their use in various regions of the developing world. While we’re not surprised to see a twelve-year-old carrying her own pink RAZR, it’s common for multiple families to share a phone and even a single email address in many parts of the world. Other ideas contrary to our usage patterns, such as airtime rental have created new markets for trade elsewhere and are allowing rural areas to connect with the rest of the world.

Ideas

The very advances in connectivity that are brought through new developments in communication technology carry the potential of modifying the way societies operate. People’s online behavior generally mirrors and extends their offline concerns, as is visible at any community website or forum. Online social networks have struggled with appealing to more than a small subset of the global population, as these concerns vary greatly between regions. For this very reason, Google’s Orkut has seen great success in developing regions such as Brazil and India, while Facebook is ingrained in the everyday lives of American college students.

Leading off of this issue is the fact that people have begun spending a significant amount of their social energy in online interactions – this means that people no longer have a need to connect with their neighbors for social stimulation. I suppose that this could make it more difficult for a tolerant society like ours or Amsterdam’s to promote assimilation and intercultural understanding, as individuals would be less likely to interact with others who have differing interests and value systems if they can find people similar to themselves online.

Questions

  • How do cultural differences in interpersonal interaction affect the way people use and expect technology to function?
  • Has the Internet’s emergence reduced cultural tolerance in Amsterdam due to the ease of long-distance communication?

Evidence

In order to study the effects of technology, it would be necessary to first determine the usage patterns applied in a region. These could be determined through surveys and interviews of end-users, as well as discussions with people who teach the use of technology, such as librarians. Interviews of the general population could be used to determine what is expected of technology, and how it is used on a day-to-day basis. To answer the second question, the above methods could be extended to gauge the general sentiment regarding Internet use and its consequences.

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