Try counting how many times a day you look at a text, check your email or scroll through Facebook. Have you ever thought about how digital technology affects your life and your interactions with other people? Or have you considered the impact of the digital age on society and culture at large? If you are interested in sociology, the answer to both is probably yes.
The relationship between technology and society has been an important focus of sociological study, long before the advent of the digital age. But with the exponential advancement of modern, digital technologies has come rapid, turbulent social change, entirely reshaping local, national and global social structures. For those who would like to learn more about the interaction of technology and society, Northern Kentucky University (NKU) offers a fully online Bachelor of Science (BS) in Sociology which covers this subject in depth.
Technology's Historic Relationship to Social Change
The effect on technology on society is not a new or even relatively recent phenomenon. The meaning of "technology" is simply the application of science or knowledge, the creation of a tool, and use of the tool to solve a problem. People have always been dependent on technology, from the first tools used to build fire or store water to the wheel or the steam engine.
As each new technology becomes the norm, people grow to rely on it to the point that society would not function in the same way without it. Technological development is so interconnected with social change that what many consider the four "social revolutions" surrounded technological advancements: the domestication revolution, the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution and the information revolution.
Although not all of these terms are universally used, in concept, most sociologists would describe the present as the age of information. Information has become an essential commodity, valued highly just like any other commodity, whether agricultural or industrial. Moreover, the digitization of information and communication has led to the exponential globalization of economy and society, significantly impacting cultures world-wide.
Has Digital Technology Affected Society in Positive Ways?
Digital technologies are certainly at the root of many advancements in complex sciences, healthcare, communications, industry, information sharing and other such areas. And there is consensus as to the magnitude of impact of these digital technologies. But opinions vary greatly on which effects are negative and which are positive.
Social change is a neutral concept and can be seen as positive or negative from different standpoints. From the sociological perspective, any change that improves human social welfare could be seen as positive. But that is an oversimplification, as something that improves someone's lot in life (or a society's) may have the opposite effect on another person or society. Many of modern technology's effects on people and societies fall into this nuanced area of subjective experience.
What Are Some Examples of These Effects?
To illustrate the positive and negative effects of digital technology and communications, consider an aspect of economic globalization: outsourcing. Advancements in computers, instant communication, information transfer and transportation have led to large corporations from wealthy, industrialized societies outsourcing labor functions like manufacturing and telecommunications to countries where labor is much cheaper. This is a positive effect for the corporation because its profit margin increases. But it has a negative effect on workers who lose their jobs to outsourcing.
These technological advancements have also helped online businesses like Amazon and eBay flourish. These businesses effectively outsource the majority of their "labor" and "retail space" to the internet and automated mechanization systems. The companies benefit from low overhead and high profits. Consumers benefit from low prices. Brick-and-mortar stores lose business (or go out of business), and their employees lose their jobs.
Of course, the inter- and intra-personal effects of the digital age are perhaps the most fascinating. Many people in modern societies now engage with each other primarily through electronic communication and, specifically, social media. Many also use social media as their primary source of news, regardless of the reputability of sources.
Information has become democratized at the same time it has become self-selected. The concept of "facts" has become devalued. But social platforms have also allowed for the democratization of art, music, ideas and social movements. Revolutions and presidential campaigns have succeeded in large part because of modern digital media.
These are just a few of the many, complex effects of modern technology on society. Unequal access to modern technology causes a new digital divide of global social stratification. At the same time, technology gives old friends the ability to find each other on Facebook. School children in California can collaborate face to face, in real time, with children in Bali. Military personnel can conduct lethal drone strikes from across the globe. Technology's effect on society is complicated, nuanced, and a perfect application for sociological study.
Learn more about the NKU online Bachelor of Science in Sociology program.
Sources:ThoughtCo.: Sociology of Globalization
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