Since the results of these efforts to date have been mixed, it is important to see if there may be some truth to these arguments concerning the harmful effects of technology-based activities such as social media on young people, and these issues are discussed further below.
The Internet and the Dumbing Down of Society
The adage that "the more things change, the more they stay the same" is no longer true according to Evgeny Morozov. Writing in Prospect magazine, Morozov (2010) argues in his essay, "Losing our minds to the web" that, "The internet is damaging teenagers' brains and our ability to think. But the web's real dangers lurk elsewhere" (1). Like any other muscle, Morozov and like-minded critics of technology maintain that the Internet has caused young people's brains to weaken because they are not being "exercised" enough by traditional standards. In this regard, Morozov emphasizes that, "There's no way for readers to be online, surfing, emailing, posting, tweeting, reading tweets, and soon enough doing the thing that will come after Twitter, without paying a high price in available time, attention span, reading comprehension, and experience of the immediately surrounding world" (3).
Some observers might counter that the ability to simultaneously "be online, surf, email, post tweets and read tweets" might be valuable educational assets, socialization resources and job skills, but Morozov still argues that technology is being so intensified that it is harming the ability of young people to think. For example, Morozov notes that, "With iPods and iPads… information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment" and adds, "Of course there is a price to pay for processing information. But the real question is: is the price too high?" (4).
The "high price" referred to by Morozov and like-minded critics of innovations in technology is in fact the so-called "dumbing down" of American society in general and American young people in particular. In support of his argument, Morozov cites an article published in Atlantic magazine entitled, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" By Nicholas Carr (2008). In Carr's article, the argument is made that trying to process all of the information available today is like drinking from a fire hose, and suggests that, "Those concerned with the accelerating rhythm of modern life, the dispersion of attention, and information overload -- all arguably made worse by the internet -- found a new ally. Those concerned with the trivialisation of intellectual life by blogs, tweets, and YouTube videos . . . also warmed to Carr's message" (Morozov 5). Although the jury is still out, Morozov cites a growing body of research that does indicate there are some change taking place in the way people think that will have important implications for professionals in the helping professions with respect to ethics and privacy and these issues are discussed further below.
Ethics and Privacy Concerns in Relation to the New Technologies
The helping professions are bound by a number of professional codes of ethics concerning the need for confidentiality and the importance of the client-provider privilege (Corey 2011). Besides these professional codes, a wide range of federal and state laws control how private information must be handled by helping professionals, including the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that includes a Privacy Rule concerning the protection of all confidential information transmitted through digital or telephonic means (Corey 2011). During the past decade or so, Corey reports that, "We have become so accustomed to relying on technology that careful thought is not always given to subtle ways that privacy can be violated" (227). Because a trusting relationship is an essential part of the treatment process, Corey stresses the need for careful handling of sensitive patient information.
Given the accelerated pace of technological innovation and the ease of misuse of private information, the need for informed approaches to handling patient information has become more important that ever, but the many of the same challenges that face educators in using technology in the classroom effectively also affect the ability of helping professionals to manage this information. Therefore, special care must be taken to ensure that patient information is protected and that providers secure sensitive data such as access codes and passwords (Corey 2011). These common-sense guidelines are likely well-known to most helping professionals, but Corey emphasizes that lapses in good judgment have become easier due to the widespread use of digital technologies such as cell phones and other mobile devices. Thoughtful providers will use such discretion of course in all of their information exchanges, but Corey makes it clear that slipups are commonplace where diligence is not constantly exercised. While innovations in technology have had special implications for the helping professions, businesses of all types and sizes have also been affected and these issues are discussed further below.
Implications of Social Media Technologies for Business
From a business perspective, it does not matter whether teenagers' brains are being rewired or whether it is harmful that their habits are changing to include the use of handheld mobile devices. What is important from a strictly business perspective is that these changes are also opportunities that can be used to help grow a business in ways that never existed in the past (United Breaks Guitars 2010). Companies that ignore these opportunities do so at their peril because their competition is lining up to exploit these social media networks to gain a competitive advantage. Not only do social media such as Facebook provide access to an enormous market, this market can easily be segmented and targeted through highly cost-effective marketing methods.
More importantly, businesses are able to keep track of where their customers are coming from and do more of what is working best for them. These dual trends of technology being used in new ways in the classroom and for business purposes means that change is going to be inevitable, and this clearly scares some people because people hate change. This fear of changes appears to have motivated many of the criticisms that have been leveled against technology-driven practices in recent years, but these same arguments were shown to have been made against other innovations in technology throughout history. Some nay-saying caveman even probably argued that learning how to make fire was evil, or that the bow-and-arrow would bring about the decline of society's youth.
Nevertheless, the handwriting is on the wall for all to see and even if young people's brains and ways of thinking are changing, they also probably changed after humankind learned how to make fire, grow crops and navigate the oceans. Technology creates change, of course, and even at the accelerated pace that is taking place today, people can only handle so much information and the Chicken Little warnings about the sky falling on America's youth appear to be misplaced. Young people today may be communicating in ways that are vastly different from their parents and grandparents, but they are still communicating, meeting in person, getting married, having children and paying taxes.
Certainly, the pace of change is accelerating and more and more information is becoming available online, but young people are not turning into so many robots but are rather responding in the same ways that their predecessors did when they were confronted with new technologies -- they took the best of what was available and used it to their best advantage. The same critics of technology such as radio and television are eating their words as these media continue to be popular around the world and have been used to good effect for marketing purposes for decades. Similarly, innovations in technology in recent years will most likely create changes in the way people go about their daily lives, but this does not mean these changes will necessarily be bad, only different from what observers are accustomed to.
The research showed that throughout history, technological innovations have created change. In most cases, it is reasonable to conclude that these changes have been for the good since humankind is still around to argue the point. The pace of change, though, was also shown to have increased in major ways in recent years, due in large part to the Internet and the way it is being used by young people to socialize, have fun, access news and music and even earn a living. Educators, by contrast, are more concerned with how these changes are affecting their ability to delivery high quality educational services in the 21st century classroom to prepare students for a vastly different workplace than existed just a few years ago. The current fourth generation is going to be replaced by a fifth and a sixth generation of technology, and by mid-century, the interface with the Internet may be as simple as a wave of the hand or even just by thinking about something. In the final analysis, then, it is reasonable to conclude that humankind is not…