Social Web and Technology: Moving Humans Into Uncharted Territory
The internet has changed the way humans interact with each other in every way. It has helped shape an entire generation of social interactions as well as helped people learn in ways that were not possible before. Within these interactions, the very roots of society are created. S these interactions have changed media and shape, the preferences and habits of socialization have changed as well. As a technology, social web has given people the ability to connect with other people and places that were at one time inaccessible. It also gives people unfettered access to information through first hand reports and stories. This access to information on a global scale is also changing the way socialization occurs.
Human beings have always had a certain access to information, whether within a small group or over technologies like TV, radio, or printed media. The capacity to process and digest this information and to make sense of it was often limited by both human brain capacity as well as the ability of the technology to share information, that is to say the technological limitations of the technology itself. As social web has come into existence, the tendency for technology to be limited in its scope and scale of information delivery has slowly diminished, leaving the human brain's capacity to process this information as the limiting factor of the technology.
Beyond limiting information, the human capacity for social interaction is also a limiting factor of new technologies as well. Currently, social web is a huge segment of the new media technologies that have presented themselves online and elsewhere. However, since humans have traditionally interacted in small to medium sized groups; it is difficult to really ascertain the effects that will befall humanity when technology allows people to communicate freely, regardless of location and distance restraints. This means that instead of only interacting with people locally, humans using the social web can now interact freely on a global scale. This technology has helped to open the floodgates relative to personal experiences and information.
For example, during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, people using social media like Facebook and Twitter were able to reliably report information from inside areas where no reporters were allowed. These same people were able to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and intentions to others around the globe, ushering in a new age of social media influence and identity. All of the gains in technology and social media connectivity have come with a price. This price is the decreased emphasis on personal privacy and a person's ability to critically digest the information they are receiving. The human brain has a specific capacity to understand and compute information as it comes to it. As technology becomes faster and more powerful, and people have increased access to more and more information, it will be exceedingly difficult for humans to make sense of this information overload, specifically using critical thought (Blossom, 2009).
Social web technology has given people convenient access huge amounts of information. But this access has also created a lack of context relative to where the information originates and how it is used. In the quest for faster access to this information, people's ability to truly digest and make sense of it as pieces of a larger picture has suffered. The ability to critically apply the information and skills that come from these applications is far more important than the information itself, and it seem as though these critical thinking and applications skills are becoming harder and harder to instill in a sea of pure information. If information cannot be properly utilized, within relevant context and in a realm that supports critical thinking, then the myth of information as a resource is dispelled. Capitalism and the push for ever increasing efficiency and speed have given value to resources and pools of information without placing any value or emphasis on how the information itself is vetted and synthesized.
This push for efficiency comes at a cost and as author Postman (2001) points out, technology has created a sort of hollow middle ground where the human need for information and the drive for ever-increasing efficiency has met. Postman states, "What does technology have to do with finding a profound reason for educating the young? Nothing. Indeed, if it were up to me, I would bar educators from talking about technical improvements until they have disclosed their reasons for offering an education in the first place. And such reasons are to be found in places where machines do not dwell and where gods of a different order speak their words." (Postman, 2001).
Postman paints an accurate picture of an education system where speed in information infrastructure is valued far beyond a person's ability to use the information in an accurate and meaningful way. Information has become a commodity whereas value placed upon critical thinking and the analysis of the information itself has faded. As Postman points out intellectual starvation occurs where people are taught how to access the information without the ability to make sense of it. Human cognitive functions relative to information processing and the speed at which the brain can handle information input have also been subtly changing, as more and more emphasis has been placed on acquiring information alone.
One example of this shift from cognition to sheer speed of processing has been exposed in a 2007 study to understand how people intake and process the information they are given. Recent technologies allow for huge amounts of information to be accessed, but these same technologies do nothing to aid in how the brain makes sense of the incoming information. The speed that humans can process information is something they can improve upon to a certain degree. This is to say that people are born with high or low potentials for processing speed (Dorfman, Martindale, Gassimova, & Vartanian, 2008). Compounding on this potential is the fact that humans are also born with certain capacities for creativity and critical thought processes. People are taught to value these brain functions differently, according to their educational and cultural backgrounds.
The study shows that these functions have an inverse relationship to each other. This is to say that as people's capacity for creativity rises, their ability to quickly process information decreases, and vice versa. This link has become evident in the way that people are currently taught to handle information (Blossom, 2009). The human brain can quickly process s well as critically think about incoming information, but it cannot often accomplish both tasks very well at the same time (Dorfman, Martindale, Gassimova, & Vartanian, 2008). Less ability relative to critical thinking creates the potential for a breakdown in humans' capacity to understand the context of the information they are processing.
Another study, which took place in 2000, (Smith, Luciano, Geffen, Geffen, Wright, & Martin) supports this assertion and shows that top-down learning often helps increase people's capacity for processing but not necessarily increase their intelligence and critical thinking skills. When information is taken at face value, instead of being dissected and digested for its content and meaning, a breakdown in the understanding and ability to use this information occurs. Cognitive function is directly connected to the vetting of information, and as people put blind faith in the information alone, without sorting it out or checking it against other sources, this brain function is severely limited. Since the capitalist drive within society has created a focus on speed as a viable business model and product, less thought goes into creating an information resource that is conducive to critical thought applications (Blossom, 2009). This has always been the task of the person processing and absorbing the information, and not of the provider itself. Information providers have become purely interested in technological advances in speed, and the education system has been retooled to support this refocusing.
Cognition and critical thought are important, and capacities for both are shrinking as more and more value is placed upon delivery of information. These skills can be honed within the realm of a person's capability to process information (Sheppard & Vernon, 2008). However, by increasing the capability to process information, people often decrease their ability to problem solve with the same information. This occurs as more information is processed and the types of information that are in disagreement with other pieces are sorted out into categories rather than being compared against other incoming information (Sheppard & Vernon, 2008).
This blind faith in the incoming information creates a sort of numbing of the critical thinking skills within a person's brain. Information alone is not knowledge. Knowledge cannot be attained without experiencing something first hand, or through the relating of these experiences. The information provided through experience is without value until it is applied to human existence and experience. In other words, information is hollow without the context of human experience, yet society puts more and more value on the information itself, which costs society dearly. These costs are derived…