Hop on the bus or get left behind: An introductory analysis on the effects of social technology.

Ethnographic Sketch- Technology and Social Media

TITLE: Hop on the bus or get left behind: An introductory analysis on the effects of social technology.
SOURCE: Conversation with Humboldt County local on Public Bus, and Casual conversation with Daniel Cutrone in a van driving to archaeological site.

RELATION: Conformity and Conflict (Spradley) p. 81-82: Relating to benefits of communication technology, Cultural Anthro (Robbins) p. 64: Relating to Robert Putnam’s idea of erosion of social capital.

I was on a bus this past spring, departing from Humboldt State University and headed toward the hotel with my mother. I was fortunate to be able to converse with the local (not an HSU student) who I happened to be sitting next to. She complimented the bracelet I was wearing, and showed me hers, saying she wanted to alter it somehow. We brainstormed various additions and she told me about her life, her relationships, and health issues. She was ecstatic that someone who sat next to her on a bus could actually have a human conversation. When I brought up that I was going to be an anthropologist, we began to explore the idea of why I was the only one on this bus full of people who had taken the time to converse. Looking around the bus, most people were either sitting silently with headphones on, or looking down at their cellphone texting (or possibly playing games, it is hard to tell these days). Many were doing a combination, creating a bubble of their own world. Her story and opinion sparked my interest in exploring whether the expansion of social media and technology is more beneficial or detrimental to the communication of mankind.
This encounter originally directed me with the intention of focusing on the negative effects on society from the increase in technology, there are many benefits. In her essay Technology and Society: Anthropologists Investigate the Use of Communications Technology and Reach Surprising Conclusions (Conformity and Conflict chapter 9), Belle Mellor explores the many uses and benefits of technology. For example, she points out the ability to multitask, that “…there is only so much time you can spend talking.” She elaborates saying that messaging allows “…continuous [contact] during the day.” I agree that for those who maintain a busy schedule can really benefit from this technology, especially in situations where personal contact is irrelevant. Mellor also brings up a fantastic point, that increasing technology allows for greater communication across the globe. Many families and friends can easily keep in touch. She brings up a case of a Spanish girl living with her family in Switzerland, who is able to do homework with her aunt in Spain. This is accomplished for free, through the Skype video-internet service.
Although it is very advantageous to be able to reach others we care for, I do not think this increasing modernity is necessary. During my first field school, my instructor Daniel Cutrone brought up the point that there are wise minds who have a great knowledge to share are often unable to do so, due to the rapidly increasing dependence of the rest of the world on technology. This disconnects their ability to channel that information to future generations. Oral tradition is very important to many cultures, in some cases it is the only form of transmission through eras. In cutting off those elders, we are losing a shoulder to stand on. This leaves the future youth in the dark, or without common sense necessary to decipher the constant bombardment of information they do receive. The architecture of wisdom loses its foundation.
I have personally grown up in this digital revolution, and have experienced the how it was before everyone was expected to own a cell phone. I remember the days where I would collect call my mother from a payphone for a ride, or stay up late on the house phone talking to a friend. Now my cell feels almost like a leash, everyone can reach me at any time. It is convenient but not necessary; I got along fine before they were around. Regardless of my opinion, I do not feel I have the choice to abandon technology. I do know several people who have chosen not to conform, and they have spoken of feeling out of the loop. This displacement is further exacerbated with the utilization of online classes in universities. What was wrong with the traditional method? When I was able to speak with the girl on the bus, I felt a more human connection and a part of her stayed with me. Oral tradition creates a spark of emotion and memory that text cannot. Words on a screen, even if articulately written, are completely up to the reader’s interpretation.
Robert Putnam claims that social capital, or the network of reciprocal exchange between people, is declining. He attributes this mainly to electronic entertainment, especially television, but I see the same can be said about more recent technology. (Robbins p. 64) Although societal influences direct us toward utilization of communication technology, it is ultimately the choice of the individual. Information can be accumulated in more than one way.
Edit: 12/2/2011
Source: Watched this in Anthropology club, it is a little lengthy, but I think it gives a good summary of how some use technology
URL (in case the embed fails): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU

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