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Thinking About Technology


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Presentation for a guest lecture for a colleague's Media History and Contemporary Issues course. She wanted me to cover technological determinism and social constructivism, as well as through in some content about my research on multitasking and online reading.

Published in: Education

Thinking About Technology

  1. 1. How to think about technology Determinism, Constructivism, Momentum
  2. 2. Randyconnolly Professor, dept. computer science Mount royal university Calgary, canada
  3. 3. The common way of seeing technology is that it is akin to a cue ball impacting or altering the rest of society
  4. 4. In this perspective key technological inventions have transformedthe world. Thus new technologies need to be analyzed to understand the wide changes they will enact.
  5. 5. This approach to technology is generally referred to as Technological Determinism
  6. 6. (society, politics, economy, psychology, etc) Independent Variable Dependent Variables Technological Change determines
  7. 7. It is understandable why computer professionals find technological determinism attractive. We are the people helping to invent new technologies
  8. 8. It is also understandable why media professionals find technological determinism attractive.
  9. 9. It feeds our clear desire to be socially relevant
  10. 10. … and our desire to believe that we computer geeks (or media people)are the driver of social change, and not politicians, business people, or celebrities.
  11. 11. Most current historians and sociologists of technology firmly reject technological determinism theoretically inconsistent because it is empirically under-supported and
  12. 12. The well-established academic field of science, technology and society (STS) studies has time and time again found that when examined carefully most technologies rarely have had the effect that was expected or had the transformative impact people claim.
  13. 13. Some examples …
  14. 14. First some fine examples of bridges in the United States in the late 19thcentury. To begin, let’s look at a high technology of the 19thcentury: bridges.
  15. 15. 1884 1886
  16. 16. 1886 1869
  17. 17. Now, contrast those to some bridges built in the United Kingdom at the same time.
  18. 18. 1842
  19. 19. 1846
  20. 20. 1842
  21. 21. 1889
  22. 22. 19 BC
  23. 23. 368 AD
  24. 24. 1859 /
  25. 25. Again, contrast those to some bridges built in the United States at the same time.
  26. 26. 1884 1886
  27. 27. 1850
  28. 28. 1841
  29. 29. British bridges were “treated as monuments symbolizing progress already achieved, the whole ethos surrounding their American counterparts was one of expectations of future progress.” --Arnold Pacey, The Maze of Ingenuity: Ideas and Idealism in the Development of Technology Both these bridges were built in 1890 and cross a similar width of river, one in Britain, the other in the United States
  30. 30. The hot new technology of the 1850s?
  31. 31.
  32. 32. What was the point of all this decoration?
  33. 33. 1893 World’s Fair Chicago -Edison DC (internal) -Westinghouse AC (External)
  34. 34.
  35. 35. 1912 Stanley Steam Car
  36. 36. Sholes original typewriters were plagued by the bars jamming when typist typed too quickly. Remington (which bought Sholes), solved the problem in the 1880s with qwerty keyboard (i.e., made it harder to type quicker) and also allowed salesmen to quick type TYEWRITER. Example of alternate keyboard arrangement that is significantly quicker to type on.
  37. 37. “Because small, random events that happen early can be magnified to have great importance later, the eventual outcome can depend quite sensitively on circumstances –it is path dependent. … Such path dependence implies that the outcome can not be predicted with any certainty ahead of time.” Robert Pool, Beyond Engineering: How Society Shapes Technology(1997)
  38. 38. Technological determinism visualizes competing technologies as a marble in a bowl: gravity forces it towards the same destination regardless of the path it take (and thus technology is predictable)
  39. 39. Constructivist historians see technologies like a marble poised on top of an upside down bowl: the path the marble takes (and its resulting destination) can be quite different. Its path can be quite complicated to understand, and requires examining factors such as: the dissemination of scientific discoveries, existing technological infrastructure, market judgments, organizational decisions, actions by key individuals, etc.
  40. 40. however
  41. 41. While the path a technology takes will depend on a wide variety of factors made near the beginning of a technology’s development, it eventually follows a path that is constrained and difficult to veer from. Some people have called this technological momentum. A technology develops momentum or has inertia due to established interests (financial, educational, biases, social practices, etc) and it can be very difficult for a technology to shift or change drastically after that early stage.
  42. 42. Most technological deterministic impact prognosticators do their work by looking at the functional capabilities of a given technology and then imagining the impact of those functions.
  43. 43. The introduction of anti-lock disc brakes have not reduced accidents at all, because drivers tend to drive faster and tailgate more closely due to the improved braking technology and also partly because of increases in the intensity of traffic due to unexpected changes in urban geography.
  44. 44. The introduction of household technology did not end up creating, in the words of Ruth Schwartz Cowan, less work for mother, but in fact more work because of a series of social changes that could not have been predicted if one limited one’s analysis just to the functional capabilities of the household technologies.
  45. 45. it is always a mistake “to assess the impact of a technology on the basis of inference from capabilities instead of on the basis of evidence”
  46. 46. If we do examine the evidence we will see that the intrusion of ICT into reading is NOT improving human knowledge but doing the opposite
  47. 47. electronic Reading comprehension
  48. 48. Are there differences in the reading experience between paper and screen?
  49. 49. There is evidence that YES readers’ comprehension levels are significantly lowerwhen reading materials on the screen in comparison to reading paper materials
  50. 50. EvelandJr, W. P., & Dunwoody, S. (2001). User control and structural isomorphism or disorientation and cognitive load?: Learning from the web versus print. Communication Research, 28(1). Liu, Z. (2005). Reading behavior in the digital environment. Journal of Documentation, 61(6). Macedo-Rouet, M., Rouet, J. F., Epstein, I., & Fayard, P. (2003). Effects of online reading on popular science comprehension. Science Communication, 25(2). Ji, S. W., Michaels, S., & Waterman, D. (2014). Print vs. electronic readings in college courses: Cost-efficiency and perceived learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 21. Ackerman, R., & Lauterman, T. (2012). Taking reading comprehension exams on screen or on paper? A metacognitive analysis of learning texts under time pressure. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(5) DeStefano, D., & LeFevre, J. A. (2007). Cognitive load in hypertext reading: A review. Computers in Human Behavior, 23(3). Mangen, A., Walgermo, B. R., & Brønnick, K. (2013). Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension. International Journal of Educational Research.
  51. 51. Why are comprehension levels lower?
  52. 52. Scanning while Consuming electronic text
  53. 53. Research into actual behavior when consuming text online provides clear explanation for diminished comprehension
  54. 54. Early research into web usability quickly uncovered a very important fact about how people actually read on the web
  55. 55. How long do you spend visiting a web page? You’re looking at the answer
  56. 56. The evidence for this is verystrong It has been empirically verified via server records, eye tracking in labs, and monitoring software.
  57. 57. The science for this is very well validated empirically Users are reading at best 20% of the text on a web page.
  58. 58. Are academics any different?
  59. 59. NOPE
  60. 60. Reading time: Paper 10-15 min
  61. 61. Reading time: acrobat pdf 1-2 min
  62. 62. users rarely have even remotely accurate insight into their actual scanning behaviors
  63. 63. Academic’s self- assessment of their pdfreading time 5-10 min
  64. 64. and distraction multitasking
  65. 65. One absolutely vital feature of most current electronic reading devices is that they contain within them substantial potential for distractibility.
  66. 66. This potential distractibility lowers comprehension levels and lowers task completion probabilities.
  67. 67. It is becoming progressively more common for people to multitask, especially in regards to different media technologies.
  68. 68. Who cares? Some have argued that younger digital generation can multitask successfully
  69. 69. unfortunately The evidence tells a different story
  70. 70. For instance
  71. 71. Bowman, L. L., Levine, L. E., Waite, B. M., & Gendron, M. (2010). Can students really multitask? an experimental study of instant messaging while reading.Computers & Education, 54 (4) Levine, L. E., Waite, B. M., & Bowman, L. L. (2012). Mobile media use, multitasking and distractibility.International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning (IJCBPL), 2(3), 15-29. Ophir, E., Nass, C., & Wagner, A. D. (2009). Cognitive control in media multitaskers.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(37) Aguilar-Roca, N. M., Williams, A. E., & O'Dowd, D. K. (2012). The impact of laptop-free zones on student performance and attitudes in large lectures. Computers & Education, 59 (4) Fried, C. B. (2008). In-class laptop use and its effects on student learning. Computers & Education, 50(3), Junco, R., & Cotten, S. R. (2012). No A 4 U: The relationship between multitasking and academic performance.Computers & Education, 59(2), 505-514. Lee, Y., & Wu, J. (2012). The effect of individual differences in the inner and outer states of ICT on engagement in online reading activities and PISA 2009 reading literacy: Exploring the relationship between the old and new reading literacy.Learning and Individual Differences, 22 (3) Judd, T., & Kennedy, G. (2011). Measurement and evidence of computer- based task switching and multitasking by ‘Net generation’ students. Computers & Education, 56 (3), Brasel, S. A., & Gips, J. (2011). Media multitasking behavior: Concurrent television and computer usage. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(9). Yeykelis, L., Cummings, J. J., & Reeves, B. (2014). Multitasking on a single device: Arousal and the frequency, anticipation, and prediction of switching between media content on a computer. Journal of Communication Sana, F., Weston, T., & Cepeda, N. J. (2013). Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. Computers & Education, 62. Rubinstein, J. S., Meyer, D. E., & Evans, J. E. (2001). Executive control of cognitive processes in task switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 27(4) Wood, E., Zivcakova, L., Gentile, P., Archer, K., De Pasquale, D., & Nosko, A. (2012). Examining the impact of off-task multi-tasking with technology on real-time classroom learning. Computers & Education, 58(1).
  72. 72. the evidence is very consistent Heavy media multitaskers(of any age) have lower grades, less self-regulation, lower motivation levels, and lowered learning
  73. 73. So is this just something that only those young kids are doing?
  74. 74. NOPE
  75. 75. How frequently will this person switch her attention between devices?
  76. 76. About every 2 to 5 seconds Attention lengths of 5 seconds for laptop, and 2 seconds for TV
  77. 77. Multi-tasking on one device? Task switch happens about every 19 seconds
  78. 78. Are we aware of how frequently we task switch?
  79. 79. NOPE
  80. 80. Test subjects underestimated their attention switches by 88%
  81. 81. In An overview of the evidence researchers concluded that availability and usage of ICT had a direct and negative impact on literacy , knowledge, grades , and creativity (even after controlling for other factors)
  82. 82. please is this almost over?
  83. 83. YUP
  84. 84. In all these cases the expected social impacts of a technology ended up being wildly wrong because either the prognosticators believed in a naïve technological determinism
  85. 85. or Because the prognosticators Used simplistic future models Based on the technology’s Functional capabilities
  86. 86. The first step Then we should take when Thinking about social consequences Of technology is to remember how rarely technologies achieve their promise, and indeed, how many do the opposite.
  88. 88. The third step Is not relying on anecdotal evidence, marketing hype, or hasty web-based journalism When looking for evidence about social effects of technologies.
  89. 89. There are many excellent evidence-basedacademic journals that should be your source for information about social consequences of new technologies.