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Social Interactions Through the Analytical Framework of Technology-Inspired-Culture and Culture-Inspired-Technology

Written for a Graduate Research Proposal

Social Interactions Through the Analytical Framework of Technology-Inspired-Culture and Culture-Inspired-Technology

How does existing technology transform and impact our culture, as well as pinpoint and highlight existing human social behavior? Specifically, this research will explore the role of social media technology in regards to the quality of interpersonal human relationships. It will also aim to answer if technology is used as an apparatus to inflate and deflate existing human compulsions rather than being a destructive tool on its own. This research will be an analysis of present-day technology, as a lens to view and critique modern human impulses and interactivity.

In addressing the extent to which technology affects our lives and relationships, two spheres of influence begin to emerge. The first being culture-inspired-technology, the product of a cultural response that reacts via inventing gadgetry to mediate, regulate, and foster various social interactions. For example, the printing press emerged to meet the demand of spreading religious knowledge. Although Gutenberg had several interior motives to invent the printing press, the need for more printed works, Bibles in particular - was influenced by the religious culture of the dominant Catholic Church. A more contemporary example is the front-facing camera, introduced in mobile phones in 2003 (GS Marena 1). This feature was created for video conferencing, but also served the dual purpose of allowing people to take pictures of themselves (GS Marena 1). It is evident from the critical function of this product that the narcissism within human nature influenced a market for this invention. Therefore, humans have catered to this cultural trait for millenniums, but this technology was specifically designed for doing so.

The other sphere of influence is technology-inspired-culture. In the case of the front-facing camera, a cultural development emerged when the acceptance and widespread practice of taking mobile self-portraits or ‘selfies’ grew in relation to this camera technology. Here, social interactive technology eventually created a shift from capturing the 'other’ to oneself. Snapchat is a social media application that enables users to ‘snap’ videos and photos of various moments throughout their day - regardless of the events’ significance. It allows users to ‘peek’ into one’s life on a moment-to-moment basis, rather than only significant events. As a result, fostered by the nature of human self-indulgence, such applications influenced a cultural development of mobile users showcasing and streaming their entire lives. Now, even an ‘ordinary’ individual has the ability to live in the public eye rather than the private moment.

Between these two spheres of influence, there is a clear symbiotic relationship between technology-inspired-culture and culture-inspired-technology. The popularity of social media applications like Instagram is primarily attributed to satisfying a need that meets cultural trends - with features that allow users to create self-portraits, as well as photographic ‘filters’ that help extend the appeal of a ‘selfie’. Instagram helped influence the creation of similar applications such as Snapchat, and in turn, those technologies inspired further cultural developments that spurred even more applications. This relationship helps establish an analytical framework to view and examine human behavioral and social issues by specifying the impact that technology has on culture, society and vice versa. Human desires are the main influencers as well as the main followers of the rise of social media technology.

Social media is largely criticized for its creation of negative technology-inspired-cultures. Therefore, taking periodic breaks from social media engagement has been recommended for improved mental and physical well-being (Mosca and Quaranta 1). However, technology is not the cause of mental and physical problems, but rather a projection of human behavior, action, and desire. The ‘hookup culture’ of casual, sexual encounters was not created by the dating application Tinder, instead, hookup culture existed before the digital age (Garcia; Reiber; Massey; and Merriwether 1). Moreover, influenced by the existing hookup culture, and social issues regarding isolation, depression, and lack of human interaction, Tinder was created to meet a demand. Tinder defined a marketable fusion of hookup culture, code and online dating, and consequently, influenced a mass-scale of social media applications that drew upon similar human behavioral patterns.

Research Methodology

This research will be conducted using qualitative, ethnographic methods. The goal is to explore the role of social media technology in regards to the quality of interpersonal human relationships. The interviews, analytic memos, and field notes will be gathered from the local University of Cambridge student population and will be an overt operation (to gain access and maintain consistent feedback). The research will examine three different student populations. Group A will consist of couples who both primarily rely on social media for communication as well as grew up in digitally oriented environments (had access to internet and personal cell phones before the age of ten). Group B will consist of couples that grew up in similar environments but do not rely on social media. And Group C will consist of couples that neither grew up in digitally oriented environments, nor rely on social media. The proposed demographic will be undergraduate couples between the ages of 18-21 years old. This is to observe if the same behavioral patterns and issues occur in their relationships in parallel to both living in modern technology-inspired-cultures whilst also using culture-inspired-technology. For example, do couples who primarily rely on social media such as Facebook Messenger (Group A) for communication experience the same issues with commitment, fidelity, and trust in their relationships as those who do not (Group B and C)? Therefore, if Group A experiences the same behavioral problems in their relationships as Group B and C, then in this case, technology might not be a large factor for communicative dissatisfaction. Another possible outcome might be that Group A experiences the same social issues as Group B and C but with an expedited or delayed rate. Moreover, to what extent will Group B and C’s technological background affect their behavioral patterns despite both choosing to not use social media? In acknowledgement of the complexity of this research, this experiment is multifaceted and is open to modifications due to uncontrollable variables in the research subjects.

Literature Review

A large number of industry professionals as well as academics across several disciplines have taken an interest in analyzing how technology affects the quality of human life and the quantity of those affected. Moreover, research has also been conducted to showcase the benefits, harms, and usages of social media and similar applications to the physical and mental wellbeing of humans.

In a 2014 London Study called “Social media interventions for diet and exercise behaviours: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials”, a group of researchers defined social media as “online applications that allow for the creation and exchange of user-generated content, and which can be divided into five different types: (1) collaborative projects (eg, Wikipedia), (2) blogs or microblogs (eg, Wordpress and Twitter), (3) content communities (eg, YouTube), (4) social networking sites (eg, Facebook) and (5) virtual gaming or social worlds (eg, Second Life)” (Williams; Hamm; Shulhan; Vandermeer; and Hartling 2). Under this definition, the research group analyzed exactly how social media intervened rather than existed parallel to human consumption and behavior. Fully acknowledging that although “many studies [examine] the use of computer and Internet-based interventions”, their group instead was evaluating new emerging social media tools (Williams; Hamm; Shulhan; Vandermeer; & Hartling 2). In other words, social media is no longer an external factor that promotes lifestyle habits but has shifted to an internal tool, ingrained in how people view, manage, and maintain their lives. Thus, although mixed results were produced, the study highlighted the importance of a continuous evaluation of new social media ‘tools’ as well as the impact of such tools (which goes beyond the screen).

However, this phenomena of studying the extent to which technology impacts our lives pre-dates the age of smartphones and social media applications. In 1983, Sheila Grinell published "Chips and Changes"—Examining How a New Technology Affects Our Lives in order to exhibit technology through the lens of museum anthropology as a subject rather than object(s) in itself (Grinell 3). Although Grinell does not focus on “precisely how the displayed technologies work”, she instead highlights to her audience the importance of “becom[ing] aware of chips' increasing presence in daily life” (Grinell 4). Through her visible work of emphasizing the electronic microchips by “using graphics throughout the exhibition”, she is also simultaneously presenting an invisible fear (Grinell 4). A fear that people will forget the chips’ presence as the commonality of the chips itself will render it, ironically, invisible. Although the specific objectives of the aforementioned works may differ, it is crucial to note that all of these researchers believed in the viability, and importance of exploring and analyzing the effects that technology has and will have on human society and culture.

Personal Background and Interest

At nine years old, I began working internationally alongside my father. By seventeen, I was a privatized international liaison officer while studying and living in an expatriate community. Therefore, my professional, academic, and personal affairs have always depended on social technology. In pursuing this fascination of my self-coined technology-inspired-culture and culture-inspired-technology, I have professionally founded both technology startups and digital media organizations, researched as an entrepreneur-in-residence, as well as led digital campaigns as Ivy Council’s national president. Academically, I have studied three distinct disciplines from the humanities, sciences, to arts and as a result, have permeated an interest within the synthesis of culture, technology, and visual art.

Citations

D'Emilio, John, and Estelle Freedman. (2012). Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press. ISBN 9780226923819

Garcia, Justin R.; Reiber, Chris; Massey, Sean G.; Merriwether, Ann M. (February 2013). "Sexual Hook-up Culture". Monitor on Psychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved 2013-06-04.

Grinell, Sheila. “‘Chips and Changes’—Examining How a New Technology Affects Our Lives.” Roundtable Reports, vol. 8, no. 5, 1983, pp. 3–5. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40478587.

GS Marena; NEC e606 - Full phone specifications". www.gsmarena.com. Retrieved 2018-05-22.

Mosca, Lorenzo & Quaranta, Mario (2016) News diets, social media use and non-institutional participation in three communication ecologies: comparing Germany, Italy and the UK, Information, Communication & Society,19:3, 325-345, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2015.1105276

Williams, G., Hamm, M. P., Shulhan, J., Vandermeer, B., & Hartling, L. (2014). Social media interventions for diet and exercise behaviours: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. BMJ Open, 4(2) doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/10.1136/bmjopen-2013-003926

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