Extensions of Ourselves and Wearable Technology

Screen-Shot-2015-06-15-at-4.41.04-PM-728x400McLuhan argues that focusing on content rather than form causes people to miss the most important feature of the media: its ability to change human activity and interaction. He explains that in many cases, the content of a medium is another medium, for example: a text message contains the printed word, which contains writing, which contains speech. The media is such a pervasive aspect of human life that its effects often go unnoticed. McLuhan asserts that it is crucial to examine the media itself because most people are unconscious of it: “Perhaps the supreme quality of the print is one that is lost on us, since it has so casual and obvious an existence” (p. 178). He argues our constant interaction with the media camouflages its impact and restricts our ability manage the effects.

McLuhan suggests that we have ended at the consumer culture of television. The print culture turned language into a mass media that promoted nationalism, something impossible prior to print. When a new medium emerges, it begins by transmitting old or existing information rather than creating new ideas to help familiarize people with its use and function. McLuhan explains that new media eventually changes over time: “A new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace. It never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them” (p. 194). New media allows individuals to interpret and experience life in a different form. Additionally, McLuhan explains the impact of new media on human functioning: “The spoken word was the first technology by which man was able to let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way” (p. 69). When media combine, they change in their form and application, affecting our senses, environment, and the way we interact the media and each other.

Wearable-TechThis reading made me think the new wave of media devices that are currently being integrated into our lives. An example that came to mind is wearable technology like smart watches, Google glasses, and fitness bands. Today, people purchase wearable technology  to access real-time information from any location. Many of these devices have the same technology as computers and smart phones, except they are much smaller and are able to be worn on the body. Currently, 20% of Americans own wearable technology and those numbers are expected to rise in the coming years. According to PWC, users cite that wearable/sensor technology has enhanced their lives in three main ways: “improved safety, healthier living, and simplicity and ease of use”.

People can use wearable technology to locate their family members and friends. One of the notable applications for safety is called Wearsafe which alerts social contacts selected by the user in the event of a problem or emergency. This device is about the size of a quarter and send text updates of their location, streams audio, and the can directly call 911 with the push of button. Wearsafe is also advertised as a means of helping the elderly to feel more safe and confident living on their own.

smiling woman doing sports outdoors with earphonesIn addition to safety, sensor technology can provide us with health information and fitness tracking. Devices like FitBit Charge HR and Jawbone UP2 are two of the leading wearable technologies for health and fitness monitoring. These devices compile a person’s activity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week- tracking sleep cycles, monitoring heart and metabolic rates, and calculating the number of calories burned. Some of the devices are even capable of conveying information to health care providers which can be especially beneficial if a person has a serious allergy or medical condition like diabetes.

Finally, the simplicity and ease of use is another way wearable technology enhances our lives. Many of these devices  alert users of incoming calls, text messages, and emails, making it easier to stay connected. This year, the hotel chain- Starwood Hotels and Resorts- has introduced a new way of checking-in by allowing guests to use their smartphones or smartwatches to access their hotel room. With this technology, people no longer have to check-in with the front desk to get their room key. Instead they make reservations, check in, and access their room from their own smart device. Starwood Hotels and Resorts claims that this will help them to provide better customer service by freeing employees of time spent on  administrative tasks and providing them with more time to focus on the guest’s experience and needs.

consumer-technology-cloudWearable devices are advertised as technology that provides users with personal, real-time information that keeps us safer, healthier, and more efficient. Keeping this in mind, it makes me wonder what McLuhan would think of wearable/sensor technology as ‘extensions of ourselves’. How have wearable technologies changed the way we gather information and ‘sense’ our environment? I would argue that it affects our thought processes and functioning because people think and act differently when they are being monitored (or when their running pace is instantly published to Facebook) than when they are disconnected from technology. I am curious to hear your thoughts and comments on sensor technology as new media- do you think wearable technology affects how we function and process information?

References

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The extensions of man. New York: Gingko Press.

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McLuhan and the Complexities of Media

Electronic mediaMcLuhan (2013) examines the media (television, radio, phones, movies, computers, etc.) is its role in reshaping communication and society. He explains that the media is an extension of ourselves: “It is the persistent theme of this book that all technologies are extensions of our physical and nervous systems to increase power and speed” (Location no. 1285). McLuhan contends that the media is like a human appendage– as in the radio extends our ears, the phone extends our voice, and the computer extends our brain. McLuhan includes language as a medium and highlights its significant role in human development: “Language does for intelligence what the wheel does for the feet and the body. It enables them to move from thing to thing with greater ease and speed and ever less involvement” (Location no. 1147).

McLuhan maintains that the total effect of the media is better understood by focusing more on the medium and less on its content. He argues that the “medium is the message” because it “shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (Location no. 162). McLuhan notes that some mediums are more successful at conveying an effect or experience. He explains that mediums are either ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ based on context and audience involvement. McLuhan explains that ‘hot medium’ is complete, conveys more information and is low in audience participation (radio). Moreover, a ‘cool medium’ employs multiple senses, is incomplete, has insufficient data, is low definition and has high audience participation (TV).  For example, watching a cooking show like “Chopped” or “Iron Chef” on TV delivers a more enjoyable experience then if you listened to it on the radio. In regard to context, McLuhan reminds us that mediums affect cultures differently: “The hot radio medium used in cool or nonliterate cultures has a violent effect, quite unlike its effect, say in England or America, where radio is felt as entertainment” (Location no. 513-514).

Advances in electronic media have changed how we exchange and store information. The digital age has altered how we exchange information and socialize with others. The internet allows people to interact and share information on a global level. McLuhan explains that new media translates and transforms the human experience as an extension of human consciousness: “In this electric age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness” (Location no. 875). McLuhan argues that we should make a greater effort to examine the media and its effects on our increasingly globalized culture. He explains that increased awareness is vital because “understanding stops action . . . we can moderate the fierceness of this conflict by understanding the media that extend us and raise these wars within and without us” (Location no. 279).

Keeping in mind that the media is an extension of ourselves, I wanted to learn more about internet use and how it affects our brains. I found an article from The Guardian that examines the cognitive and social effects of habitual smartphone use. The author explains that people use smartphones because they can perform multiple functions such as email, phone calls, texting, web browsing, games, camera, etc. with one device. Smartphones are advertised as technology that makes our lives easier. Despite all the tools and resources that smartphones have to offer, Levitin explains that in the past, people hired travel agents to plan vacations and asked salespersons to help them find a product or service. Today, people use the internet to accomplish many tasks themselves. People tend to believe that they are more productive when they multitask. Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT, found that when people multitask, they are less efficient and spend more time trying to accomplish tasks. This is because our brains need time to refocus when we switch from one task to another. In addition, multitasking increases the production of the stress hormone, cortisol, when individuals make mistakes or take extra time to fulfill as task.

digital-marketing-technology-media-telecom1Furthermore, the article explains that multitasking has a negative effect on our learning abilities. Glen Wilson, a professor of psychology in London found that the “cognitive losses from multitasking are even greater than the cognitive losses from pot-smoking”. Finally, Russ Poldrack, a neuroscientist from Stanford University, found that learning new information while multitasking sends information to the wrong part of the brain. For example, when a student studies and watches TV at the same time, the information goes to the “striatum, a region specialised for storing new procedures and skills, not facts and ideas. Without the distraction of TV, the information goes into the hippocampus, where it is organised and categorised in a variety of ways, making it easier to retrieve”. The article suggests that people avoid multitasking and limiting distractions like cell phones, social media websites, and email. Every time we respond to a text or check Facebook, we develop a sense of accomplishment which releases dopamine in our brain. This behavior can become addictive and extremely counterproductive if left unchecked.

It seems as though electronic media can create as many problems as it solves. Has electronic media ever caused you stress or anxiety? How can we educate younger generations on how to handle the distractions and problems caused by new media? Has technology changed the quality of social interaction? Technological advances have expanded our social networks and enhanced our ability to communicate on a frequent basis- does quantity outweigh quality in social interactions?

References

McLuhan, M. (2013). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

Education- Good for Your Health!

This week’s readings focus on self-efficacy and its effect on an individual’s perceived ability to reach a desired goal or outcome. I found an interesting NPR article that discusses how increased education leads to higher self-efficacy and better health. The title of the article is “How Education Can Save Half a Million American Lives” and explains that earning a high school diploma is as good for one’s health as quitting smoking. How is this possible? The article is based on a 2015 study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, New York University and the University of Colorado. Researchers examined data from the National Health Interview Survey data and the American Community Survey to calculate American mortality rates of individuals based on three categories: 1.) having less than a high school degree, 2.) having some college rather than a baccalaureate degree, and 3.) have any level of education that is less than a baccalaureate degree, rather than a baccalaureate degree.

Two people working with computer and book.

The study found that “if every adult high school dropout in the 2010 population had a GED or a regular diploma, 145,243 deaths could be averted. Similarly, 110,068 deaths could be avoided for that year if every adult who already had some college finished their bachelor’s degrees. And if everyone in the population got a bachelor’s degree, the total untimely deaths would be reduced by 554,525”. Virginia Chang, co-author of the study notes that the findings are  not intended to make every American get a bachelor’s degree, but to urge the public and policy-makers to recognize the significant influence of education on American lives.

So why is education so important to our health? There are two main reasons. First, individuals with higher levels of education are more likely to attain jobs with higher income and are thus able to eat better and afford health and support services. The second reason is that education enhances cognitive skills and gives people “”more knowledge about health, more access to get that knowledge, more of a sense of agency, more self-efficacy, and better peer connections.” Researchers explain that when new health information is released, people with higher levels of education discover it first and have more access to treatment. The article concludes with a statement by Chang: “”In public health policy, we often focus on changing health behaviors such as diet, smoking and drinking. . . Education — which is a more fundamental, upstream driver of health behaviors and disparities — should also be a key element of U.S. health policy.”

The article explains that individuals with higher levels of education are more likely to access relevant information and support systems than those with lower levels of education. The ability to acquire knowledge builds confidence and ultimately higher self-efficacy. It seems that increased education (knowledge) leads to a number of positive outcomes for the individual and society as a whole. Economic and educational disparities not only affect a person’s self-efficacy, they also affect their lifespan. Although it is ideal for everyone to receive some sort of higher education, it is not economically feasibility for many Americans; this is a problem that deserves further examination.

Should increased education be considered in policies regarding public health?

The Influence of Television and Last Week Tonight

This week’s readings centered on observational learning. Whether deliberate or unintentional, the majority of social learning occurs in one’s immediate environment. However, Bandura (2001) explains that “a vast amount of information about human values, styles of thinking, and behavior patterns is gained from the extensive modeling in the symbolic environment of the mass media” (p. 5). Technology has expanded the range of modeling influences that people are exposed to on a daily basis and are no longer confined to their immediate environment for information. Through use of the internet, individuals have access to a global communication network with a limitless amount of information.

Bandura (2001) explains that television is another powerful source of social influence that is “best defined in terms of the contents people watch rather than the sheer amount of television viewing”(p. 12). Bandura (2001) continues to explain that heavy television viewing shapes the viewers beliefs and conceptions of reality” (p. 12). These are significant points because they show that the media not only influences an individual’s beliefs and values, they affect a person’s perception of reality. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, television viewing was the leisure activity that occupied the most amount of time (2 hours, 49 minutes) for Americans in 2014. Second to watching TV was spending time with family and friends and family. According to the Washington Post, streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu are on the rise with 40 percent of American households subscribing to a service. These sites allow people to continuously watch television episodes or movies without interruption.

In examining current television shows, it takes little effort to find examples of social stereotypes and other distortions of reality. Instead of highlighting the negative aspects of television, I wanted to discuss a show that has had a positive impact by addressing important social issues in an oddly comedic and entertaining way. This show is a news-satire program called Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The show airs weekly on HBO but clips from the show are usually added to YouTube. The host, John Oliver, covers a vast array of social issues from LBGT rights, prison reform, FDA food labeling standard and many others. Last summer, Oliver aired a segment on net neutrality laws and accused the internet and cable companies of advocating legislation that would give them power to favor certain types of internet traffic over others, restricting the free and open system. He urged Americans to voice their opinions by directly contacting the Federal Communications Commission. According to Time, the sudden increase in traffic and received so many comments that it caused the FCC’s server to crash. In a different episode, Oliver addresses the constitutionality of civil forfeiture laws that allowed the seizure of personal property by police without evidence of a crime. After increased exposure to the issue from the Washington Post and Oliver’s segment, Attorney General, Eric Holder announced that he would enact many limits on the civil forfeiture law.

Finally, an internet audience tracking service supports the argument that Oliver’s show is having a significant impact on Americans’ awareness of social injustice and is motivating them to take action and voice their concerns. The audience tracking service is called Parse.ly and provides data to on digital traffic. Parsely performed an internet audience tracking study and found that Oliver’s segments “routinely change the amount of interest in the topics he addresses, even after the buzz around the segments have died down”. The graph below shows the increased internet traffic of websites regarding contract chicken farming:

1_ChickenContractFarming_05-172

Oliver’s ability to use television and the internet in a way that promotes activism and social consciousness is an inspiring example of how technology can be used to expose issues that are disregarded and overlooked. By changing viewer awareness, he changes their social realities which motivates people to respond either by acting or changing their thinking. I know there are many other examples of how technology is being used to promote positive social change- so please feel free to share any additional thoughts or examples.

References

Bandura, A. (2001). Social Cognitive Theory of Mass Communications. J.Bryant, & D. Zillman(Eds.). Media effects: Advances in Theory and Research (2nd ed., 121-153). Hillsdale, NJ.

Social Cognitive Theory and Digital Knowledge

Bandura (1999) explains the concept of social cognitive theory as “a theoretical framework applicable to both individualistically and collectivistically oriented social systems through its expanded conception of human agency exercised individually, socially mediated, and collectively” (p. 278). The digital age revolutionized communication practices and created a global community that blurs traditional notions of time, distance, and space. Bandura (1999) argues that electronic technologies “transmit new ways of thinking and behaving simultaneously to vast number of people in widely dispersed locales” (p. 25). The internet offers an accessible space for billions of people to exchange ideas and collect information in a matter a seconds. As a social learning tool, the internet provides an endless amount of information from sources varying in reliability.

This means that the construction of knowledge is at least partially dependent on an individual’s ability to conduct digital research. Bandura (1999) describes electronic inquiry as a “complex cognitive skill requiring a resilient sense of efficacy” (p. 29). A skilled researcher is more likely to gather data that is both accurate and relevant. Bandura (2002) explains that the “accelerated growth of knowledge is greatly enhancing human power to control, transform, and create environments of increasing complexity and to shape their social future. (Bandura, 2002, p. 272).

Digital storage is more cost effective than print and allows individuals and groups to secure and access data with ease. As a result, less information is being stored in print form. Over time most information will only be “accessible electronically and knowing how to search for information is vital for knowledge construction and effective functioning” (Bandura, 1999, p.29). A person with poor research skills is more likely to have difficulties sifting through the information or may require more time and energy to achieve the same results. Bandura (2002) explains that “with growing international embeddedness and interdependence of societies, and enmeshment in the Internet symbolic culture, the issues of interest center on how national and global forces interact to shape the nature of cultural life” (p. 284).

Bandura’s arguments reminded me of the YouTube video “Is Google Knowledge?” uploaded by the PBS Idea Channel.

The host of the show, Mike Rugnetta discusses whether Google should be considered ‘knowledge’ and if it has made people more knowledgeable. The internet influences social learning and social learning affects culture. Rugnetta uses John Locke’s theory of knowledge, defining knowledge as: “the perception of, the connection of an agreement or disagreement of any of our ideas”. Locke argues that ideas themselves are not knowledge. Facts and ideas become knowledge when they are put to use with and against other facts and ideas.

Rugnetta explains that if knowledge is the collection and systematization of facts, then websites like Google should be considered ‘knowledge’. Rugnetta explains that websites like Amazon and Netflix are forms of knowledge according to Locke’s theory because they gather information based on the user’s selections or purchases and formulates suggestions based on connections in the data. As technology continues to grow and evolve, understanding how to find information will be essential. The digitization of information has changed the way we produce, distribute, and consume information. Clearly the role of technology and its influence on social knowledge and culture are important factors to consider in analyzing communication.

References

Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 21-41.

Bandura, A. (2002). Social Cognitive Theory in Social Context. Applied Science, 269-290.