When does technology help? When does it hinder?

People often point to the Arab Spring as an indicator of the unifying power of social media, and there is no doubt that social media sites played a serious role in helping organizers make announcements and plan rallies.  But too often in America we are lured by the ease of “participating” in important decision-making processes via the Internet.  Special interest groups have proliferated to such an extent that they now resemble a formal industry, thriving off donations from average Americans who have no say in how the money is spent.  Thus, we may feel that donating to a campaign fund or advocacy group contributes towards a public good and/or our own desired political ends.  Our donations, however, also serve to prop up professional money-making enterprises concerned primarily with their own flourishing.  We may even believe that signing an on-line petition or posting a politically charged meme on Facebook connects us to an ongoing political struggle.

These types of connections, however, are largely illusory.  Scratching checks to special interest groups renders one voiceless and does not influence how that particular group will proceed.  Further, “participating” in politics from the comfort of an individual internet bubble isolates us from the vital task of negotiating meaning in a public forum via dialogue.  In his article, “Rhetorical Pedagogy and Democratic Citizenship” J. Michael Hogan writes,  “Not only do blogs and chatrooms lack the personal accountability of face-to-face interactions, but they tend to attract only like-minded participants and reinforce rather than challenge existing beliefs” (79).

Human communication is incredibly complex.  While there is serious debate amongst psychologists and communication specialists, we can safely say that a significant percentage of communication occurs non-verbally.  Geoffrey Beattie, for example, has argued that unconscious hand movements made during speech add meaning to narratives.  We should not, when considering how to respond to the important issues that face us as communities, substitute online discussion forums for the complex negotiation of meaning that occurs between human beings in a shared space.

Thus, we (concerned citizen-scholars) must make a distinction.  On one hand, we can see the people-organizing potential of social media and how access to global information can help raise awareness of serious issues.  On the other, we see that stifling forms of political “participation” are fostered by idealizing the internet as a tool that will lead to an informed electorate, and that the isolating nature of discussion boards, blogs, and mainstream media news consumption too often serves to divide and distract.  As Hogan points out, Americans were told that television would broadcast “public interest” programs and even allow citizens to somehow speak directly to their leaders; alas, television has instead become a public-interest desert, filling the airwaves with meaningless trivia, endless sports coverage, celebrity gossip, and entertainment masquerading as serious news.  Hogan goes on to compare TV to the Internet:

“In the 1990’s we heard similarly optimistic predictions that the Internet would revive grass-roots democracy by providing ordinary citizens with unprecedented information resources and a powerful new tool for interacting with their fellow citizens.  Instead, the Internet has become too often a refuge for for purveyors of political misinformation, bizarre conspiracy theories, and the rhetoric of hate.  Even mainstream political websites reek of ideological parochialism and rhetorical excess.”

Coming together in public spaces to talk is what drives action, and in the age of the Internet we need to think seriously about what constitutes the kind of public spaces appropriate to discuss matters of social importance.  Nancy Fraser critiques Habermas’ well-known analysis of public spheres and notes that Habermas makes unrealistic assumptions about public spheres as places that are equally accessible to all groups, or equally hospitable to all points of view.  Fraser argues that public spheres “consist in culturally specific institutions” which “may be understood as culturally specific rhetorical lenses that filter and alter the utterances they frame; they can accommodate some expressive modes and not others” (Fraser 69). This type of social arrangement of the public precludes equal participation.  Participation, Fraser says, “means being able to speak in one’s own voice, thereby simultaneously constructing and expressing one’s cultural identity through idiom and style” (68).  While the Internet does offer a platform for cultural expression, those expressions are not likely to be heard by political leaders who are charged with deciding matters of great social importance, and it is a platform not equally available to all groups.

What is needed, then, is an understanding of how digital tools are used to to both promote and suppress democratic action.  Access to global information can raise awareness of issues previously unnoticed by mass publics, and social media sites can indeed help organizers run successful “grass-roots” movements.  Yet, digital tools are frequently used to divert attention, divide and conquer, and generally silence the democratic instincts of average Americans.  I hope this paper can help determine to what extent the rhetorical style of collective bodies is influenced by digital technology, and analyze ways in which digital tools are used to promote and suppress democratic activity.

Works Cited

Beattie, G. Visible Thoughts: The New Psychology of Body Language. East Sussex: Routledge, 2003.

Hogan, J. Michael. “Rhetorical Pedagogy and Democratic Citizenship.” Rhetoric & Democracy: Pedagogical and Political Practices. Ed. Todd F. McDorman, David M. Timmerman. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2008.

Fraser, Nancy. “Rethinking the Public Sphere” Social Text 25.26 (1990): 56-80.


36 thoughts on “When does technology help? When does it hinder?

    • I believe all of these posts are worthwhile reads, In the first post the quote about individual agents are determinate not determined was interesting. I thought the comparison between humans and agencies was a good point, that we’re forced through the proverbial “system”.

  1. From reading this blog it has opened my eyes to the way technology has been introduced to the world. From when the television was brought into the world to when the internet was introduced, we were promised how these things would help us to be closer to our government. Instead these new forms of technology have taken a new approach in our lives. Instead of the approach the internet was supposed to be used for, it has turned into a different kind of communication. A way of communication that is more so to speak you mind, without being seen by government officials. A way to talk to people from across the world. I feel instead of making us closer and helping us understand our government more, the new ways our technology is being used is making us grow farther and farther away from our government.

  2. I believe this blog focuses more on the downside to technology than the upside. With the advancement of technology there are both pros and cons. A con would be the lack of face-to-face communication. A pro, however, is the increase of involvement, whether it comes to government involvement or social involvement, people are able to get involved from the comfort of their own homes. Now-a-days it’s easier than ever for people to connect via internet. Without the use of the internet, I personally don’t believe as many people would be “involved,” whether this is because of pure laziness or lack of knowledge. The internet provides a safety blanket for many, allowing them to look up information and also having the ability to hide behind their computer screen whenever needed.

  3. I think that this blog brought a lot of insight about how technology is giving us more ability to be involved without having to actually get involved. I think that it is more and more common for us to think that involvement means just being part of a petition or liking a post, but really I think that it is true that being an active part and showing up and participating in something you believe in shows a lot more to a cause then just signing your name. While the technology that is in today’s world does bring us more information and the ability to be part of more, we still need to consider how important showing up really is, especially in this day and age where we are so separated from one another and think that socializing means going on Facebook or other social media. I agree with the other comments that we are using the internet as a safety blanket, but at what extent is the good in a blanket if we can’t stand with each other publicly and voice our beliefs?

  4. I do like the quote from Michael Hogan about how blogging and chat-rooms lack face- to face interaction but also they group like minded people together. I can definitely see where this quote is coming from, because blogs and chat-rooms are usually about a certain topic. For example, there are christian chat-rooms, parenting blogs, people who coupon blog and many more that group like minded people together. I also agree with Geoffery Beattie’s quote which says that non-verbals add meaning to narratives. I learned this in my communications class last year. That is the problem about technology there isn’t any non- verbals available.

  5. Based on this article, I believe that we have taken technology and turned it into something that is more harmful for the future than good. In today’s society, many people believe that technology is a helpful source to connect groups from all around the world. You can connect with people from different areas and get different viewpoints on certain topics, find news articles about things happening throughout the world, and interact with many different people. With technology though, people believe that simply logging on to a website and knowing some information means that they are involved in things. Face to face interaction is low because it is easier to use technology to communicate. I feel that if the internet was used for knowledge rather than interaction, it would better society. The fact that we use it as a form of communication draws us farther away from each other rather than bringing us closer.

  6. I always find blogs, articles, and comments such as this very interesting. What really caught my eye was the quote you used from Michael Hogan about how chatrooms lack the nonverbal sense of communication, and they often attract only those who are like-minded. This causes a lack of insight in the discussions that are taking place online. The internet and social media sites I believe do indeed connect many people from all over the world, but they also hinder the complexity that makes communication so valuable and necessary in relationships. I enjoyed reading this blog and agree with the many pros and cons of social media and the internet that are stated.

  7. I was really intrigued by this blog. I like how it gave both sides of the issue about how technology is both hurting and helping our social environment when it comes to politics. It is really amazing how far it goes both ways so it is really hard to pick a side on this particular issue. It was a little confusing to read and the word “for” was in the same sentence twice right next to each other.
    (student reply, moved here from another section of the blog)

  8. I like how this blog shows both sides of the issue but at the same time it makes it difficult to come up with a conclusion. I can see how technology could help spread news and make people more aware of the issues going on in the world but at the same time a lot of people skim headlines and act like they know what is going on. Some people these days want to know enough about something to “form an opinion” but not enough to actually know what’s going on or care.

  9. I think this is the first blog that I have ever read that wasn’t about cooking or crafting, so it was interesting to see how the same format can be used for a very academic purpose. The idea of how technology effects politics is a fascinating topic that is very relevant, yet it is rarely discussed. I agree that participating in the political process requires more than simply sharing your opinion, but I also see the power this can have as technology continues to advance.

  10. I found the information in this blog very interesting. While it argued the pros and cons of technology in our society, I believe we benefit from the increased knowledge and information available to us. I agree with Geoffrey Beattie’s argument that unconscious hand movements made during speech add meaning to narratives. Even though digital tools can take the humanity out of the way we receive information, it is still invaluable.

  11. On my opinion, this blog makes us focused in how the technology changes our thinking and how we communicate with each other. Nowadays, technology makes us to use online communication more instead of face-to-face communication. Furthermore, this blog shows us the other advantages and disadvantages for technology. One example of a disadvantages for technology is that it makes us to believe everything that the social media tells us, rather than believe what the government tells us even with the evidences or at least the social media makes us confused to believe the truth.

  12. The article talks about how echnology is very prevalent is our lives today, and has both ups and downs. It amazing that technology can connect people are around the globe at any time and the web can be used to inummerable amount of interactions and transfer of knowledge. A downside is that people are losing a lot interpersonal communication because everything said online can be edited and revised. Social media also allow people to voice their opinions under anonymous faces. It is a complety different style of communication who’s true impact on society will be seen in the near future.

  13. The topic is relevant to everyone that uses the Internet. There is a lot of useful and productive information out there, but there is also a lot of ways to waste time. The Internet could be used to expand one’s knowledge, but it seems that it is used more often in ways that are potentially detrimental to society.

  14. I found this blog very interesting because it shows us the ways that Internet is helping us and also hurting us. I also enjoyed reading this blog because both sides are explained so well that it makes it hard to make a decision on if the Internet and social media helps us or hurts us more. This blog explains that people can get more involved from their homes but that is causing the people to be drawn away from each other. Overall, very interesting blog and very well written.

  15. In this blog, you talked about most of the negative sides. Let’s focus on the positive sides. With politics people can be very secluded and sometimes intimidated by what they know and what they don’ t know. Some people like to be in comfort of their own home, which gives them a place of security of their own thoughts.

  16. What I got out of the article is that we are using the internet for things that should be done in society face to face. It is stated that while communicating online we are missing out on the physical ques that interactive face to face gives us. Politics are a very important thing and we cannot get much out of it if we just spend our time debating behind a computer screen.

  17. This article’s whole purpose was to point out how we use to much technology in our everyday lives. We do not get as much communication from behind the computer screen as we would face to face. We should try to reduce how often we use technology in our lives and focus more on our personal communication skills.

  18. I think that giving money blindly is a ridiculous practice. Giving money to a goal doesn’t mean that all of your money will be spent to aid this goal. I also agree with that blogs about government attract people with similar beliefs and discourages people with different beliefs. Having a more nutral blog would help attract everyone but then you would discourage people who feel strongly about the topic in question. Those people don’t want to hear the other side, they just want to keep hearing theirs.

  19. I liked the connection to writing checks to organizations. My mom does this all the time and you make a valid point- she doesn’t know where her money is going. Though she thinks she is helping, she can never know for sure what kind of “help” she is giving; which is, like you said, similar to posting comments online. A poster may think they are “helping” or “giving insight”, and infact they may just be making a fool of themself. However, I found it hard to find points of the opposing argument in the post. Spending a little more time on the opposing argument will increase the readers knowledge of the subject and create a better understanding for you and the reader.

  20. I feel that face-to-face communication is very important, because we can not understand ones emotions and often times misinterpret their meaning when communicating via technology. Going off of the quote from J. Michael Hogan, we can see that face-to-face communication is important for that reason of connecting and engaging with each other. This quote was a good way to begin the post, because it summarizes the human connection and interaction concerns that come with different forms of communication that web allows for. I feel like you did a good job of explaining this, as well as, the psychological concerns that come with the use of technology and communication.

  21. I believe that this idea has a lot more to say about the people using technology in hopes to educate themselves politically than it does the technology itself. In reality technological sources such as the internet can hold so much useful -and valid- information, but many people in the general population don’t know where to look for it and/or are blissfully ignorant, believing everything they see on their Facebook news or scroll through on Buzzfeed. The fact that politicians use this fact to their advantage is incredibly smart.

  22. I really liked how you talked equally about both sides in this blog post. I feel that chat rooms and other forms of online communication can be helpful but in the same time they take away from the face to face aspect that we need as humans.

  23. Online activism’s lack of a “what next? ” is absolutely a valid critique and is deserving of skepticism. However, a lot of what this post talks about seems to be the capitalism of online activism. It’s absolutely something worth talking about. BUT it’s not the only thing worth talking about. It may be that posting a snarky political meme on your social media platform of choice doesn’t carry the kind of political weight you’re looking for. But it does seem to me a bit that you downplay technology’s involvement in more recent highly politicized events. Without the kind of online activism you seem to be criticizing (blogs, tumblrs, twitters), the identity of the man who shot Michael Brown would not have been released by the Ferguson police department for weeks. In the last paragraph you claim that digital tools are used to divert attention, and that issues of social importance are rarely brought to the attention of political figureheads through these means. Though this is true, it’s definitely worth noting that in politics, a group of protestors are often swept aside as easily as those who stay behind their screens (like during the millions march in NYC.) I believe that often, underrepresented or underpriviledged groups rarely have the chance to discuss matters of “social importance” in public, face-to-face forums like the ones you claim are the most important. It’s happened for years that the voices of these people are not heard, and it’s not because their crowdfunding on kickstarter didn’t go well.

  24. I really like how you bring up the issue of the illusion of connection to a political struggle by using Facebook or by signing an online petition. It is a highly arguable point but I tend to agree with you when you say it “isolates” us from the real need of negotiating in public. J. Michael Hogan’s quote adds proof to your argument. The way you write about this topic shows that you have a deep interest in it and are concerned about it.

  25. This was by far the best post of the three, the content was easily understood, the logic had an identifiable flow, and the topic was arguable. The issue of an the internet giving an illusion of political activism is very real in today’s world. The truth is, politics are shallowly discussed because the discussion often takes place with people who share similar views. Or, often seen is a heated rant between two people. This is a rant, as they are not having a transactional conversation or argument, but are simply lecturing the other on their views. You bring up a really great point on the complexity of communication, which technology has simplified to the point where we seem to have regressed in our communication skills. The relationship between communication, technology, and politics is certainly food for thought.

  26. I think this post describes how technology is changing the world around us in so many ways but our society does not seem to see the outcomes. I would have to agree with you that our society needs to know how to understand how to use all of our digital tools but not so much for political use but rather everyday use. I don’t think people should use the internet to post their viewpoints while hiding who they really are. I think people need to communicate in person face to face in order for the communication to be effective.

  27. I agree that nonpublic spheres such as blogs and chatrooms take away from the face-to-face communication which involves all of our non-verbal communication. Even though this may be cause negative influences at times, I think that in certain cases this can be helpful. Online interaction may prove more effective because in face-to-face interactions bias can occur from these nonverbal communications and emotion brought into the public atmosphere can often lead the conversation astray and inefficient since anger or frustration can often provoke us to target people as a way of defending oneself. The title states “When does technology help? When does it hinder?”, but after reading it I generally found more claims on how it hinders rather than how it is helpful.

  28. What caught my attention in this article was that people think their voice is actually heard when they post things about political issues on the internet or sign a petition online. I completely agree, there are many times when I log on to Facebook and people will have “liked” something because it will talk about some meaningful cause and at the end say ” like if you agree”. People don’t get anything out if it besides having their “Facebook friends” know where they stand on certain topics. I also like the quote by Michael Hogan you added. I completely agree with the fact that blogs are only one sided meaning just one opinion is going to be talked about, and those who agree with it are going to be the ones to read it, let alone comment on it. In today’s world, on the internet, you have the option to only read what you want to read. In conclusion, I really enjoyed reading this article

  29. I found Hogan’s quote about blogs and chatrooms lacking face to face interactions and grouping likeminded people together interesting and I agree with it. Most people will only comment, or even read, blogs that appeal to their own interests and ideas. Therefore, like Hogan stated, it doesn’t challenge any existing beliefs because most are all agreeing with eachother.

  30. Communication is extremely important in every day life. I feel that we are substituting face-to-face communication with texting and online chatrooms. We have become more and more attached to our cellphones as time goes by, and I feel that it has taken a toll on real-time human interactions. Technology is good in that we can communicate with people across the world and connect to individuals who may be going through something similar to what you may be facing. However, technology is negative as well because it takes away from people connecting and being able to talk to each other.

  31. You did a very good job of showing all the different opposing viewpoints. It helped gain credibility on the topic by not only sharing your own thoughts or views but also showing the thoughts of many different people educated on the given subject. I believe that although technology is viewed as ruining face to face conversation, I do not believe this. Teens in this era are still out and with friends and having to communicate with many different people on a day to day basis whether its in school, in a sport, a job or even just hanging out with their friends. Technology just makes it possible to continue this communication when you leave the different areas of face to face communication.

  32. I found this article very interesting because of the perspective it took about online contributions. I do disagree with you saying how they only help fund the company and its own interests while leaving us voiceless. I disagree because of how much money influences campaigning now-a-days. If you look at past presidential elections, the candidate who receives the most funding usually ends up winning the race, so I believe we do have a voice because we are helping fund our preferred candidate’s campaign and possibly helping them win the race.

  33. After reading this article I find that I agree with you that technology is more of a hinderance than a help, but what I have a problem with is the way you title the article. “When does technology help? When does it hinder?” This title suggest that you are going to make an objective argument for and against technology, but after reading the article it seems a little bit one sided. You do not give enough counter arguments about technology being helpful that the reader can clearly see that the argument is about how technology is a hinderance. Unlike the title suggests, you are not being objectionable. Because of this your argument is not a valid as it should be. Otherwise it flowed nicely and I understood the content of the article.

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