Experts: Digital Living Will (Mostly) Be Good

Slightly less than half of technology experts believe that digital living will help us over the course of the next decade. That’s one primary finding in a recent study of 1,150 technology experts in a joint effort between Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imaging the Internet Center.  The report, issued today, comes on the heels of several high profile technology debacles including Facebook’s recent admission that 87 million users’ data was compromised. Although the authors admit that their findings are not representative of all points of view, the study nevertheless “reveal[s] a wide range of valuable observations based on current trends.”

The experts that comprised the sample were asked a single question: “Over the next decade, how will changes in digital life impact people’s overall well-being physically and mentally?” According to the authors three themes emerged from the open-ended responses to the question: people will be more helped than harmed when it comes to well-being; potential harms; and remedies that can mitigate foreseeable problems. Each theme was then broken down into five or six sub-categories.

Although the findings cannot be adequately summed up here, a variety of opinions were reflected in the findings. Daniel Weitzner, principle research scientist and founding director or MIT’s Internet Policy Research Initiative said, “Human beings want and need connection, and the internet is the ultimate connection machine. Whether on questions of politics, community affairs, science, education, romance or economic life, the internet does connect people with meaningful and rewarding information and relationships. … I have to feel confident that we can continue to gain fulfillment from these human connections.”

However, connectedness may come at a price. That view was expressed by well-known technology expert Nicholas Carr who said, “We now have a substantial body of empirical and experiential evidence on the personal effects of the internet, social media and smartphones. The news is not good. While there are certainly people who benefit from connectedness – those who have suffered social or physical isolation in the past, for instance – the evidence makes clear that, in general, the kind of constant, intrusive connectedness that now characterizes people’s lives has harmful cognitive and emotional consequences. Among other things, the research reveals a strong association, and likely a causal one, between heavy phone and internet use and losses of analytical and problem-solving skill, memory formation, contextual thinking, conversational depth and empathy as well as increases in anxiety.”

To me, the findings were not all that surprising; many of the experts whose opinions were published have long espoused different opinions on the future of digital living. MIT professor Sherry Turkle (one of the experts in the sample), for example, has published widely on different aspects of living with technology. Her 2012 book (revised in 2017) “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” was a New York Times Best Seller. The report, however, is still a good read and it’s good to have ready access to differing views of technology experts in a single document. You can download the entire document using this link: “The Future of Well-Being in a Tech-Saturated World.”

–Jeffrey Maciejewski

Is Abuse Black and Blue or White and Gold?

[Editor’s Note: Despite the byline this post was written by Creighton University Department of Journalism, Media & Computing student Madison Gilbert.]

The Salvation Army caused a buzz after beginning a campaign against domestic violence that featured references to the internet sensation “The Dress.” Two different ads that play off each other were released, both depicting a woman with visible signs of physical abuse. One ad featured a woman wearing The Dress, while the other used a play on words to reference the viral piece of clothing.

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The Dress became a hot topic on the internet in early 2015 after a photo was posted on Tumblr of a dress that appeared to be blue and black to some viewers and white and gold to others. The photo went viral as the color of the dress was heavily debated, sparking the creation of often-referenced memes and leading to the sounding of sighs at the mention of “that one dress.”

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In the midsts of the debate’s popularity, these ads were released  by the Salvation Army in South Africa via a popular newspaper and the South African branch of the Salvation Army’s Twitter. Each ad was accompanied by the caption “Why is it so hard to see black & blue?” and the hashtag #StopAbuseAgainstWomen.

According to Philanthropy Magazine, Carin Holmes, the public-relations secretary for the Salvation Army in South Africa, said the ads were created to bring awareness to the problem of  domestic violence, “a topic we address on a regular basis.” The ads tie the viral optical illusion to the illusion of covering up or ignoring domestic abuse.

Most responses to these ads have been positive, applauding the Salvation Army for using a popular reference to raise awareness for a widespread issue. Many people see the campaign as transforming a silly topic of discussion into a serious one.

However, some have criticized the ads for jumping on the bandwagon of the overnight internet sensation to target victims of abuse. Some people think that the ads’ focus on visual signs of abuse diminish the ability to legitimize abuse that does not leave physical marks. Others see these ads as sensationalizing The Dress more than the topic of abuse by piggybacking on popularity that will quickly die out. Yet others believe the lighthearted meme cheapens the seriousness of the issue.

Is highlighting one aspect of a campaign helpful or harmful to the campaign’s cause? Is it wrong to use a short-lived viral post to advertise a long-term societal problem? Is it unethical to diminish a person’s experience to a relatable meme?