High Tech and High Touch

Mrs Anne Ingram, Dean of Students

It was a pleasure to welcome back to the School this week visiting cyber safety expert, Ms Susan McLean, to address students in Years 10, 11 and 12. Our first experience with Ms McLean was in 2011 and the students were looking forward to hearing from her again. Acknowledged as Australia’s foremost expert in the area of youth cyber safety, Ms McLean’s career spans twenty-seven years of distinguished service in the Victoria Police, with much of this time dedicated to working in undercover operations to expose online offenders. Students, parents and staff alike gained much from Ms McLean’s presentations this week. She is an engaging and, at times, hard-hitting speaker, able to draw on a wealth of real-life experiences and examples that make her deliveries so captivating and compelling.

With the explosion of cyber technology, the issues of cyber bullying and ‘sexting’ have emerged as key concerns confronting the safety and well-being of young people. 3G mobile phones, instant messaging, online games and social networking sites ensure that today’s youth are always ‘on’. Their ‘plugged-in’ lives give them access to, and they are accessible by, many millions of people worldwide. Ms McLean’s message to the students this week was abundantly clear. The enjoyment and entertainment that cyberspace provides needs to be counterbalanced with a degree of caution as we navigate our digital way. Information on the web is not always reliable. The need to ‘think before you click’ is vital. Our digital footprints can be accessed at any time, and now, more than ever, the need to protect our digital reputations is paramount.

Sherry Turkle, psychologist and author of the book Alone together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other (2011) voices her concerns regarding our reliance on all things digital and our movement away from human connection. She is of the opinion that technology is altering how people relate to one another and how they are constructing their own inner lives.

Ninety-five per cent of young people are online every day and ninety per cent of 12 to 17 year olds use social media (Botsman, 2012). These ‘screenagers’ see no differentiation between their online and offline lives. Technology has become an extension of their social selves, ‘promising to let them do anything, from anywhere with anyone’ (Turkle, 2011). A savvy and insightful intellectual, Turkle has pondered this topic for fifteen years and remains deeply concerned about the psychological side effects of internet use. It is her belief that the digital connections we make offer to us the illusion of company but without the demands of real friendship and she proposes that, despite our countless digital friends, today’s online avenues of communication could in fact be contributing to social isolation.

‘Technology has become the architect of our intimacies. Drawn by the illusion of companionship without the demands of intimacy, we conduct ‘risk free’ affairs on Second Life and confuse the scattershot postings on a Facebook wall with authentic communication’ (Turkle, 2011).

Turkle claims that technology ‘makes it easy to communicate when we wish to and to disengage at will’ (2011). The volume and pace of our lives can be overwhelming and we have turned to technology in an attempt to find time. It is easier and more time efficient to befriend strangers on Facebook instead of cultivating real friendships. Texting and tweeting have taken the place of talking on the phone or face-to-face. In fact, adolescents now avoid phone conversations if at all possible, citing the fact that ‘they take too long’, ‘are prying’ or ‘too much might show’. Texting and tweeting instead prioritise control and convenience and the protective ability to keep feelings at a distance. Turkle describes this as the modern-day Goldilocks concept. We seek just the right amount of access and control. We do not want people too close, or too far away but just at the right distance. How interesting that while we are so digitally tethered together, we are coming to expect less and less from human encounters.

Turkle believes that our ‘fantasies of substitution’ have cost us. We need time to talk and listen to each other, to return to the human connection that has for so long nourished and sustained us. Her plea is for technology to be put in its place and for us to learn how it can best be used to lead us back to our own selves, our own lives and our communities.

In stark contrast, Rachel Botsman, social innovator and author of the book What’s mine is yours: the rise of collaborative consumption (2010), challenges the ideas of Turkle. Botsman suggests in very powerful ways that social networking presents optimism and hope as the new ‘glue’ for modern communities. She speaks on the power of collaboration and sharing through networking technologies and the move from a ‘me’ focus of hyper consumption to a ‘we’ focus of collaborative consumption.

Collaborative consumption describes the rapid explosion in swapping, sharing, bartering, trading and renting that is being re-invented through the latest technologies and peer-to-peer marketplaces. The libraries and laundrettes of old are being replaced by a new age of sharing and collaborating at a scale that has never before been possible. Technology is increasingly empowering us to take advantage of our time, skills and assets and, at the same time, promote a strengthening of our communities. Botsman cites four key drivers that she believes are responsible for fusing together and creating the big shift away from hyper consumption and towards a twenty-first century defined by collaborative consumption. These drivers include: a renewed belief in the importance of community; a torrent of peer-to-peer social networks and real-time technologies that are changing the way we behave; pressing unresolved environmental concerns; and a global recession that has shocked consumer behaviours (Botsman, 2010). It would seem that as a society, we are at an inflection point where technological systems are enabling sharing behaviours. Redistribution markets like Swaptree stretch the lifecycle of a product and reduce waste. Collaborative lifestyles like Landshare and Airbnb are seeing people share everything from beach huts to garden space, and produce service systems like Zipcar and Goget provide the benefit of use of a product with a high ‘idling rate’ without ownership. According to Botsman, today’s society values access over ownership and ‘technology makes sharing frictionless and fun’ (2010).

Collaborative consumption involves tuning-in to our primate instincts of being born to share and co-operate. It involves matching people in two-way relationships that support the idea of community and create connection and belonging. It involves a paradigm shift from a ‘me-centred’ existence to being more ‘we-centred’, aptly described by Botsman as ‘getting to know the Joneses rather than keeping up with them’ (2010). All of these systems require a degree of trust and pivotal to their success is digital reputation. Within the web, we leave a trail that will indicate to others how well we can collaborate and whether we are able to be trusted. What will matter in this new era will be our digital reputations. The more we collaborate online in a positive manner, the more we foster a status of trustworthiness and build our reputation capital, the new social currency that will determine our access to collaborative consumption.

Despite Turkle’s concerns for humanity and its obsession with technology, it is exciting and enlightening to envisage how it can be used in such positive ways to establish social connections, build trust, foster a sense of community through sharing and, at the same time, nurture the planet. It would seem that instead of moving inwards on ourselves, technology presents to us the avenue for building strong reputation capital that is the key to leading us towards a brighter, richer, more collaborative future.

References

Botsman, R. (2012, April 2). Generation ‘we’: a new era of trust. Paper presented at the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia Pastoral Care Conference, Queensland.

Botsman, R. (2010, May 31). The case for collaborative consumption. Retrieved April 14, 2012 from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/rachel_botsman_the_case_for_collaborative_consumption.html

McLean, S. (2012, April 24). Keeping safe in cyberspace: what technology alone fails to teach you but what you really need to know. Presentation to Brisbane Girls Grammar School, Queensland.

Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.

Turkle, S. (2012, February). Connected, but alone? Retrieved April 13, 2012 from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html

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