I think you can tell by this point that I see socio-technological issues as confluences and hybrids of many technical, psychological, social developments. Time and again, the way a new communication technology changes society??is influenced by the way people use it, and the circumstances of their use. Chinese and Korean inventors created moveable type before Gutenberg, but there were so many differences in social circumstances. China had greater centralized political power at a time when Europe was divided among dozens of warring states. Elizabeth Eisenstein pointed out how Protestant theology of individual Bible-reading intersected with the technology of the printing press and the emerging entrepreneurial capitalism of the printing trade ??? all circumstances that were unique to a time and a place and to strong beliefs.
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There has been a tendency to adopt totalizing views about emerging technologies, so that Twitter either ???destroys our attention span??? or it ???paves the way for revolutions around the world.??? Yet, as you note early on, ???Twitter is a recent example of a social media which can either be a waste of time or a multiplier of effort for the person who uses it, depending on how knowledgible the person is in the three related literacies of attentional discipline, collaborative know-how and net saavy.??? This approach reframes the question away from technological determinism and onto issues of use and knowledge, which reflect an awareness of human agency (both collective and individual) in terms of what we do with media.
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Mimi Ito, the media theory of Henry Jenkins and Robert K. Logan. My
enthusiasm plus my networks plus scholarly inquiry connected for me
when I wrote Net Smart.
So digital literacies of attention, crap detection, participation,
collaboration, and network smarts constitute a critical uncertainty.
The answer to ???is this stuff any good for us??? is, I strongly believe:
???It depends on what people know, and how many of them know it.??? Just
as the decades after Gutenberg???s invention saw the expansion of the
literate population from thousands to millions, we???re seeing the
diffusion of new literacies that are already changing the world more
profoundly than print did in its first decades.
In??Smart Mobs??I was forced to learn a little about sociology to try to make sense of the ways large groups of people were beginning to behave collectively, now that billions of people have the web in their pockets. And in my research for these books, I grew fascinated with the archaeology of literacy ???Elizabeth Eisenstein???s work on the impact of the printing press in Europe, the drama of Denise Schmandt-Besserat???s worldwide investigation of clay artifacts that led to her definitive history of the origin of writing, Marshall McLuhan???s insistence that printing presses change the way people see and deal with the world.Working backward from McLuhan to Innis, Ong, and McLuhan???s colleague Robert K. Logan, I began seeing the broad picture of how new cultural mind tools enabled and initiated changes in the thinking of individuals and the functioning of societies. Working forward from the 1960s visions of JCR Licklider and Douglas Engelbart, it seemed to me that ???augmenting human intellect,??? as Engelbart framed it, was a historic repurposing of devices originally designed for ballistics calculations. Engelbart was well aware of the role of human learning and literacies in the future system he proposed, which he described as comprising ???humans, using language, artifacts, methodology, and training.???So now we have more than two billion people with Internet access, more than five billion mobile telephones. The mind-amplifying devices that Engelbart envisioned are in people???s pockets. The networks that link people and devices are global and heading toward ubiquitous. What does that mean? We???ve seen serious critics like Sherry Turkle and Nicholas Carr eloquently illuminating the darker sides and hidden costs of our fascination with social media. And we???ve seen an enormous amount of moral panic, based on very little or no empirical basis, about fears that using the web is making individuals and cultures shallow.