By Eric Martin
The information age has seen the advent of the mobile phone, the rise of telecommunications, the internet, satellites launched into orbit to relay digital information around the globe and an ever-increasing push in first world nations, away from traditional manufacturing and into the service economy.
The retail sector is suffering in Australia and one of the key reasons touted by experts is the rise of online shopping with internet giants such as Amazon, Wish and eBay taking the lion’s share of the market: even the traditional weekly shop is being reinvented with technologies such as click and collect and home delivery ever increasing in popularity.
Gone are the days of CD sales boosting an artist up the music charts, with artists adding their strident calls to those of the big production companies to limit music and movie streaming services, which are affecting their profits from sales and royalties.
Digital technology, especially in the field of communications, has profoundly affected the way in which people work, socialise, relax and interact with one another and with society.
For example, as far back as the 80s and 90s, research in the field of communications focused on the effects of television (TV) on the family, both as a unit and as individuals, and this is one technology that demonstrates how the uptake of digital technology has infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives – including the family.
In 2017, Australians spent an average of two hours and 27 minutes watching live TV and playing back recorded content, adding up to 74 hours and 58 minutes over a month – which is more than 1.5 standard working weeks spent watching TV!
Findings have shown that this viewing is often split between family members, with men tending to watch ‘masculine’ programs such as news and documentaries.
Women reported that they tended to leave the room when such content was on, and reality shows, soap operas and romantic comedies (classified as feminine programing) had the same effect in driving men from the room.
As such, it is no surprise that couples occasionally used TV to distance themselves from disagreements, and on nearly two instances each week, one spouse stifled the conversation attempts of the other when they were watching TV together – families may even use TV to purposely limit unwelcome communication.
In fact, TV was often used to prevent tense interaction among family members; however, the results suggested tension increased with higher amounts of TV viewing, with the noise TV creates in the house competing with other activities (e.g. doing homework, sleeping, looking after young children).
While social networking sites were once a space for children and young-adults to communicate, they are increasingly becoming a space for family interaction and research has shown that traditionally oriented families, where conformity to family norms is expected by parents, could be at a disadvantage when trying to utilise social media to bolster family communication.
While all studies evaluated suggest that offline family interaction continues to play a crucial role in self-esteem formation for young adults, in high conversation-orientation families this trend continues with online family interaction.
Where traditional, conformity-oriented families may suffer is that there is a positive link between online family interaction and offline family interaction: conversation-oriented families are more likely to successfully leverage online communication into offline activities shared together as a family.
Social media has even come to challenge traditional media, such as television and newspapers, in the gathering and dissemination of news.
For instance, nearly 60 per cent of Twitter users reported getting news via Twitter and nearly 10 percent of Twitter users reported using the app to get information about the 2016 US presidential campaign within any given week.
The 2016 American presidential campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was highly contentious, with complete media coverage of the event, yet the essential tool in sharing campaign information in this election was Twitter.
On the day of the election, Hillary Clinton had 10.4 million followers on Twitter and had sent nearly 10,000 tweets up to that point – however, she was bested by Donald Trump who had 13.2 million followers on the day of the election and had sent more than 30,000.
“The New York Times went so far as to say that Trump had mastered Twitter in a way no other candidate ever had, and Trump himself referred to his Twitter account as comparable to owning his own newspaper.”
Furthermore, rapid and accelerating digitisation is likely to bring economic disruption in the form of unemployment: as computers get more powerful, companies have less need for some kinds of workers – technological progress is going to leave unskilled people behind as it races ahead.
With advances in robotics and AI, the threat of technological unemployment is becoming a real concern to economists: as Oxford researchers Frey and Osborne (2013) estimate in their study of more than 700 different US occupations, within two decades, 47 per cent of today’s jobs will be susceptible to automation by computerisation and may become obsolete.
These jobs span the blue-and-white-collar divide, from truck drivers and warehouse workers to accountants, loan officers, health-care managers, and paralegals and a greater percentage of the workforce has already begun to recognise that becoming technologically literate is an essential skillset in an increasingly digital workplace.
Despite this, technology advocates such as Google pioneers, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, argue that developing countries will see immense economic productivity by adopting new technologies.
“As digital connectivity reaches the far corners of the globe, new users will employ it to improve a wide range of inefficient markets, systems and behaviours, in both the most and least advanced societies,” Schmidt elaborates.
“The resulting gains in efficiency and productivity will be profound, particularly in developing countries where technological isolation and bad policies have stymied growth and progress for years… ”
However, even with this optimism by those at the cutting edge, many researchers suspect that digital technology will not deliver this widespread economic growth, nor will it be a magic bullet for the world’s underprivileged: mobile phones may be more affordable today, but university fees, health care, insurance and housing are less so.
… offline family interaction continues to play a crucial role in self-esteem formation for young adults, … conversation-oriented families are more likely to successfully leverage online communication into offline activities shared together as a family.”
From pages 21 to 22 of Issue 21: ‘The most Effective Communications is transformative’ of The Record Magazine