Future of technology in society

Editor’s Note: On Nov. 15, 2012, Western News celebrated its 40th anniversary with a special edition asking 40 Western researchers to share the 40 THINGS WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE NEXT 40 YEARS. This is a web-exclusive entry. To view the entire anniversary issue, visit the Western News archives.

A key motivation for my work is a mixed sense of euphoria and deep concern. I am constantly adopting new technologies and testing various applications on the web. As I continue to dive into the digital realm, I developed a feeling of excitement, excitement to be part of a time of unprecedented technological transformation — the era of digital tools.

This is an era where strings of bits and bytes have opened the door to endless combinations yielding an unprecedented proliferation of new tools, such as cell phones, e-readers and social media. I had come to rely on some of these technologies as if they had always been there, allowing for flexibility, mobility, connectivity and ubiquity. My digital activities include: Writing a tweet during a conference, contacting a collaborator via Skype and updating various profiles.

I wondered, though, what would happen if these technologies failed us?

My real concern was not about some Doomsday prediction, where the world would come to a sudden halt as we often see in the movies. My concerns are much more driven by my sociological curiosity to understand what these technologies mean for society as a whole.

The problem with technologies is they are often imperceptible because they have become such a normalized part of everyday life; hence, we do not tend to reflect upon and give them as serious the consideration as they deserve. This is what motivates me to ask questions about how technologies transform how we find and make sense of information? What kinds of relationships do we build through Facebook and Twitter? What information is best transmitted via these real-time technologies?

In a digital world, we only exist if we write ourselves into being.

Anabel Quan-Haase is a Sociology professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies.