Analyzing Technology and Social Issues, Essay Example

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Essay

Introduction

One of the most striking elements of Christine Rosen’s excellent examination of cell phone impact is its date.  Rosen is clearly responding to the blatant universality of the technology in 2004, and it is with a perceived sense of awe that she notes that, by 2003, more than 158 million Americans alone were using cells regularly (Rosen).  Not unexpectedly, the vastness of this arena prompts her thorough analysis of social impact, and in a wide variety of forms.  The question arises, however, of just how those impacts have changed or evolved since her work appeared.

The intervening years have witnessed an increase in consumption of the devices easily predicted by Rosen, but nonetheless staggering in itself; by 2015, it is safely assumed that 7.4 billion smart phones and tablets will be in circulation globally, a figure mirroring the world’s population (Fidelman).   Moreover, the technology has evolved since 2004 in such a way that the “cell phone” is merely a component of all hand-held devices, which then expands user potentials beyond mobile communication.  In this new world, as will be seen, Rosen’s observations regarding the many, and often negative, social consequences of cell usage then become all the more disturbing.  Ultimately, communication altered at this level goes beyond enabling society; it changes it.  Rosen’s article in place and a comprehension of modern activity equally present, it may then be seen that communication technology has implications for humanity only just beginning to be properly appreciated.  As will be demonstrated following the article summary, the impact of cell phone communication is both omnipresent and of a nature altering the most traditional models of human behavior, socially and individually. The cell phone’s influence, in simple terms, cannot yet be properly assessed because it is too recent, and because the magnitude of its impact is too enormous.

Summary

Rosen’s article offers qualities of a particularly engaging kind, in terms of readability supported by authentic scholarship.  She begins by appealing to her reader’s awareness of the influence of the technology, and a reasonably assumed expectation of both exasperation and wonderment at this modern phenomenon.  She has a point of view to express, but her integrity requires first an extensive overview of cell phone realities and perceptions, all presented with fairness.  In her introduction, Rosen subtly indicates the vast unease created by the technology, even as she sensibly cites evidence of the growth it has now attained.  Before delving into societal implications, then, she irrefutably produces the reality of cell omnipresence, as it existed then and as inevitably expanding in years to come.  It is then understood by the reader that the subject must affect all individuals to some extent, and Rosen leaves her introduction by not asserting her own views, but by asking pertinent questions.  How, she literally inquires, is this technology changing human behavior?

From here, the author presents a succession of relevant and interesting issues and impacts, all emphasizing the inherent importance of this communication evolution.  She notes the traditionally empowering aspect of communication devices in the “old days” of the telephone; she admirably notes many examples of invaluable uses of cells in life-threatening and other critical circumstances; and she addresses how the technology enables convenience beyond the call, as in the ability to control utilities from a distance and document, through cell video, emergency situations.  Here, then, the importance of the devices is asserted, and in a way even indicating advantages not yet exploited.  Then Rosen veers into less desirable consequences, or at least social repercussions demanding inspection.  There is, for example, a fascinating and documented account of how such a uniformity of electronic access actually alters traditional family bonds and roles, as parents assign to the technology the responsibility of looking after their children.  Frameworks of social authority, it is suggested, are then weakened because adults absolve themselves of the obligation to pass on proper behavior as well (Rosen).

The article then more narrowly focuses on negative consequences, including: the well-known dangers of cell usage while driving; the far greater potential for larger systems to become infected by viruses, or be subject to intrusion; increased addiction to the technology; limitless communication as actually abetting infidelity and other lapses in behavior, simply because the cells permit excuse-making at any moment; and the cell camera as generating untold levels of privacy violations in public spaces.  It is greatly to Rosen’s credit that each component is presented with evidence, and fairly so.  More exactly, only after these aspects are reasonably set forth does she pursue her own, primary inquiry, and this too is substantiated with documentation.

That inquiry largely centers on social spaces, and how the cell offers a vast array of opportunities to violate themIn this major section, the article truly “comes into its own”, and offers genuinely intriguing insights into how cells actually affect behavior.  If Rosen appears to be biased here, it is a bias indisputably corroborated by extraordinary facts and academic assessments.  She wryly notes, for example, the stunning disparity between surveys of people insisting that they rarely conduct private conversations on cells in public spaces with the reality confronted by all.  Behavior once deemed subordinate to social space has become dominant, and Rosen also strikingly cites studies equating this cell-influenced behavior with those suffering from mental illness, and disconnected from surroundings.  The author is, again, consistently fair in her approach; it is more that the evidence, and general feeling, inescapably points to widespread and undesirable impacts from this universal usage of cell technology.

Simply, social constraints historically in place are breaking down and/or evolving, and this generates unease: In terms of the rules of social space, cell phone use is a form of communications panhandling” (Rosen).  As the individual is empowered to fully conduct their business, personal and professional, in any social arena, the etiquette in place is set aside.   Rosen concludes her article in a manner reflective of her entire approach.  She does not argue for a reduction in cell usage – an unlikely event, as it is also one not even necessarily supported by the author – but for a more comprehensive examination of all the implications of the subject.  The import is plain: societies may not be constructed in ways based on social behaviors, but those behaviors have the power to ultimately shift the societal structure itself. Because of communication technology, the ways in which human beings conduct themselves in ordinary circumstances is dramatically different, and there can be few more critical social concerns than this.  Moreover, and importantly, Rosen addresses the individual, and not the research team.  Her goal is to encourage reflection in all readers, if only because virtually all of her readers own a cell device.

Implications and Issues

In discussing the subject, it must be understood that, the radical forms of technology itself notwithstanding, the issue at hand is as basic as any within the arena of humanity: communication.  Clearly, the cell technology is responsible for the subsequent issues arising, yet it is critical that the foundational element of the subject be maintained, for only then may a proper sense of cell implications be gained.  Communication is not merely an aspect of human behavior; it typically is a defining factor of it, and one usually viewed as rendering the species distinct from other life.  Humans convey thought, needs, desires, and feelings in ways others can comprehend, and from this connection emerges virtually all of what is perceived as civilization.

Consequently, changes in the process of this scale must have enormous repercussions on the cultures and societies based upon the communication itself.  The questions, then, and as addressed by Christine Rosen, are: just how expansive are these changes, and do they go to the detriment of culture or to its advancement?  If no distinct answer is likely, it is nonetheless essential to examine the scenario itself, and seek indications of how these changes are occurring.

As Rosen indicates, no survey or poll may be trusted to convey the extent of cell phone usage in social arenas today.  The evidence is, quite literally, everywhere.  In the average supermarket, and at any given time, someone in an aisle is attempting to steer a cart while being informed through the cell of what brand is desired.  Few seats on trains, buses, and subways are not occupied by anyone not engaged in a cell conversation or in text-messaging.  Movie theaters, concerts halls, and libraries both post notices warning against cell use, and routinely convey announcements to the same effect (Newman  110).  Moreover, there appears to be a consistent conundrum in the processes.  More exactly, for every person dismayed by a cell call interrupting a literal conversation or intruding in a social environment, there is another receiving such a call.

Seemingly unaccountably, society is simultaneously guilty of the offenses it commits upon itself, and exasperation is matched by cell usage in a bizarre arms race of behaviors.

Other behaviors take the cell to further extremes.   In relatively recent history, few engagements have elicited more concern and effort than that of the job interview, and applicants traditionally seek to appear as interested and as responsible as possible.  It is all the more extraordinary, then, that cell phone calls occur, and are actually taken, during these occasions.  The actions are by no means isolated incidents of poor judgment; recent research indicates, in fact, that taking a cell call during a job interview ranks as the most common mistake made by applicants, with over 70 percent of managers surveyed reporting this as the most prevalent and consistent cause for interviews to fail (DuBrin 252).  It may be argued that this extreme of behavior mirrors the cell calls occurring in theaters, if with admittedly more severe consequences.  In both instances, the objective of the cell owner is thwarted.  The job interview is conducted to gain necessary employment, and the theater occasion reflects expense made, yet the cell call effectively eviscerates each experience. Less directly impactful, but equally relevant, is the factor of public and overt disapproval expressed by others in social arenas when cell calls are deemed inappropriate.  All these examples go to a central element in assessing the impact of the technology, which may be phrased as an apparent inclination, encouraged by the cell devices, to undermine the user’s own best interests.

This is a form of impact both somewhat explicable and unsettling, and which reflects the sheer power of the technology to greatly alter behavior.  Evidence and studies tend to corroborate perceptions made less academically, in that the displeased reaction of the witness to the ill-timed cell call reinforces the fact of psychological change as being encouraged by the devices.  More simply, it seems both unlikely and untenable that any cell user would consciously impair any social or employment occasion in which they are invested.  People dependably act in their own best interests.  How, then, can these circumstances be explained?  The fact is that the communication device serves to displace the user from their literal setting: “The cell phone sets the individual and his or her world apart from his or her surroundings and encounters” (Burgess  70).  If people are defined for the moment by where they actually are, that element itself is reliant upon where their focus lies.  The cell, then, “removes” individuals from place and, to an extent, time.  This then translates to actions not deliberately rude or even self-destructive; it seems more than, once engaged in the calls, users no longer perceives themselves as physically present in their environment, and this actually generates resentment when calls are frowned upon (Rosen).

This impact may be viewed, then, as both a natural evolution of behavior and as a pronounced revision of it. On one level, there is no actual culpability, or direct violation of social norms, because the parameters are altered for the cell user. Technology enables them to transcend space and distance, and be completely accessible in the totality of their being; consequently, the surroundings lose import.  “Privacy,” which is typically perceived as a cornerstone in the issue of public cell phone use, then takes on a strikingly different quality.  It is, in a sense, inverted, in that its parameters are set from the “inside-out.”  It is established by the individual when the cell call comes or is made, and not by the environment, because the individual is engaged in what most concerns themselves: the self.  On another level, and going to the modified behavior as an extension of normalcy, it may be argued that social environments largely exist to cater to the individual’s needs, so a greater focus here violates no true standards.  Such a view, of course, also ignores the other, critical aspect to the social arena, in that it is shared and consequently dependent upon cooperative behaviors in place to accommodate all.  What is evident no matter the view taken, however, is the fact that the technology has reshaped traditional modes of public behavior.

The larger question, then, in regard to ultimate implications for society and individuals regarding the prominence of cell usage, is personal empowerment.   It has been shown that this quality radically shifts the definition of privacy, and renders it a matter determined by individual choice.  It is worth noting, however, if other expressions of such empowerment are observable as generated by cell technology.  Here, there is substantial evidence, and much of this is due to the exponential aspect of the technology’s rise in modern living.  An issue confronting business today, for example, is whether or not to permit employees to use their personal devices for business purposes, and if there is, in fact, any realistic way to prevent this.  Apparently, there is a widespread disregard among employees as to their employers’ policies here; a recent study found that over a third are more familiar with their home appliance manuals than they are with their employers’ IT regulations.  Then, over half admit to transmitting work information through personal accounts (Fidelman).   As with the misguided job applicant who takes the cell call during an interview, it is unlikely that these people are actively seeking to either undermine their companies, or are unable to learn the necessary policies.  Rather, these figures suggest how personal empowerment is non-maliciously enhanced by a technology that has become as much a part of the individual as the shoes they wear.   As noted, access to communication has historically served as a marker of personal importance (Rosen).  Even when the communication is unrelated to business, people are individually validated when calls come through because, simply, they are being sought.  This adds to the cell a vastly symbolic power (Burgess  55), as the user’s identity and sense of esteem is inextricably linked to the device.  Consequently, the more the cell is used, the more solid a sense of self is obtained.  The more the self is identified, then, the less extraneous, or strictly functional, the cell becomes.  It is an extension of the person it empowers, so it is reasonable that such people would not view transacting business on their “personal” devices as inappropriate.

No reasonable examination of cell phone implications may be made without an acknowledgment of the very real benefits offered.  These advantages clearly transcend personal inclinations and personal convenience, even as these elements themselves are highly important to most individuals.  In strictly pragmatic terms, an impact of the cell is its ability to address emergent situations in a timely manner, as when paramedics are enabled to transmit pictures of incoming accident victims to hospitals (Rosen).  In terms of only a generalized enhancement of security, the cell greatly assists both individual and society.  More than 90 percent of users report that carrying the device makes them feel more secure (Rosen), and this is an elementary benefit.  As the potential assailant must assume their intended victim has the ability to summon aid in a matter of seconds, so too is that intended victim able to call for help when witnessing an accident or crime.  Then, and abuses or lack of commitment to company security notwithstanding, employees of all kinds may conduct business in places and at times formerly contrary to the business.  Convenience, in regard to the cell, is a virtually limitless arena, and is reflected in cell activity from the quick, casual conversation on the train to the call from the airport, notifying family of a delay.  Just as the cell generates anger when employed by the inconsiderate user on the train or in the theater, so too does it save lives, expedite business to immeasurable degrees, and empower the individual as no technology before it.

Conclusion

It may then be concluded, based upon the range of benefits and social dilemmas posed by cells, that the technology itself must be viewed in a way technology never has been before.  More exactly, given how universally cell phones are impacting on all manner of human interaction, this is communication on a scale never before conceivable, and therefore transcending the traditional parameters of communication itself.  Christine Rosen’s article, “Our Cell Phones, Ourselves,” treats the subject with integrity, and in a manner suited to the expanse of it.  She carefully presents the important advantages cells offer to society, even as she speculates – with academic support – on the potentially harmful, social effects of their omnipresent usage.  Rosen, as noted, veers to a bias, if barely perceptible, in that she is deeply concerned in regard to social abuses from the technology.  Her concerns are certainly valid, as it is likely that every reader has been rendered uncomfortable by being in proximity to a “private” cell exchange in a public arena.  Equally important, however, is that it is just as likely that the same reader relies on their cell in some fashion.  This is, in fact, the only real weakness in Rosen’s work here, and it is one excused by the article’s date.  In 2004, cells were definitely becoming ordinary items; today, they are truly universal, so there is no “non-cell” user to whom to appeal.  This then supports the point that the impact of the cell is, as yet, unfathomable.  As a communicative extension of the individual, it changes the essence of communication in a virtual explosion of its possibilities.  Some implications have been documented, both to positive and undesirable influences and effects, but the greater reality remains, ironically, distant.  Ultimately, the true impact of cell phone usage cannot be assessed because of the sheer enormity, and relative novelty, of it.

Works Cited

Burgess, Adam.  Cellular Phones, Public Fears, and a Culture of Precaution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

DuBrin, Andrew J. Narcissism in the Workplace: Research, Opinion, and Practice.         Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2012.

Fidelman, Mark. “The Latest Infographics: Mobile Business Statistics For 2012.” Forbes, 2 May, 2012. Web. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/markfidelman/2012/05/02/the-latest-infographics-mobile-business-statistics-for-2012/

Newman, David A.  Sociology: Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life.  Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc., 2011. Print.

Rosen, Christine. “Our Cell Phones, Ourselves.”  The New Atlantis, 2004. Web. Retrieved from http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/our-cell-phones-ourselves

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