Computing and social change. What is their relationship? Technology has and will continue to fundamentally change not only our society and culture, but societies the world over. When it comes to our economy (an integral part of our society), technology has completely changed how we produce, consume, and interact with goods and services. Indeed, as technology has advanced, our economy has advanced with it: from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy to an information economy. In the US, our main export these days is our technology – whether consumer, business, or military, we depend on lines of code and advanced electronics to run our society and support our economy.
But has computing effected social change? Just ask the users of Facebook, FireChat, Twitter, and Skype during the Arab Spring whether computing has had an effect on social change. Here’s a photo from an Arab Spring protest:
But has computing effected change equally across social, racial, and socio-economic groups? This question is much more up for debate. The prevailing mentality in the United States is that technology is always a force for progress and improvement and by extension, a force for good. Look no further than esteemed venture capitalist Marc Andreeson’s 17-tweet Twitter rant explaining how “technology disproportionately helps the poor”. This is a common view in our society, that better technology means better everything for everyone – better healthcare, better education, better workplaces.
Has technology improved the workplace? One interesting product to consider is Google Glass. This is a product that hasn’t done too well in the consumer sphere, but has great possibilities for the workplace. Imagine a building inspector who can use the technology of such a wearable device to automatically call up building blueprints on a heads up display, in real time to inspect the building. Or a police officer using the facial recognition technology built into Google Glass to identify criminals in public places. (In fact, police in Dubai are already using Google Glass to enforce traffic violations). Or a doctor being able to view charts, data, and reference books in their view in real time while also being able to interact with a patient at the same time. Google Glass is a great example of technology that has the potential to greatly assist with various niche workplaces and make them more effective and less costly, thereby effecting social change.