The Influence of Information and Communication Technologies on Societies and their Cultures: A Historical Perspective

The Influence of Information and Communication Technologies on Societies and their Cultures: A Historical Perspective

Lee Allen (University of Memphis, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8433-1.ch016
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Abstract

In this chapter, the various ways technologies have exerted influence upon cultures and societies since the dawn of human existence is examined. Be it man-made fire, sharpened stone tools and weapons, or cave paintings, humans are always inventing “something” to sustain or improve their lives and/or livelihoods, and generally make their existence more tolerable – and comfortable. The culture surrounding and thus influenced by technological advances differs from traditional definitive criteria of groups. A technologically-influenced society and culture is identified by its populace's ability to access and use its defining technologies. Nowadays social communication and interactions often occur with others across cultures, continents and socioeconomic systems as constantly evolving information technologies emerge as communication tools. In order to understand the role of technology's influence on our societies, we must understand the historical significance of various information and communications technologies' influence on culture and how changes in our interactions and relationships across all groups have occurred as a result.
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Early Culturally Influential Technologies

The Written Word

In Plato’s Phaedrus (Jowett, 2008), the Greek philosopher Socrates questioned the use of writing: “He would be a very simple person…who should leave in writing or receive in writing any art under the idea that the written word would be intelligible or certain; or who deemed that writing was at all better than knowledge and recollection of the same matters” (p. 70). Thus in the time of Socrates, the 5th century B.C.E., the technology being questioned was what certainly most of us now take for granted as a basic – even elemental – form of communication: handwriting.

The impact of the written word as a form of communication is, of course, indisputable. Whether transmitted via inscribed rock, tree bark, or papyrus, written communication of human thoughts and deeds has been a technological development that has influenced countless societies, cultures, and civilizations. To even attempt to measure the impact of this now-common form of communication on the subsequent history of the world is in itself a daunting if not futile endeavor. Yet, incredible as it may seem, at one time the development of an alphabet and writing were considered of questionable value by Socrates and many of his contemporaries who preferred that their philosophies and discourse be distributed in oration.

The effect on society and their surrounding cultures was immutable: what was once considered to be in the exclusive domain of anointed sages and their charges was now available to even among the most common – allowing that one had to learn to read, as well. This was a skill that was long only selectively shared, so as to maintain a certain distance regarding learned men versus their illiterate counterparts. But eventually even common folk were encouraged to read; mostly by those who sought to disseminate the word of God – or local authority – as they knew it.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Computers: Electronic equipment and devices that allow the rapid processing, calculation, and visual representation of information.

Societies: Groupings of human beings by mutual consent and agreed-upon standards and rules.

Radio: Transmission and reception of audio information and entertainment.

World Wide Web: The aggregate of all interconnected equipment and devices via Internet access points.

Internet: A network of inter-related access points allowing the rapid transmission of information and entertainment.

Culture: The customs and key indicators of socially accepted norms of a society.

Communications: Oral, written, electronic, and technologically-enhanced interactions between human beings.

Mobile Technologies: Hand-held and portable devices used in communications by transmitting voice and/or visual information.

Technology: Human inventions designed to sustain or improve lives and/or livelihoods to make existence more tolerable and/or comfortable.

Video: Transmission and reception of visual information and entertainment.

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