The Networked Effect of Children and Online Digital Technologies

The Networked Effect of Children and Online Digital Technologies

Teresa Sofia Pereira Dias de Castro (University of Minho, Portugal), António Osório (University of Minho, Portugal) and Emma Bond (University Campus Suffolk, UK)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch636
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Within the scope of how technology impacts on society three theoretical models: the social shaping of technology (SST), social construction of technology (SCOT) and the Actor-Network theory (ANT) are frameworks that help rethink the embeddedness of technology within society, once each is transformed and transformative of the other. More attention will be given to the ANT approach since it solves the technology/society dualisms unresolved by the previous proposals. This is a flexible epistemological possibility that can reach the ambiguity of contemporary life and the remarkable transformations brought by progress that have changed drastically childhood and children's contemporary lives.
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Given the ubiquity of technology and the changes it has undergone in terms of its multiple uses, meanings and effects in the later decades of the twentieth century, a growing attention started to be paid to social studies of science and social studies of technology (Goggin, 2006); and to technology (world of production, or what technology does to people) and the social (world of consumption, or what people do with technology), as part of a sociotechnical order (Matthewman, 2011).

As the society and technology context became more complex, thinking about the meaning and use of technology, especially when referring to children, entails reasoning about its effects, which sometimes are good and sometimes are bad. When unforeseen consequences occur, more questions are raised about technology. In this respect, the debates around politics cannot be ignored (e.g. Berg & Lie, 1995; Joerges, 1999; Latour, 2004; Winner, 1980) behind the design of technology, paradoxically encapsulating architectures of social control and domination (e.g. school, prison, hospital as institutions of modernity grounded in the principle of panopticism, see Foucault, 1979) that determine “human experience, behaviour and action” (Matthewman, 2011, p. 50). While at the same time it enables rich experiences, new freedoms, heightened pleasures of consumption, and new forms of public privacy (Matthewman, 2011, referring to Benjamin, 2004 dissertation about the Arcades of Paris project, a structure made of iron and glass he designated by the ‘human aquarium’).

Reactions against technological determinism1, strongly suggested in the literature on perceptions of risk (see Anderson, 2006; Beck, 1992; Buckingham, 2009; Douglas & Wildavsky, 1982; Furedi, 1997; Giddens, 1990; MacKenzie & Wajcman, 1999), invited theorists to rethink technology in light of its social effects and on “explaining how social processes, actions and structures relate to technology” (Mackay & Gillespie, 1992, p. 685). Such theories are the social shaping of technology2 (SST) and social construction of technology (SCOT). However, the interwoven relationship between online digital technologies and children’s everyday lives is far more complex than can be accounted for or reduced by technological or social determinisms (Bjiker & Law, 1992; MacKenzie & Wajcman, 1999). Since both positions are equally flawed (Van Loon, 2002), a more cautioned position between contingency and control is proposed. Actor-network theory (ANT) appears as an alternative to the previous deterministic models. This model assumes a high degree of contingency foregrounding the role of technology in the construction of society (Matthewman, 2011), where “the power of things depends on how they are (as Latour says) ‘syntagmatically’ networked with other things, in competition with paradigmatic counter-programmes of differently coupled actants. The power of things does not lie in themselves. It lies in their associations” (Joerges, 1999, p. 5). When referring to children, as Prout (2005) proposes, ANT solves the technology/society dualisms unresolved by the previous proposals and is a valuable possibility to understand the hybrid and interconnected phenomenon of childhood growing up in the context of the globalised, mobile and wireless late modern society. Ultimately, he finds in ANT a flexible epistemological possibility that can reach the ambiguity of contemporary life and the remarkable transformations brought by progress that have changed drastically childhood and children’s contemporary lives.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Online Digital Technologies: Refers to devices and services connected to the internet that afford flexible communication and connectivity for the user. Nevertheless, sometimes the conjunction ‘and’ is used between ‘online’ and ‘digital’ to include the reference to devices or experiences that do not afford or imply a connection to the internet.

Children: The term ‘children’ follows the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) definition as those under 18 years.

Social Determinism: The notion that society shapes technology.

Actor-Network Theory: Social life understood through a network where human and technological entities have agency to interact and transform each other within symmetric relationships.

Social Construction of Technology: Technology understood as a social phenomenon embodied in complex social processes.

Network: Network is a concept employed to suggest flow and connection among the heterogeneous human and technical entities.

Social Shaping of Technology: Technology understood as a social product.

Technological Affordances: The possibilities and permissions that a technological artefact encloses. These possibilities and permissions emerge during the interaction process between user and the technological artefact.

Technological Determinism: The notion that technology shapes society.

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