Technology's Role in Society How does technology affect society's communication and dissemination of information?

As society enters the new year, 2017, it is essential to examine the role technology and social media plays in communication and dissemination of information. Authors such as George Orwell have used literature to address social issues. Trends in communication are creating a world that is centered around the Internet. Modern society has a tendency to be lazy and to look for shortcuts. From two year olds to senior citizens, anybody is capable of exploring these shortcuts on a variety of devices. Unfortunately, these technological tools may be weapons of manipulation. Excitement of social media builds a utopian world, but unless the user is cautious the utopia may become a dystopia.

1984, written by George Orwell, is an attempt to warn society about the dangers hidden in a culture where politicians and individuals rob society of the ability to think. Though the book was published in 1949, the message in the book is still relevant today, 68 years later, since forms of a big brother still manipulate society. Living in a technological age, the Internet has become a form of big brother, watching and monitoring activity. In 1984, big brother controls and manipulates society through the Ministry of Truth and the telescreen which is a form of surveillance. Consequently, Individuals living in Oceania are oppressed and forced to live in fear.

“You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized” (Orwell 3).

Big brother watches all the people in society with hidden telescreens, they use their surveillance cameras to monitor everyone’s life. This creates a fear in society, people can’t function normally when they are constantly dictated to by a government that eliminates their ability to think and act. Does today’s society face a similar problem as their behavior is monitored and scrutinized by sites like Google and FaceBook?

Due to the growth in technology, social media and the internet enables people to have instant access to all kinds of information. This form of dissemination of information is a prevalent means of communication but there is danger in the instant feedback. Is it removing the need for people to think for themselves? Orwell warns society about losing the ability to reason. His warning 68 years ago needs to be taken seriously today. The reliance on news feed for tidbits of information is not in depth knowledge and impacts reasoning and thinking because of the shortened versions of information in feeds. It is as simple as typing a few words into google, and then there is your answer, given to you in less than a fraction of a second. As a society, we need to start moving away from quick fix. People need to stop relying on the internet as a primary search tool, and start to use it as a resource. They need to think for themselves and analyze their findings.

Similar to the protagonist of 1984, Winston Smith, who is required, by the government, to rewrite the past, social media also illustrates similar tendencies with online websites like Wikipedia to allow rewriting of information Wikipedia is a website that anybody in the world can edit regardless of their education or knowledge on the given topic. The information that you find could be completely made up, and you would have no way to find out if it was or not unless you actually checked the research base. Wikipedia is not viewed as a valid source of information yet millions of people utilize it on a daily base as a source of information. Both people like Winston and the people who rewrite the articles on Wikipedia are doing the same thing; they are covering up the truth in an attempt to manipulate society (Orwell 37-41).

With the ever growing interest in advancements in technology, people are often blinded by the fact that it is controlling and manipulative. With the current presidential election, it was evident that many fear our political structure. “People's trust in government, major businesses, organized religion, and other traditional institutions is at a historic low, but there is a silver lining: We are placing more and more trust in each other” (Jensen). This may be due to social media. People see other people's opinions more often now that they can communicate through social media. Too often opinions of others are shared by the masses. In response to the usage of the Internet, many companies have been running annoying advertisements on your screen, while other people are discussing things that you may relate to and be interested in. Exposure to information overload is a form of communication that sways people. This current trend in communication can form a gap of trust which may be an effect of the difference in communication. “We are connecting more with our peers and placing our trust in ‘people like me.’... rather than established, centralized institutions. It is a ‘Renaissance Society’” (Jensen). This new era is changing the way that people are thinking and communicating. People now receive their information instantly through technology. There is no point to pay and then wait for the newspaper to come in the morning when you can obtain the same in formation faster and for free by watching the news, or going on social media. This is because

“Social media have created a horizontal dialogue. The Internet has revolutionized the flow of information from a top-down, hierarchical flow to a horizontal one” (Jensen).

Information about an event can now be seen as soon as something happens, no matter where you are. This makes it much harder for the government or big companies to hide things from society, everything is out there for us to see which may be responsible for current political trends.

“According to Pew Research Center, the public's trust in the U.S. government has declined from 75% in the 1960s to 25% as of 2010” (Jensen).

It is very alarming how people no longer have any faith in the people who make decisions for their country. In the past, the public was not privy to confidential political information but now it is disseminated online by our peers who voice opinions on issues. Is this the cause of the declining confidence within society?

Dissemination of information through social media has consequences especially for world leaders who often, express something that is controversial and has far reaching effects because nothing can undo the fact that many people saw what was posted. For example, Donald Trump, the newly elected president of the United States, has seen some of his posts create controversy on the internet. “After the president-elect used Twitter last week to criticize Chuck Jones, an Indiana union leader who represents workers at the Carrier company, Mr. Jones reported receiving a series of threatening phone calls from Mr. Trump’s supporters” (Manjoo). Donald Trump often lacks filters when he uses social media especially Twitter; he may not realize it but what he says has a big impact on many people in the world. His tweet was not intended to harm anyone but it triggered a responses from his supporters. Since there appears to be controversy with President-elect Trump’s tweets, he may need to alter the way that he expresses himself online to avoid negative societal responses. If he continues to communicate like this online then it is likely that a bigger problem will arise. He could say something that would lead to him being stripped of his title as president, or cause a problem with another country. The country could receive threats from people that live in the US, or it could be possible that somebody could take action on the president's words. Supporters are quick to react to controversy. “But their social media musings apparently attracted little attention from ‘Mr. Trump or his transition team before a North Carolina man fired a rifle on Sunday inside Comet Ping Pong…’”(Rosenberg). This man saw a post on twitter that claimed the pizza restaurant was a child sex trafficking ring run by Hillary Clinton and her campaign. This man took what he saw on the internet, and assumed that it was the truth. So he went to the restaurant himself to “self investigate” the problem with a gun at his side. These reactionary actions often have dire consequences creating a world that George Orwell feared.

Creators of reality television also use the concepts addressed in 1984 for many shows. A perfect example is the popular Big Brother followed by millions of fans. Viewers tune in weekly to watch big brother give orders and spy on participants of the show who compete for a monetary prize. Once again, televisions like the telescreen monitor and control behavior. Also similar to the telescreens in 1984, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are constantly monitoring what you are doing while using it. According to Matthew Murray, Facebook uses its algorithms to choose what you see when you open the app; therefore, you only get to see what Facebook wants you to see. You can try your best to change the settings of the app, but there is no way to stop this. “Even if you change your News Feed setting to display the “Most Recent” stories, Facebook displays only the stories it chooses for you” (Murray 1). Facebook does this to try and keep users on the website for as long as they can. The longer that users are on the website the more advertisements they are exposed to, which potentially generates more revenue for Facebook, Google, and their advertisers. Clearly, George Orwell’s message from 1984 continues to thrive because consumers are still exposed to the ideas of big brother.

Part of Orwell’s fear for society is surfacing through social media controls of its users. From examining 1984 and related literature, it is clear that social media can influence thinking. It is often that the postings online are one sided, people online stick to their opinions and don’t want to change them. After researching technology and communication, I now understand that as a nation we need to take the power of technology and allow it to increase our critical thinking rather than decreasing it. We need to realize the effect of the internet before it is too late. The consumption of social media can turn this world into a dystopian one unless we become more aware of the negative forces is has the potential to generate. Social media is becoming a force in today's technological renaissance, and its influence has the power to manipulate our thinking and the truth. Society should reexamine 1984 and the ideas that are embedded within it. As a culture we are dependent on technology. It is not going away. So it is time that we ask ourselves, are we going to become more aware of technology and utilize it positively or allow it to become problematic?

Works Cited

Jensen, Rolf. “The New Renaissance Is In Our Hands” Futurist, Sep/Oct2013, pp. 52-55.

Manjoo, Farhad. ”Twitter Has the Right to Suspend Donald Trump. But It Shouldn’t.” The New York Times, to-suspend-donald-trump-but-it-shouldnt.html

Murray, Matthew. “Stepping Away From Antisocial Media” PC Magazine, July 2016, pp. 1-4.

Orwell, George. 1984. New American Library, 1949.

Rosenberg, Matthew. Haberman, Maggie. Schmitt, Eric. “Trump Fires Adviser’s Son From Transition for Spreading Fake News” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes .com/2016/12/06/us/politics/michael-flynn-son-trump.html

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