New communication technologies have become a phenomenon of the modern age. It is used by millions of people worldwide, and significantly influences their way of living and communicating with one another. Rogers (1986) defined several social impacts which have emerged through extensive usage of new communication technologies. Information overload and knowledge gap are examined in this paper as two possible social impacts of new communication technology mentioned by Rogers. Practical examples are reviewed, assessing whether information is equally distributed among all social groups and how information usage has evolved in modern society.
1.0 Information Overload
Most people are unable to effectively manage the amount of information to which they are constantly exposed. Overloading of our memory can be compared to an overflowing glass filled with water. If water keeps flowing continuously into a full glass everything above the glass ribbon overflows. . Our information absorption is limited, and our brain can only handle a certain amount of incoming information. Nowadays, people are flooded with information which is coming from various sources, and is very difficult to differentiate value-add information from information noise. As John Naisbitt in his book Megatrends said:”We are drowning in information and starved for knowledge” (Naisbitt,1982, p.24). On the other hand, it is good to have so much information at our finger tips, while information is available more easily than any-time before.There is very little we can’t find out within seconds with search engines running on our communication gadgets.
Among the many researches documenting information overload, is the most noticeable is research by Reuters agency called “Dying for information” published by CNI in 1998. The research indicated that people cannot cope with the volume of information which they receive every-day. They spend substantial time searching for information, needed for decision taking, and information collection distracts them from main responsibilities. One disturbing effect is the increase in the level of stress which is linked to enormous amounts of information received. Thus, the finding showed how information overload influences our mental health and social life.
In a second research conducted by University of London, published in 22.4. 2005 by BBC News, that the relation between communication technology and mental sharpness was observed. Distractions from incoming email or phone calls caused up to a 10-point fall in IQ. One can notice that information overload can impose both direct cost linked to cost of information maintenance and indirect cost imposed trough, impact on health or social life.
1.1 The blurring of lines between entertainment and information overload
Donald O. Case in book ‘Looking for Information’ describes difference between informative information and entertaining information (Case, 2007, p. 108). Separating the search of “informative information” from “entertaining information” in everyday life is often almost impossible. People daily receive increasing number of information from news, blogs, tabloids; social network-status posts and they often cannot differentiate which information is useful and they need to understand versus information which might not be completely accurate. Does the excessive flow of information necessarily lead to more thinking? Or does it cause the society to think less? There are some writers who believe that too much information can lead to the increase in the level of ‘noise’ or confusion in understanding the meaning to the message. One of the most interesting elements of this noise was caused by development of Internet which gave rise to virtual communities, or virtual cultures. KováÄová (2011, p.251) refers to creation of own fantasy world where the individual (subject) can manipulate and recreate his identity according to his or her own imagination. The main aim of this virtual world is to bring into the online world the best version of oneself, with a new identity.
One disturbing impact of virtual identities can be seen in the way how people view relations. In Japan the growth of virtual world games caused rise of Otaku culture. In BBC, 24.10 2013 has been published an article about men who prefer virtual girlfriends to sex. Most of those people also decided to change their identity for abetter one. Nowadays, people have areal problem to cope with all the information around them and they do not understand difference between reality and fantasy. It seems that quantity of information become more important than the quality.
Therefore, one can observe that from all of these examples, it is obvious that information overload brings alot of disadvantages which affect us. Our environment is fast-changing and so is the way how we receive, manage and use information. Amount of information determines the usage and evolution of communication technology.
2.0 THE KNOWLEDGE –GAP HYPOTESIS
Knowledge as other kinds of wealth is not distributed equally throughout our society. People who are struggling with financial poverty are also often information poor, with limited access to newest communication technology. Knowledge gap theory is based on the premise that while the production of mass media increases, the knowledge gap between different social groups widens. One reason is the ability of opposing social groups to respond to changes that are taking place in the society and adapt within a certain time interval. In the first hypothesis about knowledge gap found in the study of Tichenor, Donohue & Olien (1970,p.159), the authors wrote: “As the infusion of mass media information into a social system increases, segments of the population with higher socioeconomic status tend to acquire this information at a faster rate than the lower status segments, so that the gap in knowledge between these segments tends to increase rather than decrease.” The author also points out that in measuring the knowledge gap, one should factor in people with access to more information only, and not people who have very little access to new information, as this could incorrectly skew the results. People with low socioeconomic status would most likely have lower access to information. A key indicator of socioeconomic status is education. At the same time, education is also an important factor that influences interest in obtaining information.
2.1 DIGITAL DIVIDE
In the new era of globalization, communication technology plays an increasingly important role. Number of people is connecting to the Internet to conduct their daily activities and they are becoming more and more dependent on technology. The access to information has become synonym of access to communication technology. Inability in access to communication technology can result in information inequality. Very often the theory of a digital gap (digital divide) is quoted, which expands the previous concepts of knowledge-gap hypothesis, information poverty and knowledge. Simply the digital divide can be defined as the gap between those who have the possibility of access to modern information and communication technologies and benefit from them and to those who do not have this privilege. Multiple publications examined the phenomenon of digital divide from different angles. Norris (2001) in his work makes a clear distinction of three different aspects of understanding the digital divide. First of all, he defined first aspect as global divide between countries. This means inequality in access to information communication technologies andinternet between developed and developing countries. As a second aspect Norris described social inequality within one nation or state (social stratification within counties), where the inequality is between “information poor” and “information rich”. Last aspect of digital divide highlights the democratic gap which refers to the difference between those that use digital technology to participation in public life and those who through these technologies do not engage publicly.
As an illustration, in Slovakia since 2005, research is being conducted by the Institute for Public Affairs Slovakia, in the area of communication technologies usage in Slovakian households, under the name Digital Literacy in Slovakia 2013. The research shows that people with higher education degree are more active users of communication technology than people with lower education degree. Low educated, low-skilled, low-income households and residents of small communities belong to the part of population which stood at the edge of the “digital divide” (IT News, 2013). It is apparent that the lack of information access is not only an issue of developing countries of the third world but still a hot topic among developed countries too. The task of a modern society today is to ensure equal access to information and to take appropriate measures ensuring that access to information is available to all.
This paper examined the social impacts caused by the implementation and usage of new communication technology in our day-to-day life. Differences were examined between the inequality of those who benefit from technology and those who do not. Although social networks and communication gadgets have become a part of our culture, for the first time in our history, an unintended consequence is that information overload has led to an information crisis. Practical examples examined different angles of social impacts of communication technology and information evolution in modern society. Society as a whole may need to take steps to assure that access to information is available to all, while defining clear rules and practices to effectively manage and process information inflow.
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