Shrinking Planet: Technology's Role

January 8, 2014

Brand new technologies emerge each year across every sector, many of which could profoundly impact the shape of public discourse. These new resources – from Twitter feeds and online meetings to complex software that can map out potential agreements from a set of positions – have the potential to create an exciting world where vast quantities of information are more available than ever before. 

Bold thinkers today are constantly considering how to best use the streams of data that were previously unimaginable, but are now ready-to-mine. Some are excited about how this information can be used to help build broad-based, bottom-up consensus, and what new technologies can do to amplify previously drowned-out voices, to share knowledge, and to add to the collaborative process. The introduction of cell phones in many regions, for example, has brought thousands of voices into conversations they were previously excluded from.

At the same time, others worry that as face-to-face dialogues are phased out in favor of virtual connections, those without access to these new technologies are in danger of being even more marginalized. How to make new critical new technologies available, or even if they should be available, to those who cannot afford their upfront costs is a hotly debated topic across sectors. 

The issue is further complicated by a growing generational divide with “digital natives” (those who have come of age with and are adept at adopting new technologies) on one side and “digital immigrants” (those struggling to understand, embrace, and incorporate new tools into their repertoires) on the other. The failure for digital immigrants to fully embrace the new tools and technologies as they become available can create communication and productivity road-blocks for both sides.

As the very way we communicate and interact continues to change, the way we approach collaborative dialogue, information sharing, and consensus building will have to adapt, just as all sectors must, to work within the new paradigms and use the advances to our advantage. 

We need to identify where and how new and emerging technologies can help us. Many are developed with such frequency and with differing applications in mind. As we work to consider how to apply these technologies to the field, a number of questions arise:

  •   How can we better identify the uses of new technologies in the contexts of alleviating issues of representation and participation, improving joint fact-finding, and streamlining deliberation and decision-making? 
  •   In what ways are the issues and opportunities in the US and other developed countries different from the developing world?
  •   From the standpoint of collaboration, what should we be embracing? What should we be wary or aware of in adopting new technologies?

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