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Societal Effects of Digital Cultures

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2081 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The transition from oral to print culture is a very defining moment in the history of mankind because of the substantial changes it had on society. The Internet has been the catalyst for digital culture, just as the printing press was the catalyst of print culture. With inventions like the Internet, the World Wide Web, smartphones, and other technologies the amount of information we can now categorize, save, and access instantly is seemingly limitless. The rapid pace of advancement in digital technology is no longer making electronic devices just pieces of technology, but interactive technologies that hold a much greater role in our communication and society than print ever did. We have been, for some time now, undergoing the shift from a print culture to digital culture that is similar in impact, if not more than, the transition made from oral to print culture. Communication as we once knew it is no longer primarily made by speaking face-to-face or sending letters and texts, instead it is experienced through the technology itself. The invention and widespread use of the Internet, mobile devices, and wireless networks gives us the ability to be connected to the media, our technology, and the globe, at all times. Hyperconnectivity, instant gratification, and decentralized collaboration are just some characterizations of digital culture. However, these characteristics could have serious repercussions for the foundation of our society and how individuals view it, as well as themselves. It is essential for everyone to be aware of the current, and future, effects digital culture is having on our society.

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The digital media revolution has moved beyond the virtual world and has transformed all facets of modern lifestyle and culture, and almost all aspects of modern society have been altered to adapt to the new digital culture. Communication technologies now hold a much larger role in human interaction than they ever did in print culture. But what impacts do these new mediums and increases in reach of audience have on our culture, our perceptions, and the way we manage ourselves? Studying the impacts of media on culture began with Marshall McLuhan publishing Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. In this work he coins the term “the medium is the message” and further expands on his theories in The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. McLuhan states, “societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication. The alphabet, for instance, is a technology that is absorbed by the very young child in a completely unconscious manner, by osmosis so to speak. […]It is impossible to understand social and cultural changes without a knowledge of the workings of media(pg 42). I agree with McLuhan’s argument that you must understand the format, or “medium”, and the way it projects, communicates, or demonstrates ideas and shapes the message being interpreted. I think too often we never have full understanding of our medium, therefore never fully grasping the message being given. Since today’s digital devices demand almost constant attention, and act as mediums for most people, this can negatively effect the ways in which we interact, work, entertain, gain knowledge, conduct business, and communicate. Nevertheless, I concluded from McLuhan that digital culture’s roots begin with the human interaction with electronic devices.

Modern communication technology is not only more powerful and efficient, it is also more interactive between the technology and its user. The heart and soul of digital culture is the very human interaction with technology that offers wide varieties of platforms for communication and interaction with other humans via their connected electronic devices. Traditional communication technologies differ from social media because being online “allows users to create, share, and collaborate on content in new ways” (Government Office). However, the dynamics of communication change in cyberspace because people are more open and do not use as many filters as they would in face-to-face communications. Since hyperconnectivity is still fairly new, and its’ future still very unclear, we must be very aware of this phenomenon. “Hyperconnectivity is the use of multiple communication systems and devices to constantly stay connected to information systems and social networks. The attributes include always being connected, easily accessible, information rich, interactive, and virtually unlimited storage capacity” (Fredette, et al. 115). As of September 2013, 73% of all Internet users use a social networking site, and 90% of Internet users age 18-29 use a social networking site (“Social Networking”). The amount of personal information on the Internet is unfathomable because of all the people that are actively participating and continuously creating, sharing, and collaborating on content. However, there are different rules for digital medias than there are for print because technically, you are “sharing” this information. This means that in some cases, the photos, videos, and comments you share on social networking sites can be retained by the website. As a user of social media, you must be very attentive and conscious of any personal information shared online, with the awareness that it can be retained and used by others. Policy makers have been slow to develop laws surrounding online content and ownership, but with more breaches in privacy and advancements in the field of “big data,” policy makers will soon be forced to write new legislation regarding personal ownership and property rights online.

Overall, everything connected to digital culture is exponentially faster than before. Technological advancements with transportation, communication, and supply deliveries, consumer electronics now have reduced wait times for basically everything. Of course, there are positives from this increased efficiency, so much so that sometimes we have trouble imagining how we ever got by without all the new advancements in technological. However, instant gratification as a result of our digital culture has negative consequences as well. While improvements in technology continue to limit or eliminate wait times, we see the effect on individuals in relation to patience. Now that we have instant access to the majority of our life needs, our conditioning for “delay discounting” is deteriorating. Delay discounting is “the willingness to postpone receiving an immediate reward in order to gain additional benefits in the future” (Cheng, Shein, & Chiou 129). It has also been confirmed that delay discounting effects health, wealth, and happiness. The transition to digital age is also leading humans towards an intensive “continuously present” culture, defined by “doing” rather than “being”. The continuous present is “at work when the individual is occupied in some way, and time for contemplation and reflection is blocked” (Voase 2). Our constant connection to electronic devices means that we are almost always ‘doing’ something, which limits our ability to think about the future or partake in delay discounting. The inability to remove yourself from the present and reflect on the past, or think of the future, has devastating impacts on all parts of one’s life, especially with young children and teens.

As previously stated, digital devices demand our constant attention, completely changing the ways we are interacting, working, advertising, etc. Now that ideas flow faster, companies are beginning to realize that managers are needing to communicate with younger employees in a whole new manner. Businesses are not understanding the explosiveness of the digital communication network, and can often find themselves struggling to “catch up”. But how can businesses stand out in what is considered an “equal playing field”, where anyone and everyone can create a website or blog, and say what they want? Possibly, by observing the way athletes and celebrities interact with fans today, companies can adapt and improve how they reach out potential employees in a whole new way. While celebrities and their fans may be focused on gossip, beauty, and popularity, business managers can use these very same outlets to build similar relationships with their consuming public.

The digital revolution has also given us the ability to easily copy and replicate things, and while this may be helpful with championing a product on the digital highway, it also means managers will need to work harder to protect original ideas, product innovations, and copyrighted insights. Culturally, the digital age has changed the way we identify with one another and form communities. While 20th century consumers usually bonded in close-knit neighborhoods, today’s target demographics bond in global communities like online chat rooms, YouTube communities, and online forums to provide advice or share personal stories. Corporations will need to investigate how they can do more to include these new communities in order to find advocates and influencers who can help them create and build their brand message.

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The Internet holds a parallel relationship to digital culture as the printing press had to print culture. Both technologies, hold massive weight within their respective cultures and are responsible for turning a transitional period into a cultural revolution. However, with digital culture still being relatively new, these characteristics and definitions of this culture can not be seen as “concrete”. However, there have been few consistent characteristics within its short timespan, and one is its constant and rapid evolution. The speed at which the World changes can be diverse at times, but to put it into perspective, it took over 1500 years from the creation of the Semitic proto-alphabet to get to the creation of the printing press, 500 years from the invention of the printing press to the development of the Internet, and only 10 years from the World Wide Web to the creation of the smartphone. It is difficult for us to imagine a time so long ago, that was so different from today, having such similarities in the impacts on culture that we are experiencing now. The change to digital culture has had such profound effects on our daily lives and will only continue to do so, but we must continuously examine the current, and future, implications of our new digital culture. Further expansions within language, knowledge, and relationships between humans and technology could become overwhelming. When McLuhan said that “The goose quill put an end to talk,” (pg 48) in the same sense, we should be asking ourselves what else will the internet put an end to?

Works Cited 

  • Cheng, Ying-Yao, Paichi Pat Shein, and Wen-Bin Chiou. “Escaping the Impulse to Immediate Gratification: The prospect Concept Promotes a Future-Oriented Mindset, Prompting and Inclination Towards Delayed Gratification.” British Journal of Psychology 103.1 (2012): 129. Web. 24 November 2018.
  • Fredette, John, et al. “The Promise and Peril of Hyperconnectivity for Organizations and Socities.” The Global Information Technology Report 2012: Living in a Hyperconnceted World. Web. 24 November 2018.
  • Government Office for Science of the United Kingdom. Foresight Future Identities. HMSO, 2013. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
  • McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. Gingko Press, 2001 p.42, p. 48
  • Ong, Walter J. Information and/or Communication: Interactions.” Communication Research Trends 16.3 (1996): 10. Web. 24 Nov 2018.
  • –“Orality, Literacy, And Medieval Textualization. (1984): 1-12. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 24 Nov 2018.
  • “Social Networking Fact Sheet.” PEW Internet. PEW Research, Sept. 2013.Web. 24 November 2018.
  • Voase, Richard, ed. Tourism, Roads, and Cultural Itineraries: Meaning, Memory and Development, June13-­‐15, 2012, Quebec City, Canada.Web. 24 Nov 2018.             



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