The Role of Technology and Culture in UX Research
Science is always trying to provide answers. Questions like what came first the chicken or the egg? — are the dilemma of evolutionary science. In a similar way, the question of humans and their development still puzzle scientists. We know that people are biological and cultural creatures, but then the question remains: are we more driven by biology or culture? The same is true about the relationship between culture and technology. We know that we need both, but then again, the question is should we preserve cultural tradition or should we abandon it and just nurture technological development? The reality is much more synergic than each answer or decision would allow. To answer this question, we need to observe how we came to the point where this question is relevant and what can we do next. In order to see why this question became relevant, we need to go through the simultaneous development of culture and technology and highlight professions like UX research, sociology, and anthropology. These disciplines can bridge the gap between technology and culture, which is being widened more than ever.
IS IT TECHNOLOGY AND CULTURE OR TECHNOLOGY VS. CULTURE?
Patrick J. Deneen in Technology, Culture, and Virtue (2008) explains the complex relationship between culture and technology and why it provokes us so much. This dilemma is not so much about the present as it is about the past and the future. Technology was in some form part of the culture from the start, and they both developed simultaneously. Tools that our ancestors used for hunting, cultivating, preparing food, and other purposes were the first technology that we know of. Therefore, we cannot say that technology is something that appeared in modern times, so why is it that now we consider culture and technology as something separate from one another? We have to be aware that culture will never disappear, same as technology, they both will just continue transforming into different forms. Why then are modern scientists arguing so much about these topics? The answer is very simple - to highlight their effects.
OLD-FASHIONED TRANSMISSION OF KNOWLEDGE
As was mentioned, culture and technology will not disappear, but they will shape our lives and the lives of our descendants. Patrick J. Denied (2008) explains that technology and culture were once in touch with nature. Our ancestors discovered the world bit by bit and collected knowledge over many generations. They sought out and collected knowledge so that they could pass it down to future generations. This transmission of knowledge was slow, but it included a more thorough learning curve that was individual-specific. It made the experience worthy of remembering but also the advancements made in harmony with nature. Moreover, because it was transmitted by people, knowledge was dependent on building relationships. In conclusion, the ancient process of collecting, testing, and passing down knowledge was slow, efficient, and beneficial on many different social and biological levels.
DID MODERN TECHNOLOGY DEVELOP TOO SUDDENLY?
Modern technology changed it all. When modern people discover or invent something, some of them hasten the testing phase, while others just proceed to the launch phase immediately. Moreover, there is no need for building relationships to pass down our knowledge, to project our less or more fake personalities through social media, or to make our bad experiences guidelines for other people’s lives. Even though we get the opportunity to meet someone online who is on another continent, and chat with them for years, it often does not establish a significant relationship. In a globalized world where we thought that the world would become a small village, we became alienated. We belong to online and local cultures, but at the same time, we feel misplaced and do not belong to any. We get offended if members of foreign cultures highlight obvious problems of ours because we are emotionally attached to our culture. But at the same time, we cannot afford to be just part of the local culture, or else we would develop a feeling of being left out. The most frightening thing is that the online culture that today's generations mostly belong to is not a culture of behavior, it is a culture of highly accurate but at the same time random algorithms which not even its creators can predict or control. The documentary The Social Dilemma (2020) highlights the depression, anxiety, existential emptiness, and cluelessness of the modern people that these algorithms create.
A SHIFT IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF CULTURE AND TECHNOLOGY
In theory, one would expect that being a part of a different culture would result in mutual understanding and cultural sharing, and in increasing our chances to create an even better life. So, even if we put unpredictable algorithms aside, we would expect that our biology would somehow evolve and provide us with some superpower that would enable us to be active members of different worlds. Along with it our focus and social skills would be expanded and so would our ability to process data. But the change in technological development was too abrupt for the majority. Leaving aside psychological effects like increased rate of anxiety, and depression, one example of a biological side effect can be seen in Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows (2010). He researched how the Internet and online reading affects our brain. He claimed that evolution maintains linear reading — we read line by line and this reading style focuses our attention on lines we are passing through. Carr states that the Internet with all the advertising, moving, and popping up properties of the page, switches our mindset from linear to simultaneous reading which divides our attention and reduces our ability to focus. The results are temporary knowledge and the fact that we do not have such a big thesaurus of long-term memory as our ancestors had. Maybe this does not seem so awful because we have more knowledge in our smartphones than any person could ever have in their mind. But one major problem appears when we need to apply that knowledge (we can't apply something we do not understand or possess), and the other problem appears with aging when brain health declines. Unfocused reading together with the knowledge that is stored in our phones instead in our heads can lead to weak neuron connections that eventually cause different types of dementia (Eagleman, 2015). So, even though we found a way of prolonging the youth of our body, it does not have much value when cannot even remember it.
TECHNOLOGY AND CULTURE AT LAST...
Technology same as culture are essential components that make us human, but the way we use them predicts where we are headed. Our future and the future of those that come after depend on the use of technology and culture and we need to make sure that it meets the high standards of quality that our ancestors created in their environment. One of the secure ways of doing so is to put highly trained professionals at work. Big corporations and companies should hire as many anthropologists, sociologists, and UX researchers that can adjust products and content while having culture, comforts of modern time, and nature on their minds. They use different research methods, are aware of different cultural layers, and have the know-how to incorporate technology into the culture while having the best interest of people as the leading point.
Creating new products in cooperation with humanistic scientists helps to create not only timeless products but also make sure that we create a better world for those who come after us. We did not conquer the planet by creating short-term, barely useful products and tools, we did it by creating content that will challenge our minds, and our emotions and make us stronger. This is a path we need to keep going down to synergistically develop our culture and technology and to transform their relationship from rivals to once again an indicator of humanity.