Does technology ultimately promote equality and enhance social relations?

I would welcome the guidance of anyone able to allay my fears, as well as the opinions of those sharing similar concerns, regarding the following:


As a PGCE (LLS) Sociology student, I am anxious for many reasons about the emphasis the government insists we place on incorporating numeracy, literacy and ICT (in particular) into lessons.  As Ken Robinson points out in his inspirational speech regarding the ways in which schools kill creativity: “Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects: at the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and the bottom are the arts.”[i]  For me, although sound numeracy, literacy and ICT skills are obviously important, especially in our ever-evolving technological age, elevating the significance of these skills/subjects above other rich fields of study, intelligences and talents has, I believe, the potential to inhibit rather than promote equality and diversity. 


As a Sociologist in admiration of Marxist philosophy (amongst others), I fear technology could become another means of alienation; firstly, state of the art ICT tools (relentlessly updated objects of consumption) are not free and are therefore not accessible to all.  Secondly, the effects of virtual social networking, for example, arguably have a detrimental effect on ‘real’ human interaction and social relations.  As a result, in these digital, globalised times, I am becoming increasingly preoccupied with the profound words of Jean Jacques Rousseau in his ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequality’:


They all ran to chain themselves, in the belief that they secured their liberty, for although they had enough sense to realise the advantages of a political establishment, they did not have enough experience to foresee its dangers.[ii]


Accordingly, regarding technology, although its educational advantages are explicit in our progressive society, in terms of equality and social relations in the long-term, I fear that collectively we, too, have become enchained and lack the experience to foresee its dangers.



[i] Robinson, K., (2012)  ‘Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity’ [Online] Available from:

(Accessed 1 January 2013)

[ii] Miller, 1992: vii, in Rousseau (1992; Orig. 1755: 56)

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Hello! xx Yeah, you are right, we do have to move with the times and in education it does have its benefits. It's the instant gratification - everything accessible at the click of a button - that also worries me but that's more beyond the educational environment. It's not doing us any favours in the long run - we don't have to wait any more or put in effort to go and find things out and explore things in the 'real' world. That and the communication. That having been said, this is addictive; I'm logging off quick!! :)

Hi Keeley,
Yes it can be addictive!! And I think it goes without saying that any age can feel that addiction! But I also agree with your comment about just how easy it is!! It's important I think to keep things real with the learners and to remind them that it's not all about what's online, reading physical books, and conversation with real people can be far more of an advantage when learning.
T x

Yeah, me too - striking a balance. And we become bored so easily with a piece of technology once its bigger, better version is unleashed; we never become bored of talking, listening, socialising; being human xx 

Hi Keeley,

Whilst I partly agree with your fears about 'real world' extinction of some basic skills technology seems better at than us humans today .. if QE2 and The Pope have taken it on board .. it seems that it cannt be considered an ageism barrier .. more a psycological hurdle.

I cannot remember the last time I looked at an atlas to find a city .. we have GOOGLE EARTH and why roadmaps .. when we have TOMTOM!! In reality students in FE and HE today are very competent users of technology probably more so for fun and social use. Should we as teachers leverage their enthusiasm for using technowizbanggadgets .. but in a way that can help their learning. If you are in the same boat as me, not great myself with techn .......dgets, then we need to be open minded towards its benefits thus making us positive towards their place in the teaching menu.

Roland Baggott

Hahaha, technowizbanggadgets! Yes, I'm in your boat - it's got life rafts but it still feels a bit choppy and I feel rather sick! I agree, and whilst not deflating their enthusiasm for it, I believe we should keep technology as an enhancer and not a dominator, and show them how to use a real map because we really do need to use both. Imagination and creativity.  How dull would treasure hunting be if no map was needed? I read this today which was the sort of thing that was also in my mind when I thought up this discussion. Have a look. Thanks Roland, you've made me laugh and think of Roald Dahl; have a whizzpopping day! :)

Hi Keeley, I am particularly interested in your question about "the potential to inhibit rather than promote equality and diversity." I hosted a homework club at a local library a few years ago and I became very aware of how vital internet access is for schoolchildren and yet, how so many do not have access at home.  I was hoping things might have improved since my days at Greenstead Library but then I saw this headline from 4 January 2013: - "A third of poorest pupils 'without internet at home'. "  So, I guess not. 

There is no doubt that students without internet access at home lose out not just on the skills of using the internet to find information but also, for me more vitally, they lose out in the skills to decipher when an internet page is unreliable, biased, in some way compromised as to its independence or otherwise untrustworthy.  These are all qualities a street smart kid “gets” when they speak to someone else but, without enough practise, they find it difficult to pick up on the necessary clues when using online sources. 

It may be true that schoolchildren and young adults love to search and play games on the internet and their handheld devices.  What about those that don’t have the consumer power to have those devices or maintain that access?  Too often, in my experience of running a homework club, teachers assume that children will have access and the means to search internet sources.  What happens in such cases is if you are a regular un-digital kid, you get Plan B.

As an information professional my objection to this is that as a society we develop a reliance on digital navigation skills instead of the really important skill, critical evaluation. It’s all very well to suggest that you “triangulate sources to check accuracy” but, that is only one strategy.  A researcher looks at the timeliness, the publication date, the reputation of the producer or the publisher, the quality of the debate, the completeness of the debate and relevance of the source.  What is more, they keep up to date with the sources available and develop a deep knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary of the subject area.  All of these are choices one can make with a book or a web page without excluding anyone, whatever their income or home circumstance. By the way, you can triangulate all you like but, why would you do a thing three times to check when you could do it right first time? And how do you develop the skills to discard an unreliable source that doesn’t match the others if you have three sources to select from? Unless you develop the skills I have described above you could be looking at three incorrect sources.  Corroboration of facts isn’t the only thing that is wrong here.

Do you realise how western this digital divide is? It is only four years since Africa got broadband?  See this BBC story from Wednesday, 16 September 2009.  If we want a diverse debate in the global academic arena, we really should be able to do better than this.  If we can’t do better, we should at least make some allowances for the differences without simply focussing on making all our young adults efficient little consumers. They deserve better.


Thank you so much for taking the time to think about this. The links you have shared are really valuable and much appreciated.  I'm glad to know I'm not alone in my concerns about consumption and the disadvantages facing those without easily accessible internet access. I'm not sure if you know of the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who talks of the advantages of the middle classes over the working classes in terms of 'cultural capital' (as well as the obvious economic, social and human capital), and how this affects individuals within the education system. If you're interested I'll bring some books in next week. Thanks again, what you have said is really important and I will think about it some more tonight.

I DO know of M'sieu Bourdieu and have just been reading about his concept of habitus. In the arena where I hope to work I think I will be referring frequently to the concenpt of social or cultural capital, which is partly why I am so cross about the "payment by results" nonsense in the current review of the probation service. If only ....

Oh good! :) I knew you'd like him and I'm glad it's relevant. If!

Thank you, Lucy.  I agree. And I'm also concerned that beyond the classroom cyber bullying is a problem but also, for so many reasons, I think social relations are affected. Communicating via some form of keyboard is very different to reading body language, learning to listen, be respectful, demonstrate empathy (reaching out) and so on.  It is just too tempting to check social networking sites and texts (we all do it) when these gadgets are sitting there in front of you.

Hi Keeley,

I believe that technology use in education should be a complement not instead of. I agree that 'spellcheck' is a bit of a literacy coppout for students who word process documents today, but then maybe we should have quick-fire spellathons without PC's to compensate? I thinkwe should also accept that ipods, androids, tablets, etc are part of most students life today which instead of restricting the use of in class, may be we can encourage them to use in educational enhancing ways. Research on the internet for one is a good way.

Following Andrea's comments before ... telephones at first probably brought fear to some folk. The UK is probably approaching 'population = phones' (4 in my family .. 5 phones including the almost redundant one at home!!)

Its the next step when phones try to understand and interpret our thinking that is worrying for me. Great that we dont have to press buttons and stuff .. but we already have human to human misunderstandings applenty .. think what could happen soon??



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