Sociology in this Technological Age

Some of our students wonder what one does with a Sociology degree.  One of the best ways to find out is to learn about other Sociologists.  One such person was Clifford Nass, who passed away last weekend.  He was a professor at Stanford, and his research into how people interact with technology is very relevant to how we all live our lives today.  He and his team were some of the first researchers in the ’90s to discover that while computers are machines, most people interact with them in very human ways.  We get upset or angry when the technology we’re surrounded by doesn’t do what we want it to do.  We feel flattered and good when a computer tells us we did a good job.  In one study, he had people use a computer with a prominent green frame.  Subjects were given either a matching green armband or a blue armband.  The study found that those who wore the matching green armband were more likely to feel favorably toward the green-banded computer than those who wore the blue.  He explored many of these themes in his 2010 book, The Man Who Lied to His Laptop.  

Most recently, his work focused on multi-tasking – specifically how we are now surrounded by technology that is constantly competing for our attention: Facebook messages, twitter feeds, 24 hour news channels, texts, phones, tablets, notebooks, etc.  As an University professor, he was perfectly placed to see how students had changed over the years, moving from only face-to-face interactions to communicating with each other through their devices – sometimes even when in the same room or just down the hall from each other.  His work was featured in a Frontline documentary in 2009.  

For further details – and to find out exactly what he did discover about multi-tasking (his working theory going into the study was that heavy multi-taskers would display exceptional skills at organizing data, switching between tasks and/or focusing on pertinent information, etc.  His findings were very interesting on all those points.), here are two good articles:

LA Times: Clifford Nass
New York Time: Clifford Nass

What do you think you would end up doing with a Sociology degree?

Have a great weekend!

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