The future is here. 3.2 billion subscribers, an estimated 47% of people on the planet, are using mobile technology. 74% of adults use social networking sites.
Social workers are no exception. They are beginning to revolutionize practice with technology. In addition to using mobile devices to communicate with clients and advanced digital data collection, social workers are taking Masters courses in online formats and even dabbling in cyber therapy with certain clients.
Technology and Social Work
But a culture clash exists between early adopters and traditional practitioners that has made it difficult for social workers to go high-tech. Baby boomers, who have risen to management positions in most agencies, are slow to adopt technology. After all, change is uncomfortable, and they feel uncertain about how technology will impact practice effectiveness. They are reluctant to give up the in-person connection with clients they see coming, and they have ethical questions they are wrestling with. GenXers and Millennials, the majority of case workers, do not share the same concerns.
MUSIC: Back in the mid-90s when I realized I could download one song instantly onto my MP3 player from Napster or iTunes rather than travel to the Sam Goody to buy an entire album which I didn’t really want, I knew the music business was in for a radical change. The music industry is now half the size it was one decade ago.
NEWSPAPERS: Once readers could read the story or two they were interested in on the internet from a variety of different free news sources, they were no longer willing to travel to a newsstand to buy a whole newspaper. Newspaper revenues fell from $67 billion in 2000 to $19.9 billion in 2014.
BOOKS: Almost no one was willing to buy a hardcover book for $25 when digital versions were available for $9.99. Most book publishers and independent book stores have gone out of business.
TRANSPORTATION: Uber and Lyft revolutionized transportation in ways that were unimaginable back in 2005. Today, Uber, which is only 8 years old, is worth more than 80% of the companies on the Fortune 500 list.
HOUSING: Airbnb, founded in 2008, now has 2 million listings in 34,000 cities and 191 countries.
In his entertaining article on Hollywood in this month’s Vanity Fair, Nick Bilton paints this chillingly realistic portrait of the near future:
“You come home in a driverless car and say aloud to Alexa or Siri, “I want to watch a comedy with two female actors as the leads.” Alexa responds, “ O.K., but you have to be at dinner at 8 P.M. Should I make the movie one hour long?” “Sure, that sounds good.” Then you’ll sit down to watch on a television that resembles digital wallpaper…And you might, through the glory of A.I., be able to watch with your spouse, who is halfway around the world on a business trip.”
Technology will change the nature of social work in ways we cannot now imagine just as it has changed the music industry, transportation, housing, and print publishing. If we all accept this, we will be available to manage the change for the better. To quote Kristin Battista-Frazee, MSW in Social Work Today,
“The coming together of innovators and traditionalists, keeping up with the digital revolution, and weaving this into our practice will determine the course of our profession.”