Nuclear technology revolutionized national power politics in the first half of the twentieth century. The MAD (mutual assured destruction) concept made world war a thing of the past and ushered in what was known as the "cold war". Rather than world powers sending hordes of young men onto the field of battle to slaughter one another, nuclear technology reduced human conflict to large national beasts glowering at one another across a nuclear divide.
Communication technology revolutionized social structures and cultural mores in the second half of the twentieth century. Beginning in the 1940s, with the emergence of solid-state devices, vacuum tubes, transistors, integrated circuits, and computer processors, communication technology took a great leap forward. Then personal computers, which revolutionized office-based work, emerged in the 1970s. In addition to word processing, these computers enabled practitioners to access the “world wide web,” which became generally available in the 1980s. Smartphones, which are now ubiquitous in social workers' and clients' lives, emerged in the 1990s.
The Arab Spring
Perhaps the most dramatic upheaval brought on by this new communication technology was a series of events known as the Arab Spring. Multiple anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions spread across much of the Arab world in the early 2010s. Beginning in Tunisia, the protests then expanded rapidly to Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain, where either the ruler was deposed or major uprisings, civil wars, and insurgencies occurred. The rulers of these largely closed Muslim societies did not realize the combined communication power of the internet, social media, and the cell phone. The entire political structure of the Middle East set up by the Allies after the Second World War came under attack and sparked a revolution against authoritarianism and exploitation that continues to this day in Sudan and Algeria.
U.S. Social Structures and Cultural Mores
It will be many years before historians can adequately assess how this electronic communication revolution has affected our country's social structures and cultural mores. Social workers we talked to this past week cite a list of subtle but radical alterations that have not yet been clearly evaluated by the general public.
- Death of experts - the rapid explosion of the internet has put all information at the fingertips of even the youngest children. Everyone feels that they have equal access to information along with "so-called" experts. Therefore, we are all experts in everything if we choose to be.
- No more teachers - Students reported during COVID-19 that remote learning taught them that they have little use for teachers. Most of what they learn they "pick up off the internet".
- Truth - A Relative Term - Anyone and everyone can posit their perspective on social media. It's up to the reader to "choose" among opposing narratives what he/she will affirm as a fact.
- Editors Not Wanted - Any attempt by "authorities" to edit or fact check information is considered a violation of citizens' rights and is considered an attempt at "cancel culture".
- Leaders - Only accepted if they espouse what we already believe. They are no longer teachers or persuaders.
Good or Bad?
Both the Arab Spring and the U.S. cultural shift are examples of how "destabilizing" this communication technology revolution has been. Most young Americans see the internet and social media as empowering, while most Arab strong men see it as a force for evil disruption. It depends, of course, on your point-of-view.
Social Work Perspective
Today, large numbers of social workers use video counseling, e-mail, social networking websites, text messaging, avatar-based platforms, self-guided web-based interventions, smartphone apps, and other technology to provide services to clients, some of whom they never meet in person. As a result of these developments, today’s social workers can use technology to communicate with clients remotely, store clients’ records and other information, search online for information, prepare reports and other documents, deliver services to clients remotely, manage budgets, conduct online meetings, provide staff training, and analyze program evaluation data. Most of the social workers we talked to consider these communication advances as the inevitable wave of the future that should be embraced and utilized for the good of society.