Discord or Harmony: Culture and Technology

October 1, 2000

Introducing any new tool into an organization or community can change the way people do things, but the transformative effect that computers and digital technologies are having on our society has few parallels in human history.

Some groups find that the new technologies support their culture's traditions, values, and ways of interacting, while others worry that they will threaten established patterns and beliefs.

People we talked to seemed to find it helpful to examine how the introduction of technologies, whether digital or mechanical, might be consonant with or conflict with the values of their culture, community, and organization. For some, being invited to talk about these issues enabled people to discuss concerns they hadn't yet articulated, or hadn't considered to be part of the "technical talk" of a technology planning process. For others, particularly the Native American groups we consulted, reflecting on the potential impact of the "white man's technology" was already high on their list, although they may not have discussed these issues outside of their communities.

Our purposes here are to share others' stories in the hopes that they may suggest areas of consideration for your group, and to help you think concretely about how the introduction of technology might affect the way you organize, act, talk to each other, and do things together.

We visited more than 50 communities and organizations across the country, interviewing community leaders and community members, both young and adult, and conducting focus groups and community conversations. Their stories dominate this piece because they were the most proactive about raising issues about the relationship of technology to culture.


Ellen Wahl