Young audience brings up issues in network technology

Ben Theobald

Technology is always evolving our lives with new networking devices, though it can also evolve into a different audience that it wasn’t necessarily intended for.

“Younger people tend to be more inclined to technology than older people,” said Kevin Scheibe, associate professor of supply chain and information systems. “Smart phones and iPod touches, things that are connected, certainly have enabled a newer, younger generation. There is a draw technologically.”

Young audiences now have access to services that were not intended for them.

“Technology is designed with a particular audience in mind, but it gets adapted to other applications,” said Brian Mennecke, associate professor of supply chain and information systems. “There is a theory in our field called ‘structuration theory;’ the basic idea is you can’t consider technology by itself, you have to consider technology in the context of people.

“When a technology is put out in that context,” Mennecke said, “applications for it in terms of the basic functionality that it offers generally are appropriated in ways that were not anticipated by the designers.”

However, with technological devices comes the ability to adapt to a new audience; in this case, the creator of the device would be able to change the device to make it safe for a young audience.

“As the designer sees different appropriations for it, they have to adapt the technology; they have to make a set of controls, but I suspect that most people don’t do much with that,” Mennecke said. “People probably don’t think of how someone else might appropriate that device.”

Facebook, the most popular social networking site that has reached more than 500 million users and topped Google as the most visited site in 2010, has become a concern as more kids have been getting access to the Internet.

According to Facebook’s terms of service, a user must be at least 13 to use Facebook, considering it is a social networking cite on the Internet.

It’s no surprise to Scheibe that these rules are often broken or not even considered by the user.

“The thing about these online networks is that people develop a digital persona,” Scheibe said. “You have this person, a digital manifestation of yourself, that actually is out there and persists.”

“These 13 year olds, they’re not thinking about the next 10 years. When they’re engaging and doing these things online, they’re creating a digital presence,” Scheibe said.

There have been many issues with Facebook in terms of the accountability of what they’re posting in statuses or pictures.

“The question that is being brought up is whether it is right for people to discriminate against you based upon information that you are conveying about yourself that is not necessarily protected by law,” Scheibe said.

It seems that the case of posting online begs the question: Is the user protected by the First Amendment?

“Do we have the freedom to express ourselves?” Scheibe said. “I think that we do. Does that mean, though, that anything you say or do is done with impunity, or how might that affect how somebody views you?”

Scheibe said a metaphor for Facebook that would be appropriate is a glass house — the user must be careful of what he or she puts out for the whole public to see and monitor.

“If you’re conveying an impression of something that might be viewed as unreliable, would it be inappropriate for an employer to see that and then judge you accordingly?” Scheibe said.

Michael Bugeja, director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication has been a critic of Facebook, according to an analysis he made in a piece called “Facing the Facebook” that was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2006.

“I’ve learned many things about Facebook in the past five years,” Bugeja said. “No matter who says what about its deleterious effects, that company will continue to take advantage of every user without those users knowing it, because Facebook’s main concern is profit.”

The terms of any website like Facebook are like a contract — once you sign up, or in this case, click the “I agree” tab, you are bound to them.

“If an incident arises, well, sorry, you clicked ‘I agree’ and didn’t read the terms,” Bugeja said. “Facebook is about profit at the expense of your privacy. Until a federal judge reviews these terms and declares them ‘unconscionable,’ meaning the contract is unjustly one-sided, people will continue to fritter away their privacy so that Facebook can data mine content and sell, sell, sell.”