I am now working on a paper about the histories of the “digital divide” for the upcoming ICA pre-conference. While re-reading some of the articles and organizing my own thoughts, I got stuck with the following image in my head. I tend to view our interaction with technology as a dance, sort of a passionate tango where the partners are competing for lead. As users we can take a step forward in this dance (embracing more technology) or a step back (dropping technological practices and devices). But we are not limited just to that back and forth motion. We can also step aside, turn around, spin our partner, let them spin us, and basically be both creative and innovative in what we do.
At the same time, it is a pair dance, so our decisions of what we do, or even an appreciation of what we can do, is a function of cooperation between us (users) and our partner (technology). We plan our next steps based on the feedback from our partner. The partner can limit our options of being creative and innovative, or even to move in a certain direction, and yet they can improve our dance, making us realizing unprecedented abilities. We are very attentive to our partner and respond to each little movement of their body, to every clue about how comfortable and/or excited they are about the next move. There is constant tension and continuous pressure between you two, because it is only through this interaction that your dance is born and this what makes it so exciting.
Although we, as a pair and each one of us as an individual, have a lot of agency in shaping the dance, it is also guided by the surroundings. If we are to participate in an official ballroom dancing competition there is a plethora of formal rules and convention we’d have to fit our innovation into (using technology at work). However, even we are just dancing for fun, the settings in which it happens encourage certain behaviors and discourage others (talking on phone in public). We may be more willing to innovate when we are among friends who share our passion to dancing, and be more reluctant to perform extravagant moves among strangers. In some cultural settings we might not be able to dance at all.
We also learn. The experience matters, and the more we dance and spend time analyzing this dance, the better we get to know our partner and work out little dancing routines within the limitations of our joint abilities. At the same time, being on the dance floor and observing other people dancing, we pick up steps and we allow ourselves trying new moves. As times goes by, as a pair we also learn to interact with the social settings, understanding the limits of extravaganza we can follow on different occasions and with different audiences. The more experience and knowledgeable we are getting (both about each other and about the different settings) the more confident we fill to stretch the boundaries and challenge the conventions. It works exactly the same with technology.
So, whether it is a tango or a dance with media and communication technology, this interaction is complex, dynamic, multidimensional, and constantly evolving. This is probably it is so fascinating to watch. Don’t you think?