When we live in a world where technology is embedded within our everyday lives, the idea of a technological ecosystem is an important one to consider.
We often focus on the individual user when we talk about technology. However, like so many other things in life, what we do as an individual does not exist in a vacuum. Instead, our thoughts, ideas, beliefs, actions, and behavior
are shaped within the larger context of our environment.
Is it possible to separate the individual from the community in which he or she lives, learns, plays, and grows?
Does one’s daily environment influence his or her use of technology?
How does media content influence how an individual learns? Does it shape the way he or she views and interacts with their daily environment?
Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory of child development is one way to frame how we may approach these questions. Wait, I know I mentioned the word “theory”, but before I lose you, it’s simpler than you think.
A theory is a way of thinking about possible relationships between two or more concepts. In this case, the concepts include technology use, learning, communication, and the environment in which these things interact. When researchers conduct experiments and report the findings in journal articles, almost every research question and experiment is built on a theoretical foundation. As a result, research findings help support or refute components of a larger theory. So, while theories are not yet scientifically proven in full, they have scientific underpinnings that are supported or refuted in the research.
Now back to Bronfenbrenner...
Within the ecological systems theory, the child or individual technology user is at the center of five surrounding environmental systems, systems the individual interacts with in a bidirectional manner. Bronfenbrenner theorized that the environment influences the individual, and in turn, the individual influences others within his or her environment.
The microsystem consists of the environment the individual interacts with on a daily basis. As a result, people within this environment have the greatest influence on the individual. This includes family, caregivers, teachers and peers at school, friends, and neighbors.
The mesosystem connects individuals in the microsystem across settings. Remember when you had a birthday party in elementary school? You invited friends from different parts of your life to converge at a single event… friends from school, friends from your neighborhood, friends from scouting, sports, church, etc. This is how the mesosystem works. It makes connections between different people in different environments in turn affecting how they influence the individual.
The exosystem encompasses broader systems that indirectly affect the individual’s environment. Within a technology context, this could include policies, such as those issued by professional organizations; standards enacted by school districts; mediated content produced by app developers; the development of new devices and operating systems, etc.
Finally, the broader macrosystem embodies the attitudes and culture of society at large. It is here that our view of technology evolves over time, shaped by broader and deeper issues embedded within our culture. This includes, for example, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, educational systems, poverty, religion, politics, societal trends, etc.
We live in a diverse society, where we value the uniqueness of individuals. As a result, we don’t use and consume different kinds of media content and technology in the same ways.
How has your environment shaped how you view technology use,
at home, at school, and at work?
What role do you play in the technology ecosystem
as a parent, educator, professional, researcher, or industry creator?
In 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasized the importance of collaboration between educators and professionals in order to implement appropriate media guidelines within the educational environment. This includes not only quantity, but also the quality of content.
But a word of warning, it all starts with us, and how we as individuals use technology. Gentile and colleagues (2004) found that professionals who consume greater amounts of media themselves, are less likely to advise parents about media related concerns.
For more information, check out…
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013) Children, adolescents, and the media. Pediatrics, 132(5), 958-961. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2013-2656
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Gentile, D. A., Oberg, C., Sherwood, N. E., Story, M., Walsh, D. A., & Hogan, M. (2004). Well-child visits in the video age: Pediatricians and the American Academy of Pediatrics' guidelines for children's media use. Pediatrics, 114(5), 6.