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Recapping the previous posts on this topic, Mark Zuckerberg’s new non-profit consortium of information and communication technology (ICT) corporations would like to connect the remaining 5 billion inhabitants of the planet to the Internet who are not now connected (Internet.org, 2013). Many of the five billion people in question will most likely come from collectivistic non-western cultures. This post examines the results of studies conducted on a reduced scale involving the distribution of laptops in Ethiopia during which the researchers claim to have found the “first systematic evidence that usage of Western ICT can instigate cultural change in a traditional developing country” (Hansen N. , Postmes, van der Vinne, & van Thiel, 2012, p. 230).

The findings documented by Hansen et al. in regard to the psychological effects resulting from the insertion of laptops into the 5th, 6th and 7th grade classes of Ethiopian school children can be summarized as:

    • Individual self-construal became more independent
    • Individuals expressed a greater endorsement of individualist values
    • More modern and agentic values were expressed (e.g., self-direction, but also care for others)
    • Attitudes towards gender equality increased
    • Increased levels of abstract reasoning were found (finding analogies and forming categorizations) (Hansen, Postmes, van der Vinne, & van Thiel, 2012; Hansen & Postmes, 2013; Kocsev, Hansen, Hollow, & Pischetola, 2009).

Interestingly, the team was also able to test and determine that the effects were stronger on those living in rural areas versus those in urban environments, and on 6th and 7th grade students versus those in the 5th grade (Hansen & Postmes, 2013). It was observed that the laptops were used in a different manner in the 5th grade, focusing more on reading and writing skills, than in the 6th and 7th grades, in which the children explored the various possibilities the laptops could provide such as playing music and making videos (Kocsev, Hansen, Hollow, & Pischetola, 2009).  Testing revealed that there were several underlying processes involved to include new student-focused learning opportunities, active use of the laptop versus passive among the older children, and social usage when the laptop becomes part of a social interaction (N. Hansen, personal communication, Oct 1, 2013).

The findings in regard to changes in culture can be summarized as:

    • Western technology can instigate cultural change in a developing country
    • The impact of the laptops on cultural values was mediated by self-construal
    • Modernization did not “crowd out” traditional culture and was not associated with a reduction in traditional expressions, such as collectivists values (Hansen & Postmes, 2013; Hansen & Postmes, 2013; Hansen, Postmes, van der Vinne, & van Thiel, 2012; Kocsev, Hansen, Hollow, & Pischetola, 2009).

As pointed out by Gauvain (2009), societal modernization, which includes communication with the world beyond the immediate community, appears to contribute to intellectual changes that are not only temporal “but are evident at the same point in time when cultures are compared on dimensions of modernization” (Gauvain & Munroe, p. 1640). While these changes are happening at the individual level, evidence shows that cultural change can occur while including the persistence of distinctive traditional values (Inglehart & Baker, 2000). Inglehart points out that a society that is shaped by a particular religion leaves a distinctive cultural heritage with enduring effects that influences subsequent development (Inglehart & Baker, 2000).

Finally, religious beliefs did not seem to be a factor in this case of technology adaption. Ethiopia consists of a blend of many different beliefs, the bulk of which can be split between Orthodox Christianity and Islam (CIA, 2013). Although some religious beliefs encourage a slow and methodical adoption of technology that may have to meet certain requirements, this did not appear to be the case in Ethiopia as the technology was embraced and its distribution assisted by the central government (Kocsev, Hansen, Hollow, & Pischetola, 2009). For example, the Amish, who are not avoidant of technology, methodically regulate its introduction and use in order to preserve their culture and promote the values they hold dear (Wetmore, 2007). This is a different approach than that of other faiths which appear to openly embrace technology, such as Catholics and Buddhists whose senior leadership has embraced the use of Twitter to further propagate their beliefs or that of Won Buddhist monks and nuns who actively use blogs to cultivate themselves and their own beliefs (Krueger, 2013; Lee, 2009).

This is the fourth article in a short series examining what types of psychological effects can be expected from the insertion of Western ICT into a collective environment devoid of such equipment; whether changes in cultures might be observed, and if so how might they manifest themselves and how long might that take; and how religious beliefs may impact the insertion of ICT.

References

CIA. (2013). Ethiopia. Retrieved from The World Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/et.html

Gauvain, M., & Munroe, R. L. (2009). Contributions of societal modernity to cognitive development: A comparison of four cultures. Child Development, 80(6), 1628-1642. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/%28ISSN%291467-8624

Hansen, N., & Postmes, T. (2013). Broadening the scope of societal change research: Psychological and political impacts of development aid. Provided by author. Journal of Social and Political Psychology.

Hansen, N., Postmes, T., van der Vinne, N., & van Thiel, W. (2012). Information and communication technology and cultural change: How ICT changes self-construal and values. Social Psychology, 43(4), 222-231. Retrieved from http://www.hogrefe.com/periodicals/social-psychology/

Inglehart, R., & Baker, W. E. (2000). Modernization, cultural change, and the persistence of traditional values. American Sociological Review, 19-51. Retrieved from http://asr.sagepub.com/

Kocsev, M., Hansen, N., Hollow, D., & Pischetola, M. (2009). Innovative learning in Ethiopia. Joint working paper. Addis Abeba, Ethiopia: Engineering Capacity Building Program. Retrieved from University of Groningen: http://www.rug.nl/staff/n.hansen/KocsevHansenHollowPischetola_2009_Innovative_Learning_in_Ethiopia.pdf

Krueger, J. I. (2013, Oct.). Holy celebrity. Psychology Today, pp. 33-34.

Lee, J. (2009). Cultivating the self in cyberspace: The use of personal blogs among Buddhist priests. Journal of Media and Religion, 8, 97-114. doi:10.1080/15348420902881027

Wetmore, J. M. (2007). Amish technology: Reinforcing values and building community. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, 10-21.

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