Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Humans + Technology = Emergent Behaviors, part II

Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory presents an analysis consonant with Vygotsky and Bronfenbrenner. Bandura's theory views the person-environment interaction as a three way exchange in which the person, an entity with unique characteristics, performs a behavior in an environment which responds to the person and the behavior in a process of reciprocal determinism; it is an idiosyncratic interaction. According to Bandura, models can serve to instruct, motivate, disinhibit, inhibit, socially facilitate, and arouse emotion in a process of vicarious reinforcement. Essentially, development is viewed as a process of quantitative change, during which learning episodes gradually accumulate over time. Although Social Learning Theory does not directly address historical or cultural context, it reflects the tradition of Vygotsky and the contextualist approach by recognizing the dialectical process of a person who is working within and shaped by an environment; a triadic reciprocal determinism occurs among behavior, cognitive factors and the environment. Also, as in the theory of Vygotsky, there is no endpoint to development, and universal behaviors are rare. Thus, children are developmentally malleable but only within constraints of biology and environment, an environment replete with technology.

Finally, Erikson frames development through identification of eight stages/dichotomies of human development and identity formation: (1) basic trust versus mistrust, (2) autonomy versus shame, (3) initiative versus guilt, (4) industry versus inferiority, (5) indentity versus role confusion, (6) intimacy versus isolation, (7) generativity versus stagnation, (8) ego integrity versus despair. Erikson’s stages 1, 2 and 3 represent childhood stages when the individual is not yet capable of interacting with (borrowing a Vygotskian phrase) “cultural tools” such as the internet. Stage 8 is similarly a stage in which the individual is primarily conquering internal dynamics, and, therefore, interaction with culture, its tools and other individuals is not the primary focus of the stage. Conversely, in stages 4, 5, 6, and 7, the individual is learning from and making a place in society. The child becomes a different person in each stage with different cognitive capacities and progressively achieves a greater ability to interact with a wider range of people. For Erikson, the ego can only remain strong through interactions with cultural institutions that enable the development of the child’s capacities and potential. Technology is a key component of these interactions.

These four schools of nonlinear developmental theory offer useful analytical lense for (re)theorizing and assessing technology regulation. A discussion of some of the insights these theories may provide for technology regulation follows.

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