Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Humans + Technology = A Straight Line?

Linear and nonlinear developmental psychology differ in key assumptions about the manner humans interact with the world around them, in particular with "tools" like technology.

Linear developmental psychology theory, as demonstrated by the work of Jean Piaget, creates an age-contingent, lock-step trajectory for human development. Jean Piaget divided development into four periods with substages within each period. These four periods include the sensorimotor period, the preoperational period, the concrete operational period and the formal operational period. The sensorimotor stage lasts from birth to age two and is characterized by a child moving from simple reflexes to organized behaviors that are oriented toward interacting with the external world through goal oriented exploration behaviors and object permanence skills. It is followed by the preoperational period which spans age two until age seven. The preoperational period involves development of semiotic function, meaning ability to use symbols, incomplete differentiation of other people from the self while interpreting the world in terms of the self in a loosely logical manner. Next, the concrete period lasts between ages seven and eleven and is marked by the ability to perform logical mental operations, which are internalized and can be reversed. Finally, the formal operational period from age eleven to age fifteen is a time characterized by abstract thinking where mental operations are not necessarily tied to concrete objects. At this point in a linear developmental paradigm, adulthood arrives and development stops. Therefore, adulthood is the goal and signals the highest level of development in a linear paradigm, and the “achievement” of development.

Therefore, in summary, linear developmental theory presumes that all humans develop in a similar fashion, demonstrating an upward developmental trajectory that is tied to chronological age. Consequently, a linear approach to technology regulation presumes a homogeneity among users regarding individuals’ sophistication and comfort level with technology based on their chronological age. In other words, chronologically older individuals should demonstrate more technology proficiency than those of chronologically younger age.

Nonlinear developmental theory adopts the opposite approach. It asserts that chronological age cannot necessarily be tied to assumptions about development; development is an inherently social process that occurs in a particular real-world context using the "tools" of that context. Nonlinear developmental psychology theory is perhaps best reflected in the work of Lev Vygotsky, Urie Bronfenbrenner, Albert Bandura, and Erik Erikson. This work will be explored in the next two entries.

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