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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Research on new technology to gulp N.112b

The sum of E0.5 million, about N.112b, has been awarded for the study of new technology influence on the size and social relationships of today.

The grant awarded to three universities in the northern United States would also establish links between today’s technology generation and yesterday’s cave dwellers.

The three beneficiaries include Universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield Hallam. While the University of Manchester got £307,000, the University of Liverpool received £180, 000 and Sheffield Hallam also got £40,000.

Foresight project is jointly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.

These universities are to use the fund to invest in what the Media Relations Officer at University of Manchester, faculty of humanities, Mr. Mike Addelman, described as an emerging field of science and known as Computer Mediated Communication (CMC).

The three universities are expected to pursue ground breaking research into how new technology affects the size and make up of social relationships.

The fund came based on the theories of evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar from the University of Liverpool, who says human beings naturally congregate into groups of about 150.

Led by Prof. Alistair Sutcliffe of the School of Informatics at The University of Manchester, the research would also investigate how mobile phones and the internet affect the size and make-up of contemporary social relationships.

Mr. Addelman also noted Dunbar’s argument was that humans are hard-wired to have about 150 people in a community of friends and that the natural order of human groups is the product of evolutionary history.

This, he elucidated, saying it is in turn driven by the amount of quality social time people spend together.

“Innovations such as mobile phones, newsgroups, ipods and blogs are helping to establish world wide communities,” he asserted.

Emphasising, it is not clear how or even whether these technologies were changing the size and nature of man’s natural social groupings.

“In an era of Information Technology (IT)-driven communications, we will need to understand better how technology facilitates social processes in group-based tasks. Do they help, or do they hinder? ” Prof. Sutcliffe said.

He further said, that there are huge implications of this type of research on society and business, citing an instance with policy makers.

“Policy makers, for example, are hugely concerned with the disintegration of social capital. We want to look at how technology could form the glue for economic and social communities around the globe.

“Developments on the internet, for example, are encouraging self-help communities, new forms of political action as well as dominating electronic commerce. So we would like to try to understand how the technology impacts on us - whether it’s for good or for ill” Prof. Sutcliffe said.

Noting that the aim is to create theories which will shape public policy, use the Internet more effectively and influence the way the next generations of computer technologies are designed.

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