How we think about life has a lot to do with what we know about the world. What we know about the world – our access to other people and other ideas all over the globe – has undergone a sea change in the last few years with the democratization of new technologies.
When I was a child, we had a book called Come Over to My House by Theo LeSieg (a.k.a. Theodore Geisel or Dr. Seuss). The book was a richly illustrated (by Richard Erdoes) tale of an American boy traveling around the world, being introduced to (sometimes exotic) homes and customs of children in foreign lands.
Pictures Change Minds
On the surface, Come Over to My House seems like a sweet children’s book full of pictures of kids in igloos or riding elephants. Now, as an adult and a social psychologist, I can see how deceptively simple that is. Dr. Seuss was a brilliant man. He knew that giving children this window to the world would make foreign people and customs seem not so foreign. It would help replace potential fear of the unknown with a sense of excitement and a zest for adventure and travel.
New Technology Brings a New View
Thanks to my mother, I still have my 1960s copy of Come Over to My House, which I now read with my daughter, Regan. But Regan and her peers are growing up with a whole new window to the world. We all have a whole new window to the world: technology. We’re living in a time when technology is evolving rapidly and is undergoing rapid democratization. Mobile phones are everywhere, even in the hands of the poor around the world. New media use is “portable, participatory and personal” (Rainey, 2012, p. 22-23) and influence is now in the hands of a new type of “expert,” that includes nonprofessionals (Rainey, 2012, p. 24).
Fast Access + Real Images and Stories = Rapid Social Change
Because of our new access to real people and real stories from around the world, I think we can expect rapid social change as a consequence. For example, I was struck recently by how quickly the world seems to be moving on the subject of same sex marriage. Until just recently, civil rights for same sex couples loomed in the future like the kind of civil rights battle Martin Luther King Jr. fought for racial equality: long and hard. Then in the last US elections, and also in recent votes around the world, rapid progress was made towards increasing the rights of same sex couples. I think this happened, in part, because of our new level of access to candid photos and videos of everyday people. When we see these images and stories--just like in my childhood Dr. Seuss book--what might have been scary becomes more comfortable. People who may be different from me become people who can be my friends.
Candid photos of real couples kissing outside a Chick-Fil-A, for example, may seem trivial, but they open up a new window to the world that we really have never seen before. They say to the world that my customs may be different from yours, but I'm not so scary - I'm just a real person like you.
Get Ready 'Cause Here We Come
Make no mistake, these are big, big changes in technology. And they bring the potential for big social and cultural shifts. This will frighten some people – especially those who fear change and difference the most. But if recent history is any indication, those people are not in the majority. Our window to the world is opening up. I think Dr. Seuss would have been excited about the possibilities.
“There are so many houses you’ll meet on your way.
And wherever you go, you will here someone say…
‘Come over to my house! Come over and play!'"
(Le Sieg, 1966, p.62-63)
LeSieg, T. (author) & Erdoes, R. (illustrator). (1966). Come Over to My House, New York: Random House.
Rainey, L. (2012). The Emerging Media Landscape: 8 Realilties of the "New Normal," Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Presentations/2012/Feb/NFAIS--New-Normal.aspx