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What are we doing with technology - and what is technology doing to us?

Social media and digital rights are the two main areas of research for Mathias Klang.

"My research area concerns the way we attempt to control technology, while the technology at the same time is controlling us", says Mathias Klang. "The design of the technology also controls the way you use it. Technology enables some actions, but also limits others. Sometimes technology is intentionally developed to shape our actions."

"Take a look at Facebook for example. The ideas of the company are more concerned with the needs of the business, than the needs of its users", says Klang. "But since we still see a value in Facebook, we continue to use its services. The result is a balancing act for the people who maintain the system – if we as consumers loose the perception of value, the business model of the company crumbles. The primary purpose of Facebook is to absorb all possible information. If the company was interested in users from a societal perspective, it would have had more socially geared function – such as a warning system telling us that we have spent too much time on Facebook and encouraged use to do something else, or maybe locking us out.

Technology changes our conception of what is normal

"Technology also changes our relationship to and our perception of what is normal", says Klang. "When I was younger, I could go out backpacking for four weeks, and maybe send a postcard to my parents the third week in. And my parents were fine with that and expected nothing more."

“Now, we have cellphones and suddenly expect to have control,” says Klang. “It creates a different idea of what good parenting is and how one should act as a parent. Our behavior has changed, even though the world really hasn’t gotten more violent or dangerous. If your teenager is 15 minutes late, you call! ‘The world is so different now’, we say, but that might not be true. It’s more of an excuse for our new behaviour.”

We have to define a reasonable relationship to technology

“Another question is whether we trust technology too much,” says Klang. “Last week, for example, I needed to find a specific address in a town and I used the GPS in my cellphone to find it. After a while I felt like I was walking in the wrong direction, but I kept going because I trusted the cellphone. After a while I asked someone, and the person told me to go in the opposite direction. But even so, I decided ask yet another person for directions and then went online, using my cellphone, before I was finally convinced that I needed to turn around. In other words, I trusted my cellphone more than I trusted other people, even though I knew that my version of the iPhone had just been updated with a less reliable map function.

“On another occasion, I was checking into a hotel, where the person who greeted me told me: ‘No, you’re not on my list’. That statement demonstrated that she trusted the system more than my claim of having booked a room.”

“Since we now so quickly adopt new technologies, we have to find a reasonable way of defining our relationship to it,” says Klang. “My research focuses heavily on this issue, how we should control technology and how much it should be allowed to control us. I’m also interested in how one’s norms and toleration of technology changes depending on the generation one belongs to. Things that appear alien today may seem completely normal to the next generation.”

Some of Mathias Klang’s main areas of interest:

“How do we use technology to manage situations in a new way? What have we gained? What have we lost? How would we have acted if we didn’t have this kind of technology?

A Facebook group for supporting the grieving

“Facebook can be perceived as something shallow, silly and exhibitionistic, but there are many other facets to it,” says Klang. My colleague Ylva Hård af Segerstad and I are currently studying a closed Facebook group named “We who have lost a child.” We are looking at how the members of this group. They can access the forum whenever they need using their cellphones, if they are on the bus and suddenly feel depressed for example. We conduct interviews and surveys with the people in the group and also compare the functioning of the group with that of other organizations – a comparison in which the Facebook group measures up well with others. The resources provided by society are not available around the clock and this way you can find support from peers in the same situation.

An interest in copyright issues

“I’m also very interested in certain legal questions, such as copyright issues. I study what happens when we use and reuse digital materials. Much of it concerns the digitalization of analogue resources – who owns the copyright to these materials when they have been digitized?”

If a museum has received some photos by a photographer does not automatically imply that the museum also has the right to digitize the images. A classic example is an photo archive, and where most people agree that storing in such a way isn’t very user-friendly since very few people have access to the images. But does that mean we have a right to digitize them so that more people will be able to see them? Not necessarily, even if one might think that it is a matter of cultural history and everyone has a right to partake of this history. The museum may have been given the negatives of the photos, but not the right to digitize them.

“As a researcher, I sometimes work directly with archives and museum foundations. They turn to me with specific problems and I advise them on how to handle these issues", says Mathias.

Legal issues on the web

When it comes to social media the legal problems abound. Everybody has a camera today, and might post pictures on Facebook, but who owns the right to these photos, and what photos am I allowed to post? Is it socially acceptable that someone posts a picture of you while you are waiting for the bus? Is it legal? In Sweden? Germany? Saudi Arabia? In Sweden it is actually completely legal to take photos of people in public, but in many other countries this is not the case. It is important to be aware of this, according to Mathias.

“The new technology forces to question and rethink many issues. How should we treat questions of integrity and surveillance for example? Where is the line for child pornography? If an underage couple posts nude photos of themselves – have they committed a child pornography crime in the letter of the law?

Social media policies may be needed for support

Mathias Klang has a degree in law but has gradually turned to the area of informatics. Today, he is more focused on social media than on law, and was also a party in the discussions when the University of Gothenburg formulated its social media policy. In Klang’s view, the regulatory framework is already in place, but some guidelines for social media conduct can still be good. How should a teacher, a researcher, or a communication officer think? Are there any obvious opportunities or dangers? When it comes to visibility, many researchers are satisfied with their small circle of peers. Meanwhile, there may be many people outside of this circle who are interested in the field, but might never hear of it.

 

December 2012

Text: Catharina Jerkbrant
Photo: Kerstin Danielson Beijbom

 


Contact information:
Mathias Klang
Department of Applied IT
Phone: 070-543 2213

Mathias Klang

Mathias KlangMathias Klang, Department of Applied IT. Klang's research focuses on social media and digital rights.“Since we now so quickly adopt new technologies, we have to find a reasonable way of defining our relationship to it,” says Klang.

Page Manager: Catharina Jerkbrant|Last update: 5/6/2013
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