Effective way to an introductory sociology student

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Ironically, all the communication technologies that increases connections among people may ultimately make them feel more alienated from other human beings. This is nowhere more true than among the millions of Americans who do knowledge or information work. In the postmodern workspace, face-to-face interactions between colleagues and co-workers are on the decline, while interactions at work are increasingly accomplished through electronic communications.

It is common for employees to actively work with co-workers and colleagues they rarely, if ever, see, or whom; they have never met or probably never will. You may "know" these people only through disembodied relationships. How do we establish and maintain good relationships in a virtual world we inhabit at work? Have new technologies improved our way to connect and collaborate with one another, or have they created a workspace that is increasing impersonal and dehumanizing? What impact does this have on our work relationships and work lives?

These issues were already being defined and articulated at an earlier time, when this technology was being introduced in work settlings. By the mid-1990s, there were debates and concerns about whether this kind of change was positive or negative. The effects on this new technology on work relationships were becoming a little clearer. It was common to hear complaints about what was happening, particularly among workers in the information industries. Many workers were still dubious and viewed the phenomenon with ambivalence. Douglas coupland, in his popular novel microserfs, captured the dilemma of wired work place with his cynical character, a Microsoft employee. Here he describes one of the advantages for using email for interpersonal communication at the office, being able to avoid real contact with your co-worker:

I'm an e-mail addict. Everybody at Microsoft is an addict. The future of e-mail usage is being pioneered here. The cool thing with e-mail is that when you send it, there's no possibility of connecting with the person on the other end. It's better than phone answering machines, because with them, the person on the other line might actually pick up the phone and you might have to talk.

Of course Coupland's fiction is a farce, but the principal remains a similar one. And since then, technology in the workplace has vastly proliferated. We use a variety of means to communicate: telephone, e-mail, text or instant messaging, videoconferencing, and more. If we consider the world that Coupland was describing, there is no doubt that the business practices first adopted by cutting-edge technological companies have influenced the way people work together in almost every other industry. New technology has become vastly more integrated into the flow and dynamics of communications in almost any current workplace.

Sometimes these technological changes can profoundly affect the way people experience their work. It can connect them in new ways, but just as easily cut them off from one another. In his article "Workers as Cyborgs: Labor and networked computers," Mark Poster detailed the increase in alienation that can come when a workplace switches to electronic communications. For instance "a hospital in the Midwest that introduced a software program for ordering supplies from the internet" saw increases in efficiency but also found that the technology "furthers the alienation of the worker" (Poster 2002) Using this new software may have gotten supplies ordered more quickly and with few errors, but it can get lonely when the only person you talk to is your computer.

As collegial relationships have taken on an increasing virtual character, new challenges have appeared that require us to consider how to interact effectively. How can we establish a good rapport with others, or develop trust, respect, and maybe even friendship? These are considerations whether our virtual relationships are fleeting or persist over a long time, in contrast to face-to-face relationships, in a virtual workspace; you may have to be more deliberate in how you communicate. It can be more difficult to convey the interactional cues that help to support and maintain a warm, cooperative, and mutually satisfying relationship.

All these situations indicate that if we want to avoid feeling further alienated in our postmodern workplaces, we must develop strategies to deal with new communication technologies, while seeking ways to maintain and nurture our virtual relationships with our disembodied colleagues.


How do you think this relevance box could be revised to get its points across in a more effective way to an introductory sociology student? What shortcomings have you identified in the existing box and what ideas do you have for addressing them?  Perhaps organization and clarity could be improved?  Maybe the examples or summary of the source materials could be more current, relevant, interesting, or easy to understand?  Could it be that the current box needs to go into more depth or offer more breadth?  Are there sociological concepts and ideas that might be usefully added or taken out of the box?  Is the research reported up to date, interesting, relevant? Taking such questions into account write a one to two-page proposal for how you would make the box a better learning resource for students reading your textbook.

Your ultimate goal in this assignment is to revise the existing Relevance Box to improve upon the original.  Each of the previous three steps has brought you closer to that objective and in this step you will put these pieces together in outline form to create a useful, interesting, and sociologically relevant narrative for prospective readers of your revised Relevance Box. This process is in fact somewhat like fitting together puzzle pieces because you'll have to try different pieces in different spaces until you come up with a combination of parts that "works" to complete the whole. Fortunately, you are not working in the dark since you do have an existing Relevance Box to refer to and your in-depth knowledge of your research article to help you build your new and improved Relevance Box. 

Your written outline should provide a paragraph-by-paragraph overview of the revised Relevance Box you plan to submit as your First Draft for Step 5.  While you may indicate the content of each paragraph in any way that makes it clear to your instructor what you plan to include there and why, please also provide a one-sentence summary that explains what you plan to cover in each paragraph. Remember, your finished Box should be approximately 2,000 to 2,500 words in length so plan your outline accordingly.

Reference no: EM131305820

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