The information society during the pandemic
To assess the progress and impact of new technologies in the social sphere, we interviewed Dr. José Luis López Aguirre, a research professor within the School of Communication at the Universidad Panamericana and Level 1 member of Mexico’s National Researcher System.
Dr. López Aguirre leads an analytical seminar on virtual communities and socio-digital networks. In addition, he coordinates and directs the digital media observatory within the School of Communication, as well as an interdisciplinary and inter-institutional project related to the impact of socio-digital networks on political communication and their configuration starting from ethos, pathos and logos.
Dr. López Aguirre calls the current era the "post-digital era", explaining that "we are no longer living in the digital era, but rather have taken a step forward, and not just in a positive sense; the drive of new technologies and the progress they bring also involves a series of problems".
The COVID-19 crisis has made information technologies’ fundamental role in society’s functioning clear because, as Dr. José Luis explains, forced confinement virtualized our daily lives. Teaching and taking classes, banking transactions and even shopping at the supermarket transitioned to the Internet, making "our personal interactions mediated by a screen", the doctor notes.
However, he indicates that transition to digital life has its pros and cons. “We have had to learn to adapt very quickly to this new reality. In expanding the technological field, we have also discovered how dependent we are on technology”, he points out.
With this background in mind, he explains that, "We must be able to correctly mediate the use of technologies without becoming codependent on them; above all, we can get a lot out of them if we use them with a humanistic approach and avoid extreme fundamentalisms".
The issue of the digital divide between countries and other continents is not new, but this inequality has recently become very obvious. However, the UP academic also points to a cognitive gap: "That is, the ability or criteria to appropriate new technologies and critically consume information", he explains.
He indicates that this is also our responsibility: "We often fail to make the most of the advantages the internet affords because we waste time and spend it entertaining ourselves. That’s okay, it's a part of life, the problem is when that part becomes the whole; we have access to knowledge from large universities, but we often ignore it and instead consume junk content".
"We must reach a balance, take note of the cons and, above all, take advantage of the pros in order to create a more just and supportive society", he concludes.
The reassessment of digital journalism
Regarding the issue of journalism and its evolution during the pandemic, the doctor affirms that it is being reassessed, since people need information that has been verified and that contains rigorous, precise and clear processes.
Thus, given the uncertainty generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, he explains that “(…) some studies indicate that many users are returning to credible brand sites for information. People are returning to these media because they are credible, and they employ information professionals”.
"We are currently overinformed; we live with a relentless information tsunami, and we cannot interpret that much data. So we turn to journalists who are interpreters of this reality and whose job it is to explain how something is happening, as well as its consequences. In addition, they evidence information with investigative journalism, which not just any blogger or influencer can do", he adds.
Although journalism has recovered in this regard, he warns that journalists’ training needs improvement when it comes to migration from print to digital mediums, where new informational and technological skills are required. But, at the same time, Dr. José Luis is aware that journalists are also taken advantage of "(…) they have to comment on a podcast, a radio station, social networks, a news piece for print, prepare videos. So they work for more than one medium, but they only earn one salary".
New tools and literacy
Before the pandemic, videoconferencing was not a novelty, but it was still a little-used resource. However, given stay at home orders, people now use it almost daily. The doctor believes that this resource has been fully adopted and is here to stay: "We have discovered that it is easier to connect with someone from Australia to give a talk at the UP in Mexico City, which is very useful. I believe that it is an advantage, allowing access to these experts and democratizing knowledge".
He also thinks that, now that there is talk of a hybrid return to universities, perhaps some classes will be kept online, while only necessary ones will be in person, such as face-to-face laboratory practicums. "The challenge is knowing how to balance, knowing when it is necessary and when it is not."
"Technologies should not replace, they should complement (…). Now that we have discovered these technologies, if we cancel interpersonal interactions all together, communication loses out", he points out.
Finally, Dr. José Luis López highlights the importance of promoting digital literacy, which not only involves teaching people how to use digital tools, but also raises awareness about the consequences of an excessive use of new technologies and the fact that the Internet is not just for entertainment: "(…) It involves warning of the impoverishment involved in replacing our social encounters for virtual ones, as well as helping people be more aware of the benefits and that entertainment is important, but there are more things on the Internet".
"One must know how to navigate so as not to drown in digital waves. Technological progress is complicated, but it has to be steadied with humanistic progress, so that balance is not lost", he concludes.
Dr. José Luis López Aguirre
Research professor within the School of Communication at the Universidad Panamericana and Level 1 member of Mexico’s National Researcher System.