Learning Spanish – v2.0

Travel leads to the discovery of not only new places, food, and people, but also new tech stuff. And so whilst browsing through a photo exhibit at Casa Museo La Sebastiana, we discovered a fellow traveler using a Google translate app that goes beyond the regular text feature which converts images to text using your smartphone’s camera. The app converts text in realtime, without needing to take a picture. This allowed for some useful, and some weird interpretations of restaurant menus (erizo de mar = sea hedgehog as opposed to sea urchin).

The technology is far from perfect because it transliterates, and the type to text version remains superior which is what I used to understand Sebastián Valenzuela’s presentation, En Vivo y en Directo Desde Twitter: Los Periodistas En Redes Sociales Durantes Desastres Naturales. The question that comes up though as we negotiate understanding between face-to-face and fast developing technology driven mediums is one around facilitating connection. Are we talking to people less because we now have translation apps at our fingertips? Does Google Maps prevent us from stopping people on the street to ask for directions? Do blogs about Chile written by fellow travelers who speak English dissuade us from asking the locals about their lives? Is technology good or bad? Given that as a research lab we investigate the effects and the use of technology on online patient communities, immigrant families and the mobilization of disaster relief, these questions are important to us.

As I have navigated connecting with and understanding people with my nascent Spanish, I found myself drawn in my thoughts to the binary understanding of the impact of technology – all good (I can be independent and self-sustaining or not have to bother people with a million questions) or all bad (I will not connect with people and will lose the opportunity to learn about their culture from them). But this hasn’t been borne out in my experience. Technology and face-to-face interactions have influenced and enriched each other – for instance I’ve used to it to find words to convey an emotion or word without which the conversation would come to a standstill. Using both talk and tech in the health psychology classroom to understand presentations helped Ali and I make connections with the work students were doing in Santiago and our work on celiac disease in Boston. This makes me reflect on the work I will be doing on the use of Whatsapp to facilitate transnational connections in the South Asian immigrants in New England. In a meeting with an advising committee I got asked “Will the use of this technology lead to a reduction in the use of face-to-face community groups?” Maybe it will – but it can also provide easy access to networks that would inaccessible if not for technology. Also thinking about agency, people self-select what works for them or fits into the fabric of their lives. So we can’t really be judges of good or bad technology, but we can make attempts to understand the complexities involved in the marriage of the old, the new, and the emerging.


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