Technology and Changing Social Practices

In the past, the focus on innovations was rather restrictive and mainly fixated on new technological developments. It is now becoming increasingly recognized that technological innovations also affect social life and thus result in social innovations. Novel technologies often in combination with new business models may offer new ways of doing things or of interacting with each other. This is either on purpose or incidental. In some cases, technological developments offer opportunities for new business models which rely on different kinds of relationships between producers and consumers. New technologies developed for a particular purpose but applied in a slightly different context become social innovations. The changing social interactions and practices may then affect a wider section of society compared to the initial technical development.

The innovations themselves are often based on new communication channels and web-based social network platforms and apps. In this context, social innovations are understood as particular technological innovations that lead to changing social practices with the ultimate aim of positively influencing (if not changing) current social organizations and communications in order to edge towards a more just society.

But who is pushing these social innovations in tourism? A focus on innovations rather than on the innovative entrepreneurs allows for an analysis of the cultural relationships involved in the adoption of innovation (Pace, 2013). Such a cultural view of the consumption of innovation highlights the adoption of innovation as a process as well as its contextual framing as consumers may use the new products in novel ways and thus transform the social practices associated with the product. Rather than a restrictive view of consumers as either early or late adopters, consumers should be seen as cultural agents who re-enact culture in the consumption process and may thus transform practices associated with new products: “tourists are dynamic social actors, interpreting and embodying experience, whilst also creating meaning and new realities through their actions” (Selby, 2004: 127). Tourists are not passive consumers but as cultural agents (by re-enacting culture) may engage in novel ways of using products thus leading to the adaptation of products or to further product development (Hall & Williams, 2008). Consumers as cultural agents may therefore contribute to the transformation of new technologies and their consequences for social innovations as an advantage which may help to greatly improve social interactions.

In tourism, the possibility of new (social) practices of interaction via technological innovations has fundamentally changed the relationship between supply and demand and offers tourists varied opportunities to enact their agency and become cultural agents. The sharing economy, especially, can be understood as one driver for new social innovations in tourism which changes the conventional structures of social organization and creates (virtual) space for new interpersonal transactions. While hospitality has often been understood as a commercial phenomenon, alternative practices in tourism and hospitality highlight the importance of the wider social implications within the hospitality context (Lynch, Molz, Mcintosh, Lugosi, & Lashley, 2011). An example of this change is the re-worked hospitality relationships facilitated by online platforms such as Airbnb (commercial) and Couchsurfing (non-commercial). Especially the original couch-surfing project is a good example of consumers as cultural agents, as crowd-based support (creating a vibrant community of users and programmers) was instrumental during the initial development of the social network and the brand (couch-surfing later became for-profit which created certain tension within the original couch-surfing community). These innovative practices in hospitality have resulted in increased academic attention on the wider social implications of different understandings of hospitality (Molz, 2012) and on the importance of trust in social exchanges (Rosen, Lafontaine, & Hendrickson, 2011; Tan, 2010).

Many of the current social innovations in tourism are combined with web-based technologies such as social platforms, which offer opportunities for individual exchanges as in the sharing economy. These technical developments have resulted in new social practice as online social networks are transformed into corporeal social networks as the hospitality/tourism exchange takes place: tourism is ...

a significant set of relations connecting and reconnecting ‘disconnected’ people in face-to-face proximities where obligations and pleasures can go hand in hand” (Larsen, Urry, & Axhausen, 2007, p. 244). Mosedale (2012: 204), for instance, highlights that alternative economic practices in tourism like wwoofing (willingly working on organic farms) and couch-surfing can contribute to an alternative economic discourse embracing “open, plural [economies] and consisting of a variety of economic practices set in particular social, cultural and political contexts”.

Innovative use of technology may also lead to new concepts of travel collaboration. One example is the possibility of using mobile apps to create temporary, place-based social networks of previously unconnected people. As part of a wider project on the digital economy, such a web-based mobile application was developed to facilitate the collaboration between tourists at a campsite (Dickinson et al., 2015). Collaboration included the sharing of information (which generated an initial sense of community amongst the network users) but also offers for help such as lifts or going shopping. Such collaborative initiatives facilitated by technology incorporate not only the consumption of tourism but also the exchange of people and cultures with an aim to strengthen communities as well as social/ regional development.

These new practices coming to life via new social networks must at the same time be critically analyzed, although social networks may offer alternative opportunities for creating more positive social relations, the wide-spread adoption of these online networks may lead to a reflection of wider society including its negative aspects. The sharing of personal information is important to generate trust between the two parties prior to the exchange (Rosen et al., 2011). This can lead to increased discrimination which does not exist in commercial hospitality as personal information (which can be gleaned from pictures on profiles) are not gathered prior to the financial transaction (Edelman & Luca, 2014). As hospitality consumers and providers need to provide personal information and pictures on online social network platforms in order to build up a rapport and ultimately trust with each other, either party can discriminate against certain characteristics such as race or gender (Edelman & Luca, 2014). This case demonstrates that technology- mediated experiences in tourism are neutral and the mix of social outcomes (positive or negative) depend on the use by individuals (tourists and producers) as well as values and norms within societies (see for example Ihde, 1990 for a discussion of the relationship between technology and society).

It is therefore important to understand that social innovations in tourism even if they can bring a great opportunity in democratization via crowd-sourced information (Zook et al., 2015), social development and sustainable community development, should not inherently be regarded as positive developments. In the example of Airbnb it is questionable if this social network can turn around the definition of hospitality from a currently more professional and capitalist understanding back to a traditional understanding of sharing. Ikkala and Lampinen (2015) found that participants were motivated to monetize hospitality for financial and social reasons. Money helped to control the volume and type of demand in a desired sociability context. Yet, these social innovations have also been identified by entrepreneurs as potential for capital accumulation. New business models have allowed the commercialization and further regulation of relationships between consumers and producers.

The field of social innovation and sharing economy will be a rich field of research to analyze the social relations of new types of transactions. As many offers and initiatives developed under the broad umbrella of the sharing economy have developed with a focus on human mobility (including tourism and hospitality), the tourism and hospitality academy should be able to contribute to current debates on changing social interactions based on technological developments.

The use of augmented reality in tourism is likely to be another strong driver for social innovations linked to technological developments. Augmented reality will result in the increasing presence of live online content in more and more life situations. Tussyadiah (2014) sees a shift in tourist behavior based on wearable devices in the transformation of ‘tourists into explorers’, in rapidly increasing ‘first- person visual travel narratives and more social travel supported by real time connectivity’. Information on tourism content could therefore be spread more democratically (Zook, Graham, & Boulton, 2015) which means that more and more tourism practices will be realized not exclusively based on or influenced by the tourism industry but by crowd-sourced information. This could become also more ‘subjective’ as a consequence. For instance, Graham, Zook, and Boulton (2013) highlight the power attributed to software code and algorithms which are responsible for the type of information we receive via augmented reality as an important factor in producing places and everyday life. This code can be influenced amongst other factors via social (social actors) and technical (software) dimensions. It is therefore also a question of power (exerted by civil society, businesses, governments, special interest groups etc.) which content we will receive and with whom we will interact in our tourism experiences in tourist places (Zook et al., 2015). In the future, augmented reality could thus possibly even advise us what we do not want to do, who we may not want to speak to and could help to avoid spontaneous meetings and awkward situations. This will minimize the possibility of chance encounters in tourism experiences. The implementation of wearable devices like smartphones (Dickinson et al., 2014; Garau, 2014) and Google Glass (Leue, Jung, & Dieck, 2015) in our tourism experiences shows that augmented reality will again largely change our practices and habits in tourism by enriching and reducing our experiences at the same time. How we view these changes in tourism practices is a question of interpretation. Pace (2013) describes two different ideas concerning the ‘customers’ and their social practices: the possibility of empowerment throughout this new technology but at the same time the danger that people become detached from reality.

 
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