Looking at my surroundings while attempting to work, I was struck by the titles of some of the books on the shelves (otherwise known as my library) in my study (which is an ode to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, where I am able to contemplate all things). Obviously these books are related to the field of my research, but take a look and see what comes to mind…
Alone Together – Sherry Turkle
The Second Self – Sherry Turkle
New Tech, New Ties – Rich Ling
Distracted – Maggie Jackson
Cyburbia – James Harkin
The Winter of Our Disconnect – Susan Maushart
Hamlet’s Blackberry – William Powers
The Wired Homestead – Turow & Kavanaugh
Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out – Ito, Baumer, Bittanti, et al
Modern Media in the Home – Mackay & Ivey
Enough – John Naish
The Shallows – Nicholas Carr
The Dumbest Generation – Mark Bauerlein
Amusing Ourselves to Death – Neil Postman
All except Neil Postman’s 1985 book were published between 2003 and 2011. What do the titles of these books suggest to us about human interaction? Do they strike you as ebulliently positive? Are they steeped in existential ponderings about how humans ‘be’ in the modern techno-filled world? What is the overriding theme espoused? Is there any hope? Are we communicating more, or less, or just differently? Where did it start, and does it have an end?
A Brief Historical Perspective
Developed in the 1830s the telegraph was considered an innovative and new communications technology that allowed people to correspond across vast distances. It was considered to be:
“A worldwide communications network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionized business practice, gave rise to new forms of crime, and inundated its users with a deluge of information. Romances blossomed over the wires. Secret codes were devised by some users and cracked by others. The benefits of the network were relentlessly hyped by its advocates and dismissed by the skeptics. Governments and regulators tried and failed to control the new medium. Attitudes toward everything from newsgathering to diplomacy had to be completely rethought. Meanwhile, out on the wires, a technological subculture with its own customs and vocabulary was establishing itself.” (The Victorian Internet, Standage, 1998)
Ten years after its introduction, the telephone was invented, creating more hype, fear and conflicting emotions about the possible effects on society, and more importantly, the family. Telephones would make people lazy according to some – and that face-to-face communication would decline. The same utopian and dystopian views were championed with the launch of the horseless carriage, the wireless radio, the television, and, it would seem, every new technological innovation.
“Utopian statements which idealised the new medium as an ultimate expression of technological and social progress were met by equally dystopian discourses which warned of (its) devastating effects on family relationships and the efficient functioning of the household” (Spigel 1992, p. 3). While Spigel was referring to the medium of television, the same can be said for most new media and ICTs – each new medium brings with it a concomitant moral panic about its potential social and familial effects.
Is history on continual repeat?