Tech as Identity

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A few days ago I was taking the subway in Stockholm. A boy – perhaps 13 years old – sat down in the seat facing me. His multi-colored baseball cap worn backwards, chubby cheeks, and extremely wide-legged pants caught my attention. He was alone. After a minute or two he reached into the huge, but nearly empty, bag he was carrying to pull out an iPad. For the next seven or eight stops he dragged his fingers across the screen intently. Apple’s iPad has yet to be released in Sweden, meaning that someone must have bought the device for him abroad.

The Paper Book is Dead?

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This New York Times article embeds media-visionary Nicholas Negroponte’s provocative comment: “The paper book is dead.”  Though I have yet to buy an e-reading device like a Kindle or iPad (and still admittedly love old-fashioned books), the article is convincing that these devices are here to stay.  For example, Negroponte estimates that the price of e-readers will fall from about $200 today to $50 or even $20 – meaning that for the price of a couple of books or magazines you could have a device that would allow you to read thousands. Perhaps somewhat farther in the future, “computer developers envision tablet computers so flexible that you will literally be able to roll them up and slip them in your bag or pocket — just as you would do with a newspaper or magazine today — and then unfurl them on the train.”

This, and my recent time spent at the Mobile Life Center in Stockholm, has gotten me thinking about the evolution of mobile devices. For years objects like typewriters with carrying cases, pens & paper, day planners, books, newspapers, magazines, public pay phones have allowed us mobile access to everyday information and communication tasks. Including consuming and organization information, creating content, making phone calls while on-the-go, etc. Where and when do our analog and digital mobile practices overlap? As laptops have replaced typewriters will e-books replace paper books? On what time-scale? Will they continue to exist side-by-side? Will particular demographics make more use of one or the other? How do we study that?

“Internet Is a Scary Place”

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This NYT article relates to the privacy issue and the heightened modes of what could be participation, or at least social interaction. The cyberworld plays a great role in children’s everyday lives, and not always in ways that are healthy, progressive, or, for adults, easy to grasp and ‘discipline’.

I asked my college undergrads last semester what they thought was the biggest media-related issue that should be researched. Most of them talked about the impact of digital media in young people’s (sic!)  lives: How do the learn to understand the boundaries of private and public (or are they any for them?); how will they learn to socialise f2f (as one girl notes in the NYT article, it’s easier to say you’re sorry via texting…)

The NYT discusses American experiences — are there cultural differences in cyberbullying (certainly, in terms of legal action there indeed are different approaches, but how do kinds in different cultural contexts view that kind of ‘negative participation’ online?). Digital living surely brings us great moral challenges, and task for media literacy — or are we adults just not getting it?

Micro, Macro and Users Like Us

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Users like you? That’s the title of one of the top articles (and by that I mean: most popular) of one of my favourite scholarly journals, Media, Culture & Society, in 2009. The author, Jose van Dijk (prof at the University of Amsterdam, one of my favourite intellectual hot spots) writes as follows in her conclusion:

David Croteau (2006) rightly observed that we still know very little about the effect of user-generated content on the new media landscape. Conceptually and methodologically, media scholars will need to devise new ways to assess content trends across these new production platforms. In this article, I have argued for the articulation of user agency as a complex concept involving not only his cultural role as a facilitator of civic engagement and participation, but also his economic meaning as a producer, consumer and data provider, as well as the user’s volatile position in the labour market. Such a multifaceted concept needs to be met with proposals for multi-levelled methodologies that combine empirical research of users’ activities, motivations, status and intentions with contextual analyses charting techno-economic aspects of media use.

User agency in the age of digital media can no longer be assessed from one exclusive disciplinary angle as the social, cultural, economic, technological and legal aspects of UGC sites are inextricably intertwined. Theories from cultural theory, empirical sociology, political economy and technology design need to be integrated to yield a nuanced model for assessing user agency. Indeed, composite companies like Google should be met with equally multi-faceted models for understanding ‘users like you’.

C’est ca. Right on. That’s what we’re at in this project, in our own way. Elsewhere, I (and Phil Napoli, a working paper for the IAMCR)  have written about types of participation and media policies — the macro-level stuff (see, e.g., this working paper, also the latest RIPE book on “The Public in Public Service Media“).

For research to be truly relevant, micro needs to feed macro and vv. For research to matter in real life, for instance in policy making, it needs to consider micro and macro. Amelia, if anyone, knows this, having conducted qualitative research for, and coauthored, a ground-breaking report that informed the FCC about broadband in low income communities (A: PLS COMMENT 🙂

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José van Dijck: Users like you? Theorizing agency in user-generated content. Media Culture Society 2009; 31; 41.

A digital family / digital individuals

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I’ve been thinking lately of this family that I saw last spring in the subway going uptown on the 4-train in New York. There was a mother with two girls, ages about 10 and 13. The three of them, though they were sitting together, looked so distant from each other.  The mother was looking off into space, the older girl was listening to music with her headphones and looking at no one, and the younger girl’s gaze was focused intensely on the screen of a video game in front of her.

Internet Addiction

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Something I’ve been hearing about – both in from the people around me and in articles – is internet / computer / mobile phone addiction. Internet addiction is defined as, “excessive computer use that interferes with daily life.” … Yet, perhaps the line between what is good and what is too much becomes blurred when the internet (and computers, mobile devices, etc.) are part of daily life.  How much time does the average adult or child spend in front of a computer screen? Is this for work, for pleasure, for socializing? How would you feel if you couldn’t get online for 1 hour, 1 day, 10 days, 100 days? How much time do you spend in the company of your mobile phone? How would you feel if you lost it?

digital privacy: great article in the economist

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It will be interesting to see via micro analysis if and how privacy questions are related to digital living and participation in the everyday life.

Some research shows that people of all ages are  somewhat worried about digital privacy. My personal feeling is that it’s very much like talking about television: one complains a lot about trash TV (that citizen’s discourse mode) and watches reality shows regularly.  I hear and read tons of complaints about privacy questions  (Facebook ignites passions of the masses, and tens to change its privacy policy regularly) yet people seem to post anything and shop anywhere online). And yet some like the legal scholar Daniel Solove paint a grim picture of social media in this regard (his book The Future of Reputation can be accessed online for free : -).

It’s curious, how privacy is viewed very differently in the macro-level policy-making; see this wonderful brand new article in the Economist.  It will be even more fascinating to see  (if that emerges in the research material) whether there would seem to be some culturally specific concepts of privacy, even in the digital realm.

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