Sept. 22 — Changes in Interpersonal Communication

Sep 14, 2011 by     16 Comments    Posted under: Online Reading Response

Here, in the comments section below, you will post your response to one or more of the following readings:

  •  Rich Ling, “Co-Present Interaction and Mobile Communication,” in New Tech, New Ties
  •  Rich Ling, “The Recalibration of Social Cohesion” in New Tech, New Ties
  • Ch. 7, “Globalization,” in Net Locality

You must post your response by 11am on Thursday, Sept. 22.

16 Comments + Add Comment

  • In New Tech, New Ties, Rich Ling claims that cell phones have resulted in “bounded solidarity,” reinforcing stronger ties at the expense of weaker ones. Meanwhile, social networks and instant messaging usually lead to expansion of buddy lists and furthering of weak ties. Google Plus sets up buddy lists as “circles,” in which you group your contacts based on some shared characteristic. In fact, it seems rather similar to Ling’s description of each group sharing and building upon some “local ideology.” Is this set-up pushing users toward bounded solidarity online when they are used to using social networks as a broad set of friends? Would that help distinguish Google Plus or hurt its chances at drawing in users?

  • In “The Recalibration of Social Cohesion”, Ling argues that mobile phones promote the development of tight, inwardly focused groups. Our phone connects us so easily to our closest friends through texting or calling, that in comparison, finding acquaintances to hang out with seems to require unnecessary effort. At the same time, Ling says that a widening of social circles takes place with social networking technology. However, to me, it feels like they promote more of the same, in strengthening existing bonds rather than creating new ones. One thing that Ling uses to characterize tight circles is a retreat from the public sphere and a focus on the mundane issues of the group; how often do social networks result in anything BUT mundane chatter? In addition, the current trend seems to be shrinking our networks down; Facebook recently introduced “smart lists” to split up friends into groups, and the basis of Google+ is its “circles” feature, which lets you talk only to designated groups.
    From my personal experience, I’ve actually found social networks to be more of an antisocial force when in public space. In some of my larger lectures, I’ve wanted to get to know the people sitting next to me; ironically though, my neighbors are so engrossed in Facebook that it actively prevents me from saying hi.

  • Rich Ling introduces his “Co-Present Interaction and Mobile Communication” with an excerpt from an etiquette question-and-answer website about whether to flush the toilet when someone is in the adjacent stall is using their cell phone. Dr. Ling intends for this excerpt to exhibit the “indignation” touched off by this intrusion of the new technology into previously “sacrosanct” places. I believe that his interpretation of the response was informed by an expectation that this would be viewed as illegitimate. In my case, coming at it with an expectation that the intrusion would be viewed as the user’s prerogative, if an odd choice. The excerpt did not strike me as emotionally, as the responder simply attempted to assess a new situation (it’s not often one encounters someone talking on their phone in the bathroom). Taking respect for the situation of others into account, the responder determined what seemed to be the best course of action, with the view (this corresponds to Dr. Ling’s assessment) that because the telephoner has brought the foreign element into the normal situation, it is their responsibility to deal with whatever implications that brings.

  • When reading Chapter seven of Net Locality, entitled “Globalization,” I was particularly fascinated by the concept of “technological appropriation.” This term is defined as “the process through which technology users go beyond mere adoption to make the technology their own and to embed it within their local, social, cultural, economic and political practices.” While reading this definition, I recalled a personal encounter I recently experienced with technological appropriation. Over the summer, I attended a concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The group playing was an acoustic jam band, made famous by their slow-tempo songs. At one point, the lead singer asked the crowd to pull out their cellphones and sway them back and forth (reminiscent of the lighters made popular by Bob Dylan in the 70’s). While this is not the first time I’ve seen a performer ask the audience to do this, I wondered when this tradition first started. This lighter-turned-cellphone (or vice versa) is a prime example of technological appropriation. It is an interesting cultural practice representative of the current time period. It used to be that everyone carried a lighter. Now it seems that everyone carries a cellphone. The original purpose of the cellphone was not necessarily to serve as a light swayed in a concert setting, but some savvy cellphone user created a new cultural practice using technological appropriation.

  • Whenever I buy a sandwich at the dining hall, I start conversations with the dining services employees. For me, talking to the people who serve me is completely natural. However, many students feel uncomfortable talking to the worker behind the counter and will text or talk on the phone as their sandwiches are prepared.

    I struggled to identify an observation in chapter seven of “New Tech, New Ties” that paralleled this experience. Waiting for a sandwich is a gap period, but the sandwich preparation is an opportunity to interact with a new person who deserves interaction. During the three minutes of meal preparation, I don not believe that customers should request civil inattention.

    While I strongly believe that no service worker should be treated like a “sandwich machine,” I accept Ling’s assertion that texting “is not abstract and ego-centered absorption in another thought world; it is social intercourse.” We can give cell phone users the benefit of the doubt—maybe they need to be communicating with someone else right now. But Ling also says that texting is “asynchronous,” that there is rarely a reason to reply to a text message immediately.

    I believe that, in the dining hall situation, your dominant involvement and primary engagement should be interacting with the employee preparing your meal. So next time you request food at the dining hall, start a conversation—the digital world behind that Blackberry screen can wait until your meal is ready.

  • In the Globalization chapter of “Net Locality,” I thought it was particularly interesting when the author pointed out some of the special parts of network localities that have arisen in China and Japan. In Japan, one of the big things that people use their mobile phones for is NAVITIME, which was one of the first GPS navigation systems that catered to pedestrians instead of drivers. This arose because of the large population of pedestrians in Japan. That example was cool because it showed how net locality can really be specific to one area, for example, GPS makers in the USA have focused on navigation for drivers instead of pedestrians, but Japan’s large amounts of pedestrians living in densely populated areas led to the need for a navigation tool for pedestrians.

    In China, net localities have arisen because municipal governments make databases that contain the mobile phone numbers of people living in their cities, and send administrative messages about transportation, etc. to all of the users. The author also mentioned that the system is able to detect when someone has entered a new city, and it will send them a text message welcoming them to that city and giving them information about sightseeing and hotels. I thought that this centralized implementation of net locality by the government, although slightly scary, could be pretty useful. That example really highlights how the net locality of China has developed completely differently than the net locality of other countries.

    Reading about net locality in those countries made me wonder about how the culture of the USA might have affected some of the net localities here.

  • Rich Ling states that the “mobile phone takes precedence over co-present interaction.” Throughout chapter seven of “New Tech, New Ties” he gives examples of how the mobile phone can separate us from our environment. Many of these examples include ways that our mobile phones let us be in two places at once. But when we are using our mobile phones we create our own personal bubble. In most of his examples, the people on their mobile phones are aware of their surroundings and their calls or texts do not completely disrupt the co-present situation. I believe that Ling missed a very crucial part of mobile phone usage, instances where the user does not have any knowledge of their surroundings or possibly just do not care. Once when I was at the movie theater, there was a family sitting a couple rows in front of me. Before the movie started the young girl was texting her friends, which was not at all disruptive. However, the girl continued texting after the movie had started and the lights were dimmed. The light of her phone was so bright that it ruined the atmosphere of the theater. After asking her to close her phone she continued to text and the usher had to be brought in. Instances like these, where the girl was kicked out of the theater for texting, really show how mobile phones are becoming a priority over our interactions with everyday life. If Ling had an example similar to this in his chapter I would have completely agreed with his final conclusion that the mobile phone “trumps co-present ritual.” To me adding the examples of how people could both text and interact with their surroundings took away from his conclusion.

  • The chapter in Net Locality reminded me how webs of influence are rarely simple. Everything interacts in sometimes unexpected ways. Religion and politics can affect things and yet also be affected. Though this seems like a relatively simple concept, it’s one that people don’t always understand. I’ve noticed a lot of things change with the adoption of mobile technologies. Aside from the obvious, like the general disappearance of phone booths, there are also other effects. People no longer give directions unless there is something very strange about the location of the place, and people get really, really annoyed if you don’t respond to their email almost instantaneously. Instant gratification and so on.

    While some bemoan that people never talk face to face anymore, I find that mobile technology makes it easier to socialize. I can call, email, chat, check my calendar, look up movie times, see how late a place is open, and other things I can’t even recall at the moment. It’s super quick to coordinate activities, and mobile tech paired with social networking makes it even more powerful. I also find that the use of mobile technology makes sharing certain things easier. You can show photos, video, and websites to the person(s) you are talking to. No more awkward “Did you see X?” “No….” “Oh, well, it’s funny…”, you can just show whatever it is to them.

    I’m not a fan of the location apps that make you check in, but I love Google Maps (especially the public transportation options). All these aspects have allowed me to become much more spontaneous. I consider myself quite conscientious and I hate to go anywhere without knowing how to get there or back. With my phone on hand I can get that information and change my plans as I go.

    All that being said, I hate it when people talk on the phone in the bathroom or other places where it makes things awkward. The bathroom, especially a shared one, is a place of unspoken rules and tact. Part of the rules: do not make things weird/awkward for others. Also, if you have expended time, effort, and money to be at an event, I would generally expect you to be somewhat present at the event. Texters in movie theaters: one or two is ok, the whole movie spent texting is not.

  • In Chapter 7 of “New Tech, New Ties”, Rich Ling raises some very good points on the issues of how our social conventions are altering to fit our increased use of mobile technology. For as long as I’ve been in contact with people with cell phones, I’ve noticed the situations Ling mentions. The one that stuck out to me the most was his reference to using cell phones in bathrooms. I HATE that. Seriously. It’s probably my number one pet peeve regarding mobile phones. And, as Ling says, the annoyance isn’t just for the sake of the person sitting next to me (using their phone at an inappropriate time), but it’s also for my own propriety and the comfort of the unknowing person on the other end of the call. Bathrooms are private; no one else needs to know that kind of business. Another concept Ling presents is the idea about how we are changing how we behave include the use of a potentially distracting technology into our daily lives. The example about the woman navigating her way through a busy city is especially relevant. She represents a majority of young adults today, who can do pretty much everything (except maybe driving) whilst texting. Utilizing mobile technology is just part of our society today.

  • Rich Ling spends a whole chapter-”The Recalibration of Social Cohesion” – looking at a view stating the small group bond is being strengthened at the expense of the whole, to another extreme view in the opposite direction suggesting the “revitalization of the public sphere.” He then concludes at the end that the reality is somewhere in-between. I found this to be quite obvious, and possibly even more simple than Ling concludes; societal interaction is split into layers, each with their own level of intimacy and methods of communication. Facebook, for example, is a “low” level of intimacy; from personal experience I know people are more willing to “friend” people on Facebook than, for example, add their email to their address book (this would put email in the “medium” level I suppose). Video chats would be at the “high” level, as it is difficult to disguise one’s situation visually, while talking on the phone (“medium”) concedes less environmental information between people, and text messaging (“medium-low”) even less.

  • The idea of ‘place marks’ brought up in chapter 7 of “Net Locality” presents a very interesting concept. To place markers on a map adds a new level of interaction in which users can receive information. Objects and sites, go beyond being simple locations. A sort of meta data of endless information can be easily attributed to the object. For example, lets consider the Testudo statue outside the Mckeldin Library. In an ordinary map system, Testudo would be marked due to it being a site of interest. But adding meta data brings more information than a mark of location. We can tag data to Testudo stating it’s history, composition, purpose, community interaction, and any other wide assortment of information we want. I wonder what would be the result if we took this concept a step further, and (theoretically) integrated meta data to all objects? It seems very far fetched, since it’s as if we are becoming Omnipotent of all knowledge. However, what i believe this is achieving is a creating a sense of value to a virtual object. This brings up an earlier discussion we had about virtual reality. The maps we see on the internet show objects that may have a background information only if we are of knowledge of it. But by adding place markers and providing meta data, the object gains it’s own value as if gaining a soul. If we added these place marks to Testudo, we would think less of the simple location, but more so as a present object with determined values that we can assign to it.

  • In chapter 10 of “New Tech, New Ties,” Ling says that “the material in chapter 7 indicates that when, for example, one is given the choice between conversing with another marginally known person at a us stop and sending a text message to a paramour, [...] we choose the familiar person rather than the marginally known.” pg. 176. This brief summary of the ideas of chapter 7 hit me harder than possibly the entire chapter itself. Reading that statement made me realize that, over my time here in college park, I most likely could have met so many more people, if I wasn’t constantly on my phone or burying my face in my laptop between classes and at the lunch table by myself. Whereas society many years ago would have made it completely normal and acceptable to start a conversation with the person sitting next to you outside of your upcoming class, in today’s society this would often times be seen as rude, weird, or annoyingly interrupting to the opposite party. Although I had never looked at it in this way before, I realize now that things such as Facebook and my cell phone may actually be isolating me from the people I encounter every day, rather than connecting me.

  • An idea from chapter 7 of Net Locality that caught my attention was how net locality inverts the whole idea of globalization. In this concept, Gordon says localities “are relevant because they have the power to change global practice”. This reminded me of crowdsourcing, a topic that we covered in DCC last year. Crowdsourcing is a means of outsourcing to a large group of people. It might be a stretch to say this, but in some ways, crowdsourcing parallels how net localities contribute to the world. Crowdsourcing takes contributions from a group of many to develop a solution or complete an overall goal, while each individual net locality contributes to enriching several other cultures globally. As mentioned in the chapter, net localities “allowed people to be aware of what was happening outside their local spaces”. Similarly with crowdsourcing, people learn of several opinions on any given topic that allow them to look at the topic in a manner that differs from their own. Net localities have essentially become the world’s way of crowdsourcing.

  • I find it truly amazing how much the interconnectedness and communication made possible by internet technology and mobile devices functions as an engine for political change. The most striking example, mentioned in Constant Touch, and again in Net Locality, is the downfall of Filipino president Joseph Estrada. The website Jiazhu Tiantongyuan in China, however, is almost as striking, and in some ways more so. Jiazhu Tiantongyuan started up in a country that monitors and heavily censors almost all web and mobile communication. The website was originally just a public forum for all residents of the Tiantongyuan apartment community, but it evolved into so much more. The website became a vocal forum for expressing dissatisfaction with issues relating to the community, first the push for water treatment and then the second subway station. This happened in a country in which public protests would not be particularly successful, and would probably be stopped very quickly. However, though the medium of this online forum, the complaints, protests, and petitions went on until they caused actual results. People were able to virtually gather together to protest an issue, as well as to collaborate on efforts to petition the government through other means. This online forum persisted for 9 years, at which point it was finally shut down, no doubt because it was so effective for petitioning the government.

  • The fact that the internet and web technologies have spurred globalization definitely means that the internet is a much more powerful force than I had originally thought. In Net Locality, Gordon and de Souza discuss how the internet and mobile technologies have lead to globalization by increasing interaction between different people in different parts of the world. The first idea that came to mind when reading this chapter was the “twitter revolution” in Iran, as called by Gordan and de Souza, which Gordon and de Souza discuss in detail. It struck me, however, that the number of twitter users during this “revolution” was less than was portrayed by the media. This small number of users, however, was enough to make a large impact, amplifying the power of social media.
    Though globalization is good, in this context, it can have many negatives, or “perceived negatives”. For example, during the uprising in Egypt a few months ago to oust Mubarak, I remember hearing that text messaging and other mobile services were suspended to restrict communication with others and media. The suppression of globalization through technology has even effected me personally. I have a very good friend who goes to boarding school in China every year. We keep in contact on Facebook, but in the months that she is away at school, we can’t communicate because China has restricted Facebook use to essentially limit globalization. We can speak, however, when she goes home to Taiwan during the summer. These examples make me thankful to live in a country where our ability to ‘globalize’ is not limited, and we are free to use the internet and communicate with others around the world, sparking innovation and new ideas.

  • Mobile phones create an interesting situation when they are used in public: the user is effectively participating in two separate realities at the same time. They must balance their interactions with both the co-present, as well as the person they are communicating with on the phone in order to prevent one from being neglected. If they do not achieve this proper balance, it can leave the people they are interacting with feeling awkward because they are not a part of the reality that the mobile phone user is focusing on. The user’s attention can be biased either way: focusing too much on the person they are communicating with on the phone and not enough on the co-present situation, or vice versa. For instance, I have a family member that tends to have conversations with another person in the background while they are on the phone with me. This leaves me just sitting there awkwardly sometimes, waiting for the conversation to continue, because I am not really a part of the background conversation. On the other hand, I work as a cashier and find it quite awkward when a person comes up to the register while they are talking on their phone. I feel like I don’t want to interrupt them, but at the same time, I have to have a certain amount of interaction with them in order to complete the checkout. I often have to repeat myself in these situations though, because it is obvious that the person is not devoting enough attention to their co-present situation, i.e. me.
    Most of the time, this improper balance happens accidentally, however it can also occur intentionally. For instance, many people use their mobile phones as a type of “shield” when they are in an uncomfortable public situation. People will pull out their phone and appear to be busy doing something on it in order to prevent themselves from having to participate in the co-present situation, while at the same time preventing the co-present people from viewing them as just standing there awkwardly and not participating. They see that the mobile phone user is “busy” taking care of something and assume that they will participate in the co-present situation as soon as they are finished.

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