Society Online: The Internet in Context/Media Access: Social and Psychological Dimensions of New Technology Use/Memory Bytes: History, Technology and Digital Culture

Article excerpt

Books Howard, Philip N. and Steve Jones, eds. (2004). Society Online: The Internet in Context. Thosand Oaks, CA: Sage. pp. 384.

Bucy, Erik P. and John E. Newhagen, eds. (2003). Media Access: Social and Psychological Dimensions of New Technology Use. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. pp. 312.

Rabinovitz, Lauren and Abraham Geil, eds. (2004). Memory Bytes: History, Technology and Digital Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 344.

Technology, as German philosopher Martin Heidegger observed, is typically characterized in instrumentalist terms. This understanding, although not necessarily incorrect, all-too-often leads to examinations that are thoroughly decontextualized. As educators interested in critical thinking, we know that this is not sufficient. We are aware that technology is always the product of a particular culture, introduced at a particular time, and incorporated into daily life in specific and sometimes surprising ways. Helping students to understand this social, cultural, and historical context is part of the educator's task, but the text materials to do so have not always been readily available. Fortunately, three new anthologies now help to fill this void, providing context for discussions and debates about the Internet, digital media, and other forms of information and communication technology (ICT).

The first anthology, Society Online: The Internet in Context edited by Philip N. Howard and Steve Jones, attempts to situate the Internet and "new media" in their social and cultural milieu. The collection begins with and responds to the fact that debates about the impact of the Internet often proceed without reference to actual data and basic social science research. The text endeavors to remedy this deficiency by exploring and interpreting the data gathered by a number of landmark studies, including the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the General Social Survey, and the UCLA Center for Communication Policy surveys. Instead of trying to cover every possible aspect of ICTs, the book is organized around five topics that address how ICTs mediate social life. The first part addresses social capital, community, and content. The second looks at news and politics in the online environment. The third considers e-commerce and economic activity. The fourth part investigates culture and socialization. And the fifth examines the personal and global situations of life on the Internet. These five subdivisions are preceded by an introductory essay and a prologue, which addresses methodological issues in sample selection and the pitfalls of sample bias in Internet research. This collection of essays is useful for at least two reasons. First, it provides empirical evidence to support or refute a lot of the cyberbole that has circulated about ICTs. For more than a decade, the pages of both academic and popular presses have been crowded with articles proclaiming that the Internet introduces radical change in all aspects of our world. Society Online functions as a kind of reality check, providing concrete understanding of what those changes are, just how radical they might be, and what it all means to participants. Second, the essays collected in this text provide insightful analysis of statistical data. Research reports like that generated by the Pew Internet and American Life Project provide a wealth of quantitative data. Society Online attempts to make sense of this information by placing it in a context where statistics can become significant and usable in the classroom environment.

The second text, Media Access: Social and Psychological Dimensions of New Technology Use edited by Erik P. Bucy and John E. Newhagen, is concerned with what many scholars, policy analysts, and the popular media now call, often with considerable imprecision, "the digital divide." Unlike the majority of reports and publications addressing this issue, Media Access is not interested in documenting the differences in physical access to computer equipment and Internet connection. …