Social Studies of
Domestic Information and
and Communication Technologies?
In the 20th century, new information technology has the potential to influence the lives of ordinary citizens as much as it has influenced business, education, and government. In many of the countries in Europe, North America, and Asia, the majority of individuals and households are using personal computers, the Internet, and mobile telephones. In the United States, this equipment is often referred to as information technology. In Europe, the phrase “information and communication technologies” is more commonly used and is abbreviated to ICTs. This book is about the potential effect of these new technologies, as they enter our homes and our daily lives, to change the range of activities we pursue, the way we perform old activities, our relationships with other people, and our personal and economic welfare. But will the new ICTs have a significant social effect, and if they do, will the change be positive? This book contributes to the investigations needed to answer these questions.
Toward the end of his book The Coming of PostIndustrial Society, Daniel Bell (1973) argues that before the industrial revolution, humankind confronted nature; through the industrial revolution, we confronted a sort of “fabricated nature.” However, the “post-industrial society is essentially a game between persons” (p. 488). In the new knowledge society, there is at one level simply more social interaction, but at another level, we also face new social challenges. The new technologies we discuss in this volume are a part of this new social and human environment.
In a sense, of course, nothing is new. Although computers, the Internet, and mobile phones are new technologies, the debate over the effects of technology on personal lives is old. In The Republic, Plato warned against the pernicious effects of consuming the mass media of the day (drama and poetry), because viewers and readers might have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction and might emulate the worst rather than the best behavior of the tragic heroes. Such ancient concerns are a strange echo of current social science research findings and argument; for instance, it is said that television and computer games promote violence or other negative behavior (Anderson et al., 2003).
Psychologists, sociologists, and communication scholars have long been interested in the effect on everyday life of broadcast media such as radio and television (e.g., Janowitz & Hirsch, 1981; BallRokeach & Cantor, 1986; Gurevitch & Levy, 1987;