Free review copies available at SAGE website

It’s very easy to request a free review copy of Superconnected for prospective classroom use! Just go to https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/superconnected-the-internet-digital-media-and-techno-social-life/book257696 and click on “Request Review Copy.”

In addition to the many free classroom materials and resources found on this site, please also know that I would be happy to Skype with any class that adopts the book, visit in person if arrangements can be made, or do a Twitter chat — whether live or asynchronously. I’d be happy to interact with students reading the book! Contact me at mary.chayko@rutgers.edu to set it up!

Finally, please feel free to share with me your students’ responses to the book, whether as part of formal class activities or their informal reviews. Responses to the first edition were extremely helpful to me when it came time to revise the first edition. Any and all feedback would be gratefully received at the above email address. Thank you, and thank you for your interest in Superconnected!

 

 

 

Book launch: Eastern Sociological Society Conference Feb. 22-25, 2018

Superconnected’s second edition was officially “launched” at the 2018 Eastern Sociological Society conference in Baltimore, MD. I signed books, met up with mentor/friend Karen Cerulo and grad school buddy Wayne Brekhus at the signing, and discussed some of the book’s ideas on a panel on digital sociology.

Course adoptions are already starting for Fall ’18! Check out the customizable lecture slides and questions for discussion (brand new for this second edition) on their “pages,” above. Contact me at mary.chayko@rutgers.edu for more info or to arrange a Skype or in-person visit to your class — or, a Twitter chat (fun, and instructive about digital society in both form and content!)

Second edition of Superconnected has arrived!

I’m very pleased to announce the publication of the fully revised and updated second edition of Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media and Techno-Social Life.

This new revised edition features:

  • Current events, the latest statistics and new research findings
  • Brand new sections on the rise of “fake” news and information, the human-machine relationship, and the history and implications of the “dark web” and the “deep web”
  • Customizable lecture slides and discussion questions for each chapter available on this blog

This edition also pairs nicely with the short podcasts I wrote, voiced, and produced for each chapter, available on this blog.

Enjoy this new, updated version of Superconnected, and, as always, please feel to share your feedback with me at mary.chayko@rutgers.edu.

Second Edition of Superconnected!

I’m excited to announce that I’m working on a second edition of Superconnected! It will contain new sections on accuracy, misinformation and “fake news”; the “dark web” and the “deep web”‘ and the machine-human connection. I’m also updating all data and statistics and including dozens of new research findings and examples.

I’ll also be adding lots of new content on this blog in conjunction with the second edition, including lecture slides and discussion questions for each chapter.

If you have a suggestion for a new or revised topic that should be included in the second edition, I’d love to hear from you at mary.chayko@rutgers.edu!

The new second edition of Superconnected should be out in early 2018, in time for course adoption in Fall 2018. I’m also getting great feedback from general, non-scholarly audiences.

Till then, feel free to grab the first edition!

Chapter 10 and Podcast 10 from Superconnected

This chapter looks at the future — or, more accurately, the possible future — of living in a world in which digital connectedness is so prevalent.

 

 

The rise and proliferation of the internet, digital media, and ICTs represent the potential for individuals to live richer lives, but also those that are more closely scrutinized and surveilled. As we have seen, the harnessing of collective knowledge and superconnectedness yields infinite possibilities, but the outcomes are unclear, unsure. There are infinite possibilities, which can be daunting and overwhelming or exciting and freeing.

Upcoming generations of digital connectors will likely find digitality in and of itself to be neither daunting nor confusing. Children and young adults growing up in a technology-rich environment have several advantages: comfort and practice in interacting and building social worlds online; agility in moving among online and offline spheres; considering as default that which occurs in digital spaces to be very much “real.” They tend not to have a problem seeing the online and offline as enmeshed. Soon, children in tech-rich communities and societies will have always known a world in which it was so. When that time arrives, what will be lost? What will be gained?

Individuals will always be challenged to create cohesive identities and communities and to understand the workings of both. In the modern technological world, people are, and will remain, superconnected. The thoughtful, strategic, shrewd use of the internet and digital technology can help people better manage their techno-social lives and create a future filled with rich, diverse experiences.  To do this, they – we — must become and remain educated and literate about techno-social life.

The internet and digital media provide countless opportunities for involvement in the process of making and shaping and critiquing and improving technology, the world around us, and our own lives. Passive consumption of technology and of changes that have been decreed by others inevitably leads to feelings of weakness and hopelessness. Individuals need to feel some control over their lives, and democracies require that people have a voice and control. If we outsource technological expertise and decision-making to others, we give them control over all the aspects of techno-social life discussed in this book. We give others control over our lives.

So I invite you again, as I did when we began our exploration of techno-social life in Chapter 1, to take its lessons and explore those issues most relevant to your life and to those whom you care about. Network. Speak. Create. Remix. Act. Use the technologies at your disposal, and those to come — including those that you, yourself, make — to shape the kind of world you want to live in. Connect with others who believe as you do. Use the internet, digital media, and face-to-face gatherings, in combination, to build and sustain those connections. With curiosity, creativity, and a critical mind  – all of which I hope this book has helped you to develop — there are almost no limits to the journey you can take and the difference you can make in your own, superconnected, techno-social life. 

 

 

Chapter 9 and Podcast 9 from Superconnected

In this chapter, a number of the benefits and downsides of superconnectedness are explored: our constant availability to one another, the convenience of the tech, fun and play and entertainment, multitasking and the attention span, stress and information overload (including FOMO), emergencies, dependency and addiction, and health and moods. In the end, I conclude that one of the subtlest influences of living in a tech-rich society is, simply, the feeling of being “plugged in” — not just to one another, but to society.

 

 

Human beings need to feel at home in the world. We need to feel that the world will not change too dramatically, too suddenly, too unexpectedly. Even the most solitary among us need to feel “plugged in” to the world around us. For humans are social animals and cannot develop mentally, emotionally, or physically if they do not have regular sources of interaction and a sense of connection to and understanding of the world around them.

Being “plugged in” can be a satisfying, rewarding feeling. It can also an ongoing challenge, as contexts collapse and multiple audiences must be attended to and selves are constructed in these complex visible spaces. But most importantly, being “plugged in” can provide us on a very deep level with the comforting feeling that we are not alone. Some people assume that internet and digital media use “makes” us feel more alone. But the research does not bear this out. The research, including much that I conducted myself, overwhelmingly indicates that internet and digital media use help people feel and be more connected with others. This includes connections that strong and those that are weak – and those that eventually migrate offline, along with those that do not.

But even in a more general and diffused sense, people feel that they are part of a larger whole when they go online. Spending time in online “hangouts,” playing games or visiting social media sites, or simply emailing in a friend or colleague, we are reminded of the huge net of people that surround us all.  “Just as the individual’s deprivation of relationship with his significant others will plunge him into anomie,” sociologists Peter Berger and Hansfried Kellner explain, “so their continued presence will sustain for him that nomos by which he can feel at home in the world” (1964:7, emphasis added). To sense, even vaguely, the continued presence of others in the world and one’s connectedness with them helps people feel more securely rooted in the world around them and provides a deep and real feeling of societal continuity.

All of us desire what sociological theorist Anthony Giddens called ontological security – “the confidence or trust that the natural and social worlds are as they appear to be” (1984:375). A world that were to experience constant disruption, its sands shifting constantly beneath our feet, would be too difficult to bear. We require some kind of continuity and sameness from day to day. Taking part in techno-social life online can provide this kind of constancy, for it (and at least some others with whom we are connected) is always, dependably, there. It is a kind of gift that a tightly connected society gives to its members — the means to feel plugged in, superconnected, part of a whole.

This sense of continuity and security persists even when we are offline. We do not need to check our phones constantly to know that friends and family are out there and that our connections and networks and communities, for the most part, persist. To be sure, it is highly satisfying to check in with friends and family nonetheless; to feel their presence and the sense of security that, ideally, they confer. This is something people want to experience and verify regularly. But in a very real way, we carry these others with us wherever we go, making ontological security in the modern technological age truly a portable, mobile phenomenon. As Kate Fox said in the quote on the first page of this chapter, “Carrying your social support network in your pocket, you’ll never walk alone” (2001).

“Carrying” others with us, mentally, when we are not physically together, predates online connectedness. We have always been able to think about and retain memories of other people in our minds (see Chayko 2002 for many examples of this). We do not need to be literally plugged in, connected by technology, to feel connected. But technology – and remember, technology can be understood broadly to indicate a wide range of tools and techniques and means of connecting people – allows us to facilitate and reinforce these feelings at any time. It connects us to one another and to the networks and communities in which we are a part. It allows us to become superconnected.

Chapter 8 and Podcast 8 from Superconnected

We say that something is an institution when it is foundational, functional, long-lasting, large-scale, systemic. It has been around a long time and it seems like it may always be. Social institutions provide a society with structure and order and give its members a framework within which to make their social connections and communities. They are so critical to helping a society (and its members) function that all societies “contain” some social institutions; mostly, the very same ones that we examine in this chapter: the family, business and the workplace, health care, religion, education, politics and governing, the criminal justice system, and the media. And each of these has been strongly influenced by technological developments over time, with the internet and digital media in particular playing a very strong role, which I why I call them the techno-social institutions.

 

 

 

This brief excerpt from the book focuses on the rapidly changing institution of “the media.”  The mass media, which include print media like newspapers, magazines, and books and electronic media like television, radio, and movies, are increasingly thought of, collectively, as constituting a social institution. In recent years, the internet and digital media have begun to be included among the mass media when the role of the media as a social institution is included.

While the government exerts substantial control over the mass and digital media in many countries worldwide, in democratic societies, the media institution is considered separate from the institution of governing. It is organized as a market, not a state, system, and is expected to be controlled and staffed by professionals who should seek to be accurate, impartial, and informative. While political power and the media intersect in different ways in different societies, American media and news reporting are often looked to, globally, as an example of the free and independent press. This independence has been compromised, though, by the media’s domination by a small number of conglomerates.

A conglomerate exists when a set of companies that may not necessarily be similar to one another are owned by the same larger company. This has happened with mass and digital media companies across the globe, as most of them have become owned by certain parent companies. In 1996, the Telecommunications Reform Act was passed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), allowing radio and television stations in different regions to be owned by the same company and paving the way for continued deregulation in which a relatively small number of corporations could own more and more media organizations.

At this writing, six corporations in the United States– Disney, Viacom, News Corp/20th Century Fox, Time Warner, Comcast, and CBS – act as conglomerates, controlling 90% of what is read, watched or listened to via the media. As recently as 1983, fifty countries owned the same percentage of television and radio stations, magazines, newspapers, movies studios, and the like. These media conglomerates even own some sports teams and theme parks. It has been estimated that 232 media executives control the information diet of 277 million Americans (that’s one media exec to 850,000 subscribers (Lutz 2012). In other countries, there is a similar concentration of the media in different corporations or, in some cases, political parties.

This concentrated consolidation of media ownership is often critiqued as detrimental to the free and open exchange of information so important to a democracy.  The potential exists for fewer points of view to be expressed as the dominant corporation sets standards of tone and content. It is also important to keep in mind that many media organizations are for-profit ones, with their main objective to make money, rather than to educate or to serve the public interest. Dominant points of view may not be contested and censorship can result as these corporations favor special interests and profits over newsworthiness. The quality and diversity of the information that is shared becomes, in effect, sacrificed for standardization, a charge often made in a globalized culture.

Journalism and and news dissemination have changed dramatically with the advent of the internet and digital technology, especially social media. Journalists and news organizations today work within a 24/7 news cycle. That is, they are expected to provide newsworthy information to a public around the clock. 24-hour cable news networks and online news sites are examples of this. While all-news radio stations have existed for decades, this relatively recent innovation in television (the first all-news cable network was CNN in 1980), transformed the process of news gathering and dissemination, since much more product is required to fill that much time and space. It is also endemic upon media outlets to entice viewers and readers to their product, as many of them are profit-making organizations that need audiences to survive.

In addition, the dissemination of news, once solely the task of journalistic entities, now increasingly takes place by people without journalistic training, resulting in the proliferation of media aggregation sites and even less formal information-oriented blogs. It can be quite difficult to ascertain the source and credibility of the information  found in these varied digital spaces. And as recently as 2012, nearly as many U.S. consumers have followed the news on such sites (29%) as on traditional news outlets (36%) Only about 10% of Americans turn to social media as their primary or sole news source, however (Mitchell, Rosensteil, and Christian 2012).

While many consumers of aggregated news appreciate the ease and convenience of obtaining a variety of sources of information in one place, the practice can be seen as exploitation – even theft — of the original work of others. It has also weakened traditional journalistic organizations and the industry as a while. In 2011, hundreds of U.S. newspapers ceased publication, while news aggregators were on the rise. Media diversity has been reduced, and misinformation can be easily amplified.

Digital and mass media have begun to assume some of the functions that other institutions have traditionally met. Via the media, people become educated, practice their religions, amass health and fitness information, elect candidates, follow and influence and become influenced by the practices of politicians and governments, and come together as families. These media are, therefore, a primary way that people learn about and come to understand how each of the other social institutions operate. And as we have seen in the U.S. presidential election of 2016 and the social media- (and Twitter-) fueled rise of Donald Trump, it is a powerful one indeed.