The roles of digital media, in particular the internet and the mobile phone, in personal relationships
The main purpose of this book, as Baym explains, is to provide a means of thinking critically about the roles of digital media, in particular the internet and the mobile phone, in personal relationships. The author, Nancy Baym, is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas. Baym began researching these ideals beginning in 1990, launching a research project into interpersonal communication over the Internet, and later began teaching courses in communication and technology.The variety of communication technologies made available over recent years has been astounding with increasingly newer avenues of technological communication appearing almost daily.
Chapter one begins identifying key concepts that may be utilized to differentiate digital media and how they influence ways media is used and their effects. The key concepts being interactivity, temporal structure, social cues, storage, replicability, reach and mobility.
In Chapter two, Baym begins to offset the technological determinism view on issues relating to authenticity of identity with the utopian viewpoint that technology liberates the true selves from the constraints of geographical location. This in turn frees them from marginalized social identities and allows them to flourish their offline relationships and commence new online relationships. Baym also mentions another viewpoint called the social construction of technology which entails human beings, not machines, are viewed as agents of change. The final viewpoint explained by Baym is called social shaping in which emphasizes the grey area where the risks or consequences of technology arise from social capabilities that technologies allow. The chapter goes on to explain that these viewpoints are hardly mentioned due to the normality of technology within society.
The viewpoint that Baym utilizes within the remainder of the book is the social shaping perspective which argues that in order to connect digital media to social negatives, there must be understanding of technology itself and the activities that influence and arise from technology. Chapter three explains how digitally mediated messages exchanged by people is altered. Baym exclaims that digital mediation of messages results in the consequence of a lack of a human element. Baym brings about the point that digital messages alter interpersonal relationships due to a lack of non-verbal cues. Developers have responded aiding in user creativity by adding emoticons and new ways to virtually represent social cues. Within the book, Baym argues that technological mediated messages should be looked at as a new way of communication that combines elements from face-to-face communication with pieces of writing.
Throughout the book, Baym then goes on to talk about the utopian future the Internet holds for interpersonal relationships. Baym argues that there is no reason to assume that people who meet online are any less themselves than they are when they meet in face-to-face situations. To prove the aforementioned point, Baym shares her experience with growing an online relationship with a Swedish graphic designer and musician. Following, Baym addresses maintaining interpersonal relationships over a long period of time. She examines how media is utilized in pre-existing interpersonal relationships. She characterizes such relationships in regards to ‘media multiplexity’, meaning that they are conducted through more than one communication medium.
To conclude her research findings, Baym finalizes arguments in sorting myths from reality. She argues against the idea of a “cyberspace” that can be understood alone. Instead Baym believes that what happens online can be seen as newer, but is no less real or lacking when it comes to forming interpersonal relationships. Her findings and research conclude that people remain in the pursuit of preserving the authenticity that arises from human connection. Her viewpoint is optimistic that society will wade its way through new technologies without losing hold of interpersonal human connection.