The Internet has not changed anything. Instead we use the Internet to change the ways we do things.
I’m not sure I entirely understand these two sentences. They appear contradictory to me. Do you mean to say that the Internet has not changed anything, but is simply a new sort of tool? If that is your point, I’m not sure I agree.
Otherwise, I was very engrossed with your post. I’m looking forward to reading your future guest bloggings.
My argument here is that the Internet (and I use the term broadly) has not revolutionised social relationships or brought about immense transformations in social life as predicted by earlier theorists. The Internet has not been a vehicle of social change in the sense that the Internet does not bring change about by itself. On the contrary, although Internet technology itself retains the capacity to be an agent of social change, it does not necessarily act as one. As a result the Internet is increasingly being recognised as a vehicle for social change rather than being a dynamic future-altering device, and Internet technology is becoming embedded in everyday social life rather than the other way around – the Internet is just another social place in the world of social places that we inhabit.
Interesting. Can you provide some examples?
I think that your argument seems to be a given in almost any situation. The development of assembly line manufacturing did not bring about change “by itself.” To look back even further, one could make the argument that the prehistoric discovery of fire was not an agent of social change, as people were still necessary to light and tend the flames. The Internet certainly can’t operate by itself, can it?
I understand entirely what you’re saying, but I think the argument you are making is a semantic one. The Internet itself may not have revolutionized social life, but the use of the Internet has. I believe the same holds true for any great human invention. This doesn’t mean that the invention itself has not been massively influential. We can never leave the people out of the equation, and I don’t believe one is doing so by arguing that the Internet was itself a future-altering device, even if it was simply used as a “vehicle.”
Precisely – but the argument was made by early Internet theorists, and as a result research in the 1990s was influenced by it, i.e. that the Internet was seen as revolutionary and transforming. I suppose I could say that simplistically the question is really:
- Is the Internet forcing people to act in different ways, or are people using the Internet to act in different ways?
In that respect the argument is not semantic, but an attempt to understand the relationship between the Internet and people. Markham quite neatly does this by examining how users frame their experiences of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) along a continuum of “connection of self” (87), developing three themes that help her to understand online experiences. The first is that of CMC being a tool that facillitates communication, the second that cyberspace is a place to go to be with others, and the third is a way of being that is inseparably woven into lived experiences.
Hine (2000 Virtual Ethnography) is perhaps more eloquent in her explanation than I am. She suggests that one major outcome of the persistence of early myths about the Internet is that the search for ‘radically altered futures’ (4) has until recently overshadowed the investigation of how people are using and understanding the technology itself. In other words researchers were not investigating those everyday practices through which the Internet is used and understood. In brief, there is a need to emphasize the significance of ways of thinking about the technology instead of the technology itself.
One example from my own research (I will expand on this in a later post), was my difficulty with explaining that cyberspace is a ‘real place’. This became much easier when I explained instead why the people I met there said that it was a real place. I was hung up thinking about cyberspace instead of the ways in which people thought about cyberspace.
I think I have a better understanding now of the point you are trying to make, but it still does feel almost too obvious. (Perhaps this is just because I am a product of the Internet generation?)
You wrote: Is the Internet forcing people to act in different ways, or are people using the Internet to act in different ways? I think perhaps this is worded better than it had been previously, but I’m still not entirely sure where the distinction is. I don’t think that any invention can “force” people to act in certain ways, but its existence can be a form of encouragement. The very existence of the Internet allows us to think in ways that we hadn’t before.
I think the problem is that I completely understand your side of the argument, but I’m not sure I have a clue where the other side is coming from. How can one argue that the Internet itself forces change when it is, first and foremost, a product of human invention? The very nature of the Internet requires direct and active human participation for it to be even remotely useful.
Granted, I’m coming from the place of someone who has no trouble seeing why cyberspace is a ‘real place,’ and perhaps I’ve grown up too embedded in the Internet to see things differently?
Thanks for the discussion!
I’m coming from the place of someone who has no trouble seeing why cyberspace is a ‘real place,’ and perhaps I’ve grown up too embedded in the Internet to see things differently?
I think in that respect our discussion quite neatly illustrates the differences in perspectives between the early Internet theorists and now, and of course one of the reasons for my guest blogging here was to ‘chart the changes in perspectives that have informed my own research’. I often struggled with this issue in the late nineties but research has moved on and now it seems like a pointless exercise most of the time. You have the advantage of starting from the point where cyberspace is a ‘real place’ - I had to argue that it was!!