Machines That Become Us: The Social Context of Personal Communication Technology

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Social critics and artificial intelligence experts have long prophesized that computers and robots would soon relegate humans to the dustbin of history. Many among the general population seem to have shared this fear of a dehumanized future. But how are people in the twenty-first century actually reacting to the ever-expanding array of gadgets and networks at their disposal? Is computer anxiety a significant problem, paralyzing and terrorizing millions, or are ever-proliferating numbers of gadgets being enthusiastically embraced? Machines that Become Us explores the increasingly intimate relationship between people and their personal communication technologies.

In the first book of its kind, internationally recognized scholars from the United States and Europe explore this topic. Among the technologies analyzed include the Internet, personal digital assistants (PDAs), mobile phones, networked homes, "smart" fabrics and wearable computers, interactive location badges, and implanted monitoring devices. The authors discuss critical policy issues, such as the problems of information resource access and equity, and the recently discovered "digital dropouts" phenomena.

The use of the word "become" in the book's title has three different meanings. The first suggests how people use these technologies to broaden their abilities to communicate and to represent themselves to others. Thus the technologies "become" extensions and representatives of the communicators. A second sense of "become" applies to analysis of the way these technologies become physically integrated with the user's clothing and even their bodies. Finally, contributors examine fashion aspects and uses of these technologies, that is, how they are used in ways becoming to the wearer. The conclusions of many chapters are supported by data, including ethnographic observations, attitude surveys and case studies from the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Finland, and Norway. This approach is especially valuable given the dearth of empirical studies in a field that has been traditionally dominated by extrapolation and speculation, and that has focused on possible future states rather than analysis of current situations. Other chapters are integrative, seeking to advance emerging theoretical perspectives.

This exciting volume generates new insights concerning the burgeoning electronic confusion that increasingly penetrates and blurs the boundaries of various spheres of life in modern society. Machines That Become Us will be of interest to students of communications and technology, sociologists, and social psychologists.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A valuable addition to our growing understanding of the wide-ranging implications of new technologies... Machines That Become Us offers a rich compendium of insights into why we think new machines both 'improve' and 'jumble' our lives." —Steve Woolgar, Chair of Marketing, Said Business School, University of Oxford "Machines That Become Us is very much focused on the empirical understanding of information technologies. This kind of work is sorely needed as such technologies become more and more present in everyday life. James Katz is to be commended for putting together a highly successful volume." —Mark Poster, professor of history, University of California, Irvine "Machines That Become Us represents a major interdisciplinary work... The process of machines 'becoming us' no longer can be left to cognitive or computer sciences alone, but needs a deep, global view focusing on social practices, including everyday changes in human life; that is what Katz's book does with theoretical passion." —Patrizia Calefato, professor, Dipartimento di Pratiche linguistiche e analisi di testi, Universita degli studi di Bari
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765801586
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/28/2003
  • Pages: 346
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Meet the Author

James E. Katz is professor and chair of the Department of Communication at Rutgers University where he also directs the Center for Mobile Communication Studies. In 2009, he was the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Twentieth Century Communications History (Italy). Prior to coming to Rutgers, Katz headed a social science research unit at Bell Communications Research. He has two patents in the telecommunications field and has held fellowships at Harvard and MIT. He is the author of Magic in the Air: Mobile Communication and the Transformation of Social Life and Connections: Social and Cultural Studies of the Telephone in American Life, published by Transaction.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1
2 Do Machines Become Us? 15
3 Understanding Information and Communication Technology and Infrastructure in Everyday Life 27
4 Domestication and Mobile Telephony 43
5 Communication Technology and Sociability: Between Local Ties and "Global Ghetto"? 57
6 The Human Body: Natural and Artificial Technology 71
7 Digital Divides of the Internet and Mobile Phone: Structural Determinants of the Social Context of Communication Technologies 91
8 Social Capital and the New Communication Technologies 105
9 Information and Communication Technology in Russian Families 117
10 Face and Place: The Mobile Phone and Internet in the Netherlands 127
11 Communication Anxiety Among "Smart" Dutch Computer Users 147
12 The Social Context of the Mobile Phone Use of Norwegian Teens 161
13 Two Modes of Maintaining Interpersonal Relations Through Telephone: From the Domestic to the Mobile Phone 171
14 Culture and Design for Mobile Phones for China 187
15 Outwardly Mobile: Young People and Mobile Technologies 201
16 Breaking Time and Place: Mobile Technologies and Reconstituted Identities 219
17 Crossbreeding Wearable and Ubiquitous Computing: A Design Experience 233
18 Mobile Telephony, Mobility, and the Coordination of Everyday Life 245
19 Soft Machine 267
20 Aesthetics in Microgravity 277
21 Piercing, Tattoos, and Branding: Latent and Profound Reasons for Body Manipulations 285
22 "Perhaps It is a Body Part": How the Mobile Phone Became an Organic Part of the Everyday Lives of Finnish Children and Teenagers 293
23 Bodies, Machines, and Communication Contexts: What is to become of Us? 311
About the Editor and Contributors 321
Index 327
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