The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media

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Overview

A few generations ago, college students showed their romantic commitments by exchanging special objects: rings, pins, varsity letter jackets. Pins and rings were handy, telling everyone in local communities that you were spoken for, and when you broke up, the absence of a ring let everyone know you were available again. Is being Facebook official really more complicated, or are status updates just a new version of these old tokens?

Many people are now fascinated by how new media has affected the intricacies of relationships and their dissolution. People often talk about Facebook and Twitter as platforms that have led to a seismic shift in transparency and (over)sharing. What are the new rules for breaking up? These rules are argued over and mocked in venues from the New York Times to lamebook.com, but well-thought-out and informed considerations of the topic are rare.

Ilana Gershon was intrigued by the degree to which her students used new media to communicate important romantic information—such as "it's over." She decided to get to the bottom of the matter by interviewing seventy-two people about how they use Skype, texting, voice mail, instant messaging, Facebook, and cream stationery to end relationships. She opens up the world of romance as it is conducted in a digital milieu, offering insights into the ways in which different media influence behavior, beliefs, and social mores.

Above all, this full-fledged ethnography of Facebook and other new tools is about technology and communication, but it also tells the reader a great deal about what college students expect from each other when breaking up—and from their friends who are the spectators or witnesses to the ebb and flow of their relationships. The Breakup 2.0 is accessible and riveting.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In her surprisingly gripping first book, Gershon argues that Facebook and other forms of new media social networking have radically changed the playing field of accepted interactions. Generations navigate these new forms differently and a whole new set of norms is being developed to judge behavior. No subject has dominated the discussion more than the ways in which we handle romantic relationships: when they begin, when to go public, and how to bring them to an end. Do people really break up via text message? The answer is yes, and Gershon asserts that in this case "the medium is at odds with the message." A professor of communications, the author takes a distinctly academic approach, lending legitimacy to what might otherwise be easily dismissed. She understands how new media shapes social communications and addresses its constant evolution. Readers interested in communication theory and new media evolution will appreciate the author's excellent balance of analysis, anecdote, and readability. While some of her insights will undoubtedly be dated the moment this book hits the shelves, her examination will stand as an important time capsule in a constantly-evolving world.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher

"In her surprisingly gripping first book, Gershon argues that Facebook and other forms of new media social networking have radically changed the playing field of accepted interactions. Generations navigate these new forms differently and a whole new set of norms is being developed to judge behavior. No subject has dominated the discussion more than the ways in which we handle romantic relationships: when they begin, when to go public, and how to bring them to an end. Do people really break up via text message? The answer is yes, and Gershon asserts that in this case 'the medium is at odds with the message.' A professor of communications, the author takes a distinctly academic approach, lending legitimacy to what might otherwise be easily dismissed. She understands how new media shapes social communications and addresses its constant evolution. Readers interested in communication theory and new media evolution will appreciate the author's excellent balance of analysis, anecdote, and readability."—Publishers Weekly

"Breaking up is hard to do, and, as Ilana Gershon observes, it can be even harder when technology is brought into the mix. Gershon interviewed over 70 people (many of them college students) to examine how they used chatting, email, texting, and social networking websites in conjunction with their relationships and found that opinions and social rules governing the intersection of romance and technology are still highly variable. Why would some people rather break up through email, while others prefer instant messaging? What kind of problems arise when a couple has different ideas about how to digitally negotiate the end of their relationship? How do the social and public aspects of sites like Facebook affect one's actions during a relationship and after its dissolution? Mindful of the complicated nature of the topic, Gershon never attempts to define which behaviors are right or wrong but instead concentrates on exploring the ways people think about these tools and what their beliefs show about society's responses to technology. Though written with an academic focus, this is an intriguing read for anyone interested in how social conventions for new media develop and the ways that technology is changing romantic relationships."—Library Journal, 15 July 2010

"The Breakup 2.0 is intriguing and illuminating. By exploring how college students use Facebook, cell phones, and IM, Gershon deepens our understanding of these media, of young people's lives, and of our evolving definitions of public and private. It's an original and enlightening book."—Deborah Tannen, Georgetown University, author of You Just Don't Understand and You Were Always Mom's Favorite!

"The Breakup 2.0 is a slick, sharp, highly intelligent encounter with the most important emerging phenomenon of the twenty-first century."—Allucquére Rosanne Stone, ACTLab, University of Texas at Austin

"The Breakup 2.0 is a fascinating and thoroughly researched anthropological account of how Facebook, instant messaging, and texting reformat the media ecologies within which today's friendships and romantic relationships function and fracture. There is nothing 'virtual,’ Ilana Gershon shows, about these online arenas. Across a wide range of human relations, the form of interaction turns out to be just as crucial as its content."—Stefan Helmreich, MIT

The Barnes & Noble Review

For Jane Austen, the lives of ordinary men and women in provincial towns could be the stuff of great drama, because those lives were themselves dramatic?they were lived largely in public, and involved a constant performance of roles. To be a woman, in particular, meant negotiating the boundaries of gentility and commonness, virtue and disgrace, with all eyes upon you. Make a mistake in the social script, and you could be damned to spinsterhood, or worse. Today, in our more liberated and anonymous society, there is only one phase of life when our romantic and sexual lives are so open to public scrutiny, when social status is totally determined by public opinion. That is in adolescence, in high school and college, where young people are packed together in an artificial society, and turn their fiercely judgmental gazes on one another. As the movie Clueless showed, Jane Austen in high school makes a profound dramatic sense.

The Breakup 2.0, a limited but very intriguing new study by Ilana Gershon, suggests that for teenagers, the explosion of new social media over the last few years is making the 21st century even more like the 19th. Drawing on interviews with undergraduates at Indiana University, where she teaches, Gershon sketches a new social world that is mostly invisible to anyone who graduated college before, say, 2000. The simplest way to describe this new world is to say that it involves a much greater reliance on technology in conducting personal relationships. E-mail, blogs, text messages, and Facebook status updates are now as important as phone calls or even actual conversations. Older readers might find this disturbing, a sign that human life is becoming ever more mediated and alienated. It is hard not to shudder when Gershon quotes a student who mentions talking "on face-to-face," as though this were just another technological option.

But the truth, as Gershon shows, is that in important ways all these new media are actually making college-age love affairs more traditional?that is, more governed by strict etiquette, and more accountable to the judgments of peers. Is it rude to break up with someone by text message? If you text your boyfriend that you want to break up, does that itself constitute a break-up, or is it just an overture to a longer process? If you do break up, do you change your Facebook status to "single" right away, or should you tell your best friends about it first, so they won't find out on their Facebook news feeds? If your IM away message quotes dark or cynical lyrics, does that mean you are depressed about a break-up, or just that you like the song?

As Gershon discovers, college students have very definite views about all these questions?just as Elizabeth Bennet would have been quite definite about whether an unmarried woman is permitted to dance several times with the same man at a ball. (Significantly, three times more women than men responded to Gershon's request for interviews. Now as then, it seems, sexual etiquette presses more closely on women.) In both cases, the reason is the same: when life is being led in public, every word and gesture is open to criticism.

Indeed, Facebook, Gershon notes, is implicitly conservative in its sexual morality. It assumes that monogamy is the ideal, and encourages couples to link to one another's profiles?a 21st-century equivalent of "pinning," a way of announcing one's relationship to the world. "Why does it matter if you break up by text message, by Facebook, or face to face?" Gershon asks at the end of The Breakup 2.0. "It matters because people are social analysts of their own lives"?which is, as Jane Austen might have said, a truth universally acknowledged.

--Adam Kirsch

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801448591
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 7/15/2010
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ilana Gershon is Associate Professor of Communication and Culture at Indiana University. She is the author of The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media and No Family Is an Island: Cultural Expertise among Samoans in Diaspora.

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Table of Contents

Introduction

1 Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover: Media Ideologies and Idioms of Practice

2 E-mail My Heart: The Structure of Technology and Heartache

3 Remediation and Heartache

4 How Do You Know?

5 Breaking Up in a Public

Conclusion
Bibliography
Index

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