I'd say it is often a fine line between whether the effect is positive or negative,
mostly due to the fact of the anonymity on the web...
Electronic Media: Changing Social Behaviour?
Joshua Meyrowitz puts forward a technologically determinist model of
communication with claims that new media influence social behaviour.
He discusses ?the impact of electronic media on social situations?
(Meyrowitz, 1985: 93) and puts forward the argument that 'electronic
media tend to merge personal and public spheres' (Meyrowitz, 1985:
107) and as a result blur the dividing line between private and public
behaviours. As new communication technologies become available, new
questions are posed as to their effect on social behaviour.
In this assignment I will look at existing studies by concentrating on
two media: the World Wide Web and its use by people to construct an
online identity and mobile phones and their impact on public
situations. In a bid to discover whether social behaviour is affected
and to what extent, I will look from a socially determinist angle at
how people use media and their purposes and from a technologically
determinist perspective at the affordances and constraints offered by
The World Wide Web is a medium of communication that allows
information to be transmitted on a global scale. Its increasing
accessibility has allowed it to gain a pivotal role in many people?s
lives and serves a number of functions. An example of the increasing
provision of internet tools can be seen in the services offered by
ISP?s (internet service providers) when internet users sign up to
broadband or dial-up internet. Many ISP?s offer free web hosting in
addition to connection services and an opportunity to create an online
identity through construction of a personal web page.
Chandler identifies that personal home pages can play a significant
role in allowing users to consider the way they wish to be
represented. Chandler comments:
Creating pages offers an unrivalled opportunity for self-presentation?
such a virtual environment offers a unique context in which one may
experiment with shaping one's own public identity. (Chandler, 1997)
The ?virtual environment? that Chandler discusses suggests a certain
degree of anonymity perhaps because the author is detached from their
In her book Life on the Screen, Turkle also describes the different
purposes that authors create a home page to achieve. She suggests
that the author?s online identity mirrors their real life identity but
the fact that this is a representation must be taken into
consideration. She mentions the possibilities of ?self discovery? and
?self transformation? (Turkle, 1997: 260) as well as the idea of
?escapism? through a constructed identity which emphasises aspects
which the author prefers about themselves.
Private behaviour is generally associated with the individual as
opposed to public behaviour which is linked with group activity.
Therefore, it is not illogical that the internet be considered a
public medium as it may be employed by users as both a tool to
experiment with their identity and a platform to identify themselves
as part of a group with a certain degree of anonymity. This is an
obvious blurring of private and public behaviour as we can see that
the medium offers the user anonymity (a private concept) yet a sense
of belonging to particular groups (a public concept). Wallace
suggests that the medium may in fact encourage ?group polarization?
(Wallace, 2001: 79) usually seen in public behaviour due to the fact
that geography is not a restricting factor and finding others with
similar interests is made easier.
The differentiation between public and private behaviour is becoming
less apparent as society becomes more tolerant of new technologies.
Due to the speed at which technology is advancing in today?s society,
new electronic communication media are becoming an increasingly
important influence on everyday life and so we find ourselves adapting
to it faster than ever before. In this way technology creates new
conventions and establishes new social norms. Meyrowitz states that
?the live, ongoing nature of most electronic communications makes it
much more difficult to separate the public thread of experience from
the private one? (Meyrowitz, 1985:) or the sending of an e-mail114).
· Brown, Barry, Nicola Green & Richard Harper (Eds) (2002): Wireless
World: Social and Interactional Aspects of the Mobile Age. London:
· Calvert, Clay (2000): Voyeur Nation: Media, Privacy and Peering in
Modern Culture. Oxford: Westview Press
· Chandler, Daniel (1997): Writing Oneself in Cyberspace. [WWW
document] URL http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/short/homepgid.html
· Duby, Georges (Ed) & Arthur Goldhammer (Trans) (1988): A History of
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· Guardian, The (2003): Google buys Blogger web service. [WWW
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· Katz, James E & Mark Aakhus (Eds) (2002): Perpetual Contact: Mobile
Communication, Private Talk, Public Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge
· Meyrowitz, Joshua (1985): No Sense of Place: The Impact of
Electronic Media on Social Behaviour. New York: Oxford University
· Silverstone, Roger & Maren Hartmann (Eds) (1996): Media and
Information Technologies and the Changing Relationship to Public and
Private Space ? Working Paper. Brighton: University of Sussex
· Turkle, Sherry (1997): Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of
the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster
· Wallace, Patricia (2001): The Psychology of the Internet.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press