Saturday, October 08, 2005

some thoughts on network communication

Presence in the mediated environment of digital networks is probably one of the most complex phenomena of the new types of social interaction that have emerged in these environments. In the current phase of radical deployment (or penetration) of the internet, various attempts are made to come to terms with the social dynamics of networked communication spaces.

Attempts to come to terms with networked communication environments from the field of social theory, are generally shallow, ill informed about actual practices, and sometimes to straightforwardly biased. Psychology does not contribute in any significant way to an understanding of these social dynamics either. The rather popular idea, for instance, that the screen is a projection screen for personal pre-occupations, and that social relations that emerge through the interactions via networked media are mostly imaginary for lack of negative feedback or corrections, is deeply contentious. The idea that absence of corrective feedback stimulates the creation of fictitious relationships is an interesting one, but one that can apply equally well off-line as it can on-line. It illuminates certain patterns of human behaviour, but it does not tell us much of what makes presence in the networks specific.

One of the greatest fallacies of current attempts to understand the social dynamics of networked media is the tendency to see these media as an extension of the broadcast media system. This idea has become more popular as the internet is extended with audio-visual elements. Interactive audio-visual structures, streaming media, downloadable sound and video, all contribute to the notion that the internet is the next evolution of broadcast media. But this vision applies only partially, and is driven primarily by vested interests of the media industry. It is often not reflected in how people actually use the net.


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