by Lisa Peyton

I488_skeleton-computer-300x204-628x427n the past, I have not been a HUGE fan of social media. I don’t spend hours a day on Facebook or any social media platform and I have often pondered how this new media will impact our psyches. My recent media psychology work has forced me to take another look at how I view digital media and how it may be effecting us. Nancy Baym’s book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, outlines a NEW way to approach digital media. Her dissection of how media is perceived by the public alerted me to my own biases and helped to hone my critical eye when reading articles on the subject.

By defining and giving examples of technological determinism (‘machines change us’), SCOT or social construction of technology (‘people have the power’) and social shaping and domestication of technology, she built a solid case defending technology from those that are fearful of its negative effects (Baym, 2010). It is historically apparent that new methods of communication have always been feared initially, until these new methods have been so widely adopted that the masses simply take them for granted.

As she outlines, the Internet is one such recent example, where in its early days many thought that it spelled the end of blissful interpersonal relationships, as husbands and wives were sucked into ‘cyberspace’ (Baym, 2010). Today, the Internet has been widely domesticated and many of its early skeptics would concede that they can’t imagine life without it.

As new means of communication and media are created, this technological determinism and its resulting rhetoric can be easily spotted on such publications as the New York Times, The Huffington Post and various other online news publications. Texting has become a modern form of communication adopted by teens and young adults and serves as a good example of this phenomenon. Headlines such as ‘Experts Agree Text Messages are Bad for Interaction and Health’ and ‘Let Your Smartphone Deliver the Bad News‘ link to articles chock full of rhetoric bemoaning the fear that texting will turn us all into flakes (Tell, 2012. New York times) or create problems in relationships and hinder activities of daily living (Simo, 2012. The Daily Journalist).

Another more recent example of this approach was published on The Verge. Their article entitled ‘Facebook isn’t making you depressed but the internet is’ , uses the same tired rhetoric. The post garnered many interesting comments, including one of my own:

I applaud your efforts to debunk the thin research citing the negative effects of Facebook. The daily show’s Jon Stewart took a few swings at the researchers himself, you can read more about that here: http://www.lisapeyton.com/jon-stewarts-satire-rightly-counters-facebook-addiction-fears/.

HOWEVER, your title BLAMING the Internet for depression is just as unfounded as blaming Facebook. The Internet use has all the same complexities surrounding usage as Facebook does. Framing the article around how digital media EFFECTS us disregards how WE effect media. We have created Facebook and the Internet because there was an unmet psychological and social need. As you say, blaming Facebook and the Internet for our psychological woes is not only scapegoating but oversimplifying an extremely complex issue.

Less easy to spot are those adopting an alternate viewpoint or one that more closely aligns with social shaping and eventual domestication of these new technologies. Despite the reactionary title of the article, (Experts Agree Text Messages are Bad for Interaction and Health), the first quoted EXPERT has a much more balanced view of texting and its potential harms. Simeon Yates, Professor of communication and technology at Sheffield Hallan University, is quoted as saying that texting is nothing new in the world of communication, “but another process of social interaction.” He continues to explain, “We did the same with the phone, or letters etc. Managing face to face is a key part of all social interaction and texting is just another medium/option available to us.”

So where then IS the expert that AGREES that texting is BAD for interaction and health? Lisa Merlo, Ph. D. in Psychiatry of University of Florida, is cited as believing that texting “can create problems in relationships.” However, this is only part what she has to say on the subject. She also is hopeful that eventually the trend of NOT interacting face to face will fade and that people will rediscover the value of in-person interactions. The article does continue on to quote other experts but by only referring to the negative comments provided, the title creates an inaccurate representation of the article’s content.

I’m excited to continue exploring public perception of new media as filtered through the lens of these framing techniques. My own beliefs and biases have been uncovered based upon Baym’s point of view. Now maybe I can help you uncover your own.

References:

Baym, N. K. (2010). Personal connections in the digital age. Cambridge, UK: Polity press.

Simo, J. O. (2012). Experts agree text messages are bad for interaction and health. thedailyjournalist.com (http://thedailyjournalist.com/theacademic/experts-say-text-messages-are-bad-for-interaction-and-health/)

Tell, C. (2012). Let your smartphone deliver the bad news. The New York Times. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/fashion/let-your-smartphone-deliver-the-bad-news.html)

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