#DigitalParenting: Marcus Leaning: The Internet, Power & Society

41s0OpuB5oL._SL500_AA300_Marcus Leaning: The Internet, Power and Society: Rethinking the Power of the Internet to Change Lives (2009)

I used to chat to Marcus a lot as we taught the course ‘Manipulating Media’ together at Winchester. He draws on a huge range of studies to consider how there have been feelings that daily life will be transformed/improved through use of the internet. Social networking – transforming politics/culture. However, the Internet has also been seen as a threat – pedophiliac material (transmitted), hackers attack govts (geographically far away), stolen IDs & addiction. He emphasises that this is not unique to the Internet – that every new technology has brought forth “moral panics”.

Contemporary discussions concerning the internet are in many ways similar. We see the internet in many different ways – sometimes as savior, sometimes as a threat, sometimes as a beneficial force to society, bringing democracy and new opportunities, and sometimes as a modern curse, allowing illicit content within the reach of our children.[p2]

3 approaches to seeking to study the internet:

  1. From computer science (human-computer interaction, from a biological perspective)
  2. Draw upon existing sociological understandings of ‘user’ & ‘social space’ – sees the technology as incidental
  3. Looking for new theories of understanding – the is not passive, but enables new forms of technology – changes our forms of comms & social relationships.

He explains that the Internet may cause change/new ways of acting in a political sense, but it is contingent upon other aspects of social life.

“Discussions of technology, particularly contemporary discourse surrounding the internet, are underpinned by deeply felt but often unarticulated assumptions of how technology and people interact. For the most part the relationship between technology and society, particularly new technologies, is assumed to be of a simple deterministic nature – the introduction of new technology causes social change.” As with previous new technologies – social problems are seen to be solved with strategic use of technology – influences policy making decisions.  [p17]

Draws particularly upon the theorists Giddens, Beck, McLuhan & Raymond Williams, amongst others, and identifies most engagement with definitions of

  • Instrumentalism: Technology is essentially neutral, subservient to us. 
  • Determinism: Technology is active in bringing about (social) change. Hard: specific technologies = specific changes. Soft: Just another aspect of social life,but active.
  • Substantivism: Technology interacts with/changes social life, but avoids utopianism & viewed with distrust.

Sees that the traditional methods of ‘media studies’ – which focus upon e.g. the institution – may not be enough here.

Mass-media scholars have traditionally been concerned with issues of media content, the effect of media upon audiences and the institutional systems of ownership, management and distribution.[p44]

Questions what defines ‘technology’ and ‘new media’… “new” appears to be particularly interactivity. The fact that so much early work focused upon ‘deceit’ online, which has given it a lot of press attention. The interaction of ‘real world’ and ‘virtual world’ in gaming, the deskilling of what’s required to get online, the personalisation of content. What’s required for the internet to function (in it’s current culture – not necessarily the only way):

  • Hardware/Software need to be in place. 
  • Institutional systems – legal/economic – profit drives provision
  • Education – skills/access to use/understand technology (inc media literacy)
  • Cultural – need a match between user & content (E.g local info)
  • Sociological: Must offer the type of debate that society is interested in for it to have any impact upon that society.

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