Interesting concept from TEDGlobal speaker Stefana Broadbent http://blog.ted.com/2009/07/session_3_runni_1.php
I havent yet heard her, I guess it will be up in a few days, so these comments are just in response to the running notes.
these new methods of communication are helping us break out of old institutions and bringing us closer together than ever before. She's speaking with a backdrop of constantly refreshing, beautiful black and white portraits, always of two people seated together. She explains that in each picture is someone she interviewed and the person the communicate with most in the world, whether it be their significant other, parent, grandparent or sibling, along with the communication tools they use -- by and large, these are cell phones.
She says that although we may have many people on our Facebook friend lists (120 on average) and in our cell phone directories, we typically use these technologies to interact with a small core group of people. The typical cell phone user makes 80 percent of their calls to just four people, and the average Facebook user exchanges most of their messages with only five or six friends. So these technologies are not networking us with more people, but reinforcing our communication with our inner circle.
And I totally agree with her, but there's a rub...creating more or less intimacy...and then she takes it into more risky space with examples of cell phone use adding to intimacy particularly with regard to people who are at risk in terms of social justice, being time and / or resource poor. The examples of workers having to use phones to maintain family connections.
My own research is of a further example, the use of texting for accessing counselling as provided by Youthline, NZ. This provides a service by youth, for youth, in the medium young people select as their preferred choice. Reasons for that choice can be speculated upon- costs, privacy, ego protection, anonymity...its available, accessible, affordable... wherever and whenever (almost), one could say almost free, and easy.
The examples Stefana provides of workplaces are difficult to accept as there are concerns of safety, eg the busdriver with a cell phone maintaining contact- generally not going to win the argument when there is the issue of driving and safety. The broader argument of cellphone use being able to lift some of the alienation otherwise experienced by those who are socially disadvantaged by poverty, working shifts, two jobs etc, I can accept. But there is an implication that democracy at work is a right,however given that one's time is sold/bought/paid for, democracy doesnt feature largely in that kind of power dynamic or structured relationship.
So although it may provide greater access to one's loved ones, there are still times where this is going to be deemed inappropriate. And its (technology aided communications) still a bit of a bandaid on what i suspect may be hemorrhaging issues. The worklife balance isnt solved by being told heh whats the problem, you can ring, or text silently without employer knowing, your family or kids. And the issues of kids might be better addressed without the need to hide angst. meantime in the current world, its a better option than not having the ability to gain contact when and wherever.
Relating matters, and I'm glad to see the arguments broadened and some real discussion happening beyond the good or the bad of communication and computer mediated technologies. In what other ways do these shape us, how are we altered, whose interests are served, what's involved...bring on more discussion :)
(thanks to Frances Bell for bringing this tedtalk to my attention)