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Digital Media

Transformations in Human Communication

Edited By Paul Messaris and Lee Humphreys

The age of digital media has given rise to a new social world. It is a world in which the transmission of information from the few to the many is steadily being supplanted by the multi-directional flow of facts, lies, and ideas. It is a world in which hundreds of millions of people are voluntarily depositing large amounts of personal details in publicly accessible databases. It is a world in which interpersonal relationships are increasingly being conducted in the virtual sphere. Above all, this is a world that seems to be veering off in unpredictable ways from the trends of the immediate past. This book is a probing examination of that world, and of the changes that it has ushered into our lives.

In more than thirty essays by a wide range of scholars, this must-have second edition examines the impact of digital media in six areas – information, persuasion, community, gender and sexuality, surveillance and privacy, and cross-cultural communication – and offers an invaluable guide for students and scholars alike. With one exception, all essays are completely new or revised for this volume.

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Chapter 13: New Communication Technologies and the Future of Community (Keith N. Hampton)

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CHAPTER 13

New Communication Technologies and the Future of Community1

Keith N. Hampton

Introduction

There is a widespread perception that new communication technologies are fundamentally changing how people interact with friends, family, and acquaintances. These claims are as prevalent in the commentary and op-ed articles of major media outlets as they are in scholarly articles from the humanities, social sciences, and computational sciences. These claims are part of a new transdisciplinary focus on what has traditionally been known as the “community question” (Wellman, 1979). Indeed, we are observing a time of fundamental change to the structure of community. However, the emergence of this structural change is relatively recent. Previous attempts to explain change in human interaction as a result of new, digital, communication technologies have misplaced and overstated change to the nature of community. The rise of what I call persistent contact and pervasive awareness drives recent change.

New communication technologies make persistent contact and pervasive awareness possible and are especially evident in those technologies described as social media. Whereas previous technologies afforded mobility, they generally lacked affordances for relational persistence and sustained awareness. As such, social ties were often lost at key, life course events, such as moving, graduating from high school, leaving college, and changing jobs. Persistent contact is an affordance of those communication technologies that allow people to articulate their association and maintain contact over time. Many of these technologies afford persistence through the...

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