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Communication Across the Life Span

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Edited By Jon F. Nussbaum

As we grow up and grow old, embrace new experiences, try new roles, and adopt new technologies, our senses of time, space, connection, and identity are fundamentally explored through communication. Why, how, with whom, and to what end humans communicate reflect and shape our ever-changing life span position. And while the «life span» can be conceived as a continuum, it is also one hinged by critical junctures and bound by cultural differences that can be better understood through communication.
The chapters in this collection, chosen from among the invited plenary speakers, top research papers, and ideas discussed in San Juan, explore the multiple ways communication affects, reflects, and directs our life transition. Capturing the richness and diversity of scholarship presented at the conference, chapters explore communication technologies that define a generation; communication and successful aging; stereotyping and family communication; sexual communication and physiological measurement; life span communication and the digital divide; and home-based care contexts across the world, among others.
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Chapter Two: Digital Media and Generations

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← 20 | 21 →CHAPTER TWO

Digital Media and Generations

JEAN BURGESS



THE PROBLEM WITH “GENERATIONS”

This short chapter began its life as the script for my contribution to the opening plenary for the 2015 International Communication Association (ICA) conference. The plenary speakers were each asked to address the question, “Can communication technologies define a ‘generation’?.” This question provoked considerable anxiety in me at first. As a primarily humanities scholar, my research has never really taken demographics, let alone generations, as objects of study. Besides, to suggest that technologies were sufficiently distinct and autonomous from social formations that they could act upon things, even just to “define” them, sounded like technological determinism; and I wasn’t sure I was in the “defining” business anyway!

But, from the start, I was relieved to note that in the title of this opening plenary, the word generation was problematized by being enclosed in inverted commas or “scare quotes”. This seemed to me to indicate an awareness of at least the possibility that generations might be considered to be constructions rather than actually existing social divisions; and their relationships with technological developments even more so.

This, I think, is where media and cultural studies can be of some use to the conversation around the relationships between ‘generations’ and new technologies — questions that are after all characterized by both social anxiety and ongoing interest. ← 21 | 22 →My own work (e.g., Burgess & Green, 2009)...

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