New Ties, New Tech: How Mobile Communcation is Reshaping Social Cohesion

Abstract

            This book review of New Tech, New Ties: How Mobile Communication is Reshaping Social Cohesion, the medium of mobile communication is examined on how it affects and changed communication channels. Social interaction changes with the advent of technology and therefore these new channels offer new insight on communication strengths and flaws. Co-presence, deference and demeanor, as well as mediated ritual are key terms coined throughout this book that offer a clear look into communication and how mobile technology has created new standards of communicating.

          Behavior that was once viewed as rude is essential to common business and social practices and still plays an important role in ritual interaction. Interaction breeds social bonding and the most common form of interaction took place in the form of face-face-to communication. Now, new channels have been introduced and no matter how far or close individuals are to each other, they can still communicate with that closeness and intimacy as they would if sitting next or across from each other.

                             New Techs, New Ties:

How Mobile Communication Is Reshaping Social Cohesion

A day does not go by as a person walks down the street or down the aisle at the grocery store do they encounter a person on a mobile device. The daily witness prompted for further research into this topic, therefore this particular book was chosen to review and what followed was a refreshing look on how mobile technology and its devices are impacting communication. Of course, this revelation is a virtual no-brainer but mobile telephone usage, text messaging and other means of communicating have all but replaced traditional face-to-face (F-T-F) communication and thus has changed the social landscape (Ling, 2010).

Ling illustrates his point with scenarios he observed and shares his notes regarding the exchanges he witnessed. This approach brought out some interesting facts of society’s social pre-occupation with mobile devices. Often, a comment such as, “she has her head stuck in that phone” shows a clear span of time and technology change. Twenty years earlier, that comment might have been phrased differently such as “stuck to her ear”. The mediated social ritual is still present but text over talk is prevailing in twenty-first century communication.

The author brilliantly tied this in with Goffman’s “deference” “demeanor” as he described how individuals act, or more appropriately how they treat others and they change personas when they switch between non-business to business. It is in the absence of face-to-face communication that the individual can often “save face”. Often times, individuals often have to mix business and pleasure on one device and have to switch gears as situations demands. As Ling presented Collins (2004, p. 24) assertion, that Goffman was accurate in his description of front-stage and back-stage selves. Oftentimes people use the “backstage” as a preparation time so as to represent the best version of themselves to their intended audience. Perhaps, mobile communication minimizes the lack of preparation when an individual is on the “front stage”(Ling, 2010).

Co-Presence

            The notion of co-presence is an underlying theme and the hard question is asked continually through Ling’s study, is co-present interaction lost or diminished through mobile telephone use? Not exactly because he touts through his various observations that co-presence remains throughout mobile telephone use, and it actually strengthens familial ties. In the first chapter of the book, Ling gave an example of a woman on a London Subway who was conversing on her phone and another woman, she immediately paused her conversation and greeted the woman who approached her and then preceded to share her phone with the woman so she could exchange a greeting with the individual on the line.

      From that first scenario, it is apparent how mobile technology involves the intersection of two different communication scenarios merged into one. Therefore, all individuals involved in the communication were not present in one location, but were able to connect. Thus revealing physical evidence that mobile technology can afford opportunities to connect and network despite distance or proximity of all individuals (Ling, 2010). As Ling (2010) stated, the “actual effervescence of the meeting aided in the achievement of cohesion between the group (the two ladies and the phone caller).

 cellphoneCartoon

Figure 1.1: Cartoon depicts the common-place communication with the use of mobile technology

Ritual Interaction and Totems

            Ling presents powerful theories from Durkheim and Goffman, pertaining to ritual interaction in daily life. Durkheim figuratively drew a straight line between ritual interaction and social cohesion due to a mutuality of mood and attitude, thus produces “solidarity” or unity among the parties involved in the interaction. However, all parties involved in the interaction must be equally invested in the thought process and feeling process of the situation in which they are engaging in. Ling suggests that perhaps, Durkheim’s assessment was a little too expansive for application to daily life.

    Therefore, Ling seems to shift toward Goffman’s perspective of social interaction. Goffman’s assertion is that social interaction relates directly on the interpersonal level, which would better explain an application to the interaction that takes place every day. The influence and the cohesion exist just as Durkheim hypothesized but Goffman fails to incorporate how “telephony” plays a significant role but Ling seems to fill in the blanks with his own theories throughout the book. However, it would have been interesting to see how early telephony played a role in social cohesion before the introduction of mobile telephone technology.

    Does the cell phone constitute or symbolize the individual? It may or may not but in the cartoon in Figure 1.1 on page four, it is evident that the joke is referring to symbolically to the situation of the mobile telephone. The couple depicted in the cartoon is stating the fact they paid almost fifty dollars for cell phone use and their interaction is not enhanced despite the technology or expense. It would seem as if, no matter how advanced mobile technology is, communication break-down will exist simply due to human behavior and selective hearing of one sex of the species. Another example, this scenario brings is Durkheim’s theory of a totem, which Goffman reaffirmed as a more of a symbol for an individual.

      In fact, many individuals find their identity within their mobile and social “network”, just like a hand shake can often symbolize position, the people who are on an individual’s contact list on their mobile device or friend’s list on a social network site often lends to their position in the community and in the workplace (Ling, 2010).

      The work of Goffman, Durkheim and Collins along with the clinical observations of Ling that ritual interaction is the cornerstone of communication. The main idea gained from this book ad Ling’s research is, that before the introduction of telephony, face-to-face communication was the primary source. Daily routines such as walking to work or grabbing a cup of coffee all happen with a mobile device close to the ear on in the hand. The next time a person is observed in a public place, it would be important to notice their level of engagement, where their eyes divert to, tone of voice, facial expression as well as body language. These non-verbal cues can lend much about the nature of the conversation and the amount of the commitment from the individuals on each end of the line. Even though there is no visual evidence of social cohesion between the two, just the implied evidence through the phone conversation.

If anything is lost in translation through the advent of mobile technology it could be only the art of face-to-face conversation. The obvious losses are the body language and non-verbal cues, however, voice can offer subtle cues and therefore re-training of decoding non-visual cues is in order. As the author lamented, regarding his exchange with a very preoccupied plumber, he supposes is just the picture of today’s society as people are continually juggling with the ethereal and the peripheral world. Automatically, everyone who comes into contact with someone who is stuck between the two planes, are naturally assigned a role, either as a focal point or a backdrop, unfortunately, we as individuals have to learn to be the backdrop most time in the name of social cohesion.

References

Ling, R. (2010). New tech, new ties: How mobile communication is reshaping social cohesion.
Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Figure Captions

Figure 1.1 Cartoon depicts the common-place communication with the use of mobile

technology. www.cameronbliair.net.

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