on December 13, 2010
At this point, the textbooks that cover technology-mediated communication are sparse, despite having quite a robust research presence. This book, which I just used for my course in technology and communication, is excellent. Baym conceptualizes the work in technology-mediated communication in a clear, easy to read fashion. I feel in no way this text is "over the heads" of undergraduates. At this point, I believe this text is the only viable undergraduate text in the subject area (although I am going to try my hand at it too). I feel this book would help advanced learners, such as practitioners and graduate students, as well. Really an exceptional work that fills a HUGE gap. Highly recommended.
on June 28, 2010
While Baym's work is highly academic, strongly grounded in theory, and chockfull of references to important works from a broad range of cultures (Finnish cell phone use? Politics of friending on Korean social networks?), above all, it's readable. I literally couldn't put it down, and I'll definitely want to use it as a text for undergraduates and graduate students alike.
Baym is ever-reasonable, balanced, personable, striking that fine balance of authorial presence between a phony and stilted objectivity and "TMI." Every concept she introduces is fairly, clearly presented, whether she agrees with it or not.
If you're looking for a good scholarly introduction to new media, or an STS work in media studies, or just an example of academic writing at its best, this is the book.
on January 4, 2014
If you like Sherry Turkle, you will like Baym's contribution to the conversation about identity, connections, and technology. This is an excellent addition to this conversation! Six chapters cover the following:
* New forms of personal connection - Baym organizes her discussion into seven key concepts to compare "different media to one another as well as to face to face communication. . . interactivity, temporal structure, social cues, social cues, storage, replicability, reach, and mobility" (p. 7).
* Making new media make sense - A continuum of perspectives are explored: Technological determinism (machines change us), social construction of technology (people have the power), and social shaping (middle ground - "the social capabilities technological qualities enable - and the unexpected and emergent ways that people make use of those affordances" (p. 44).
* Communication in digital spaces - "Mediated interaction should be seen as a new and eclectic mixed modality that combines elements of f2f communication with elements of writing, rather than as a diminished form of embodied interaction" (p. 51).
* Communities and networks - Baym explored how people organize into groups online, meanings of 'community' and social networks.
* New Relationships - Baym asked, "what forces shape people's online self-presentations and whether they are more likely to be honest or deceptive. . . authenticity. . . " (p. 100).
* Digital media in relational development and Maintenance - Where does digital media fit into communication and relationships?
on March 7, 2013
This book is required reading for my Communications course, and I highly recommend it. This is a thorough and completely enjoyable read for anyone trying to come to terms with the ups and downs of computer-mediated relationships. However, isn't it ironic that a book that focuses on "the Digital Age," isn't available in digital format? For older students like me, squinting at the eensy-weensy text in the paperback version is an absolutely horrible experience.
on May 6, 2015
I often hear adults say that teens and people my age don’t know how to talk to each other anymore – that cell phones and the Internet have ended our ability to have relationships with people. I chose Nancy Baym’s book on the role of digital media on personal connections not only because she’s a well-renowned scholar of communication and professor from University of Kansas, but because I wanted to know what the effects of digital media has on personal relationships: is it negative or positive?
Baym looks at claims that suggest that digital media is a detriment to our society and discredits those claims, saying that whenever innovation arrives there will always be skeptics. There are many people that criticize the Internet and digital communication because it truly challenges the traditional framework of communication that has been in existence for millennia.
New technology is affecting the way that society functions. This social constructivist view is one point of view that Baym explores in her book. Baym also discusses the idea that technology and society shape each other and are integrated – one cannot make change without the other.
Baym also focuses on forming relationships online both in groups and one-on-one. When Baym starts talking about digital relationships, she begins with the idea that online communication is not worse than face-to-face communication, it is just a new adaptation of communication that mixes face-to-face and written techniques. Our real world emotions have become easily interpreted via emojis, caps lock to express joy or anger, abbreviations, acronyms, etc. These examples make online communication meaningful and just as valuable as connections in the real world. Along with photographs, videos, etc., users are able to make significant relationships and maintain those relationships. Elaborating on groups, Baym refers to a term she calls “networked individualism” – a group of people that are focused on the self – that has evolved online. Because of this, people are able to focus on what matters to them and make the content they’re exposed to directly in line with their beliefs and are therefore more involved in activism than nonusers, Baym explains.
Baym goes on to explain new relationships and self-presentation online. This is my favorite part of the book because many people start new friendships and relationships online – whether on Facebook, Tumblr, a dating site, etc. – and deception in the networked age is an extremely controversial topic. We use people’s names, photos, friends, likes, and other self-disclosed information in order to get a sense of who they are in real life. The difficult part is to decide whether or not to believe how other users orient themselves online. Baym criticizes the idea that the online world is more inauthentic by saying that people often don’t represent themselves authentically in the real world, too. Overall, when meeting new people online, we can draw conclusions about who they are as people in a similar way to how we do so in real life.
Digital media also allows for excellent relationship management. Once friendship is established, many platforms exist that can reinforce the friendship (Skype, email, Facebook, etc.). People use digital media in order to manage relationships with real life friends as well. What is interesting is that there is no correlation between the frequency we see people face-to-face vs. interact with online and how close we are to them. A friend overseas can have just as meaningful of a relationship as a friend that is seen every day. Something that Baym does very well is keeping the reader engaged by having an almost autobiographical tone, filling the page with personal anecdotes of herself and her students, including some relationships she and some of her students have made online and maintained. Online relationships have become very common-place in society with marriages having started as dating via platforms like Twitter and Facebook and these relationships are both long lasting and successful, with 72% existing more than two years in the real world after being initiated online (2010, 133).
Overall, the objective of this book is to explore the idea that relationships are not just online or offline, the worlds are intertwined. Real world society influences how we use technology tremendously and vice versa. This book does a great job explaining how personal connections have changed in an engaging and informative manner.
However, I felt that my question that drew me to the book wasn’t necessarily answered. It is unclear if personal connections have changed for better or worse because of digital media – all Baym is able to confirm is that it has changed which is pretty obvious. My feeling after not only reading this book, but being in this class, is that personal relationships have changed for the better and because of digital media people are more accessible to each other than they have ever been. This only serves to benefit people as they can share more about themselves with greater audiences and make better connections with people. From what I have been able to gather, it is a false claim that people are unable to communicate with each other in the real world as a result of digital media, and in fact, we are able to make stronger connections to more people if we choose to disclose information about ourselves and engage in activity online.
Something that Baym did not take the opportunity to explore in depth is how a user’s culture impacts how they use digital media, as this topic is lacking research and exploration. Baym also did very little explaining on the topic of privacy, which greatly affects people’s personal connections and I believe deserved more attention from the author. Overall, this was an excellent read that I would certainly recommend to people interested in the changing dynamics of people and their relationships.
on April 9, 2013
Baym does a great job of writing an academic paper (citing a myriad of studies) without being overly wordy or convoluting the issues. It's well organized, easy to follow, and highly relevent for anyone studying the dynamics of digital communication, social media, etc.