5 May 2009

Taking my community ‘to go’

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The latest issue of Vodafone’s Receiver Magazine is entitled “Seizing the Moment”:

“Bending and transcending the constraints of time and space has gotten easy for us. With our mobiles and netbooks, we’re about to create a social setting in which communication and self-expression are possible not only on the go, but also at the speed of thought. We can convert dead time into creative time, are provided with information when we need it, can react to events in an instant and enjoy each precious little moment with our dear ones. Constant contact has become so convenient that we sometimes have to keep ourselves from cramming as much as we can into every second.”

The articles come in weekly instalments, and in her contribution to receiver Mary Chayko, professor and chairperson of sociology at the College of St Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey looks at the connections we make and the social networking that takes place on the internet and mobile phones. She discusses the immediacy and the appeal, the challenges and the complexities, of our spending so many moments interacting in on-line and mobile “portable communities”, and all this in a very human-centred way.

“Portable communities and social networks would not have become such enticing ‘places’ in which to devote so much of our time if the social connections made there were not real and genuine.

It’s clear by now (though it wasn’t when I began studying all this almost twenty years ago) that real social bonds and communities are made with the assistance of technology. These connections can be vivid, authentic, reciprocal, and highly meaningful for people. Of course, sometimes, they are none of these things. But generally, in the emotional, often intimate, immediacy of the moments spent on-line (especially with wireless and mobile devices) social connections are made easily – connections which very much matter to us. They bring about real tears and smiles, create real friendships and partnerships and break up real marriages and careers. In short, they produce genuine feelings and pleasures and problems, with real and definite consequences which, the sociologist »» W.I. Thomas says, is the true test of realness. We do on-line and mobile social connectedness a disservice (and fail to understand it fully) when we treat it as anything less than fully real.”

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