Communication and Technology: What’s New?
Professor Robin Mansell
Department of Media and Communications
London School of Economics and Political Science
19 January 2008
Social Scientists’ Views of
Mediated Communication and Technology
An Exogenous View and an Endogenous View
1. Technology & Organisation – personal
communication via computer-mediated
communication, online media, and personal
2. Technology & Governance – hactivism and
mediated terrorism.
Source: BrewTech Labs, Inc. Automated Brewing Solutions
Source: Peety Passion Blog
Visions - Remote Control for Life
“As users we will come to rely on our handset
as a single device to manage not just
communications but much of our lives. It will
truly become a ‘remote control for life’, with
massively enhanced capabilities, advanced
methods of user interaction and in-built tools
… The substantial change that end users are
going to witness has become possible more
because the underlying infrastructure has
become stable than because it is rapidly
(Webb 2007).
Finnish Child (Ukko Ilmari Kasvi)
Source: The Children's Therapy Center, Fair Lawn, New Jersey, US
Source: Ballston Children’s Center, Arlington, VA, US
Critical Views of Technology
“One part is bureaucracy (in both the
private and public sector)...The second
part is science which is being taken over
increasingly by the third part, capital. The
fourth part is tools and machines created
by engineers. The fifth part is ideology
which provides the raw materials with
which the sixth part, propaganda, seeks to
mould public opinion to accept the myth”
(Smythe 1984)
Jodi Lundgren,
Malaspina UniversityCollege, Nanaimo, BC,
Source: Pink Tentacle Blog
The Futurologists’ View
By the 2030s, learning will be superseded by
transparent interfaces to a smart computer;
by the 2020s, network based telepathy will
be in use; and by 2017, the first bacterial
computer will be available.
(Neild and Pearson 2005 - BT)
Source: Jeremy Welch Blog
Source: Signal Processing and Multimedia Communication (SPMC) research group, University of Plymouth, UK
An Exogenous View
‘Our civilization is constructed by
technique, for technique and is exclusively
(Ellul 1964)
‘Technology is the instrumental mode of
rational action… Technology has created a
new definition of rationality, a new mode of
thought …’.
(Bell 1979)
Source: Andrew Orlowski Blog
Based on 600 e-mails received from readers of The Register in response to a sceptical article on Web 2.0
An Endogenous View
• Power is located in the interwoven
alignment of state (administrative and
military), private capital and civil society
• The focus is on the way technology
mediates human relationships.
• Research examines the constraints that
distort benefits that might otherwise accrue
to those who are not at the centre of
economic and political power.
(based on Silverstone 2007)
Source:Department of Computer and Systems Sciences, Stockholm University/KTH
Communication, Technology
and Organization
Online Media
Email, chat or Internet telephony; MUDs, discussion or chat forums; websites or web-logs.
Synchronicity and different forms of digital content.
Interactivity: eBay,,
Detect user needs and interests without user input or awareness.
Content modularization and personalisation
What’s New?
Most successful online media founded by established media or publishing
houses with infrastructure and know-how to re-use content; producing or
purchasing it at lower prices. Main trend - cross-media utilization.
User-generated content: selected, revised and assembled by professional
providers for discussion forums, weblogs, user diaries, personal essays.
A New Set of Affordances
Source: What Is? Blog
Multiple Identities
Marshall Soules, Malaspina University-College,
Nanaimo, BC, Canada
Originally, Steiner, P. (1993). The New Yorker. July
5, 69(20): 61
Communication, Technology
and Organization
Online Personal Communication & Personal Publishing
What’s new?
Hyperpersonal communication leading to intimate, satisfying communication
and interpersonal evaluations; frank exchanges; less superficial selfdisclosure and more personal questioning.
Those with skill deficits in face-to-face communication find gratification or
further deterioration. Depression, loneliness, shyness, and other syndromes
lead some to withdraw from face-to-face social interaction.
Evidence is mixed but suggests that radical behaviour occurs less
frequently than popular media accounts often indicate.
Weblogs as alternative or citizen journalism; tools for virtual communities but
the most important uses are as means of creative expression.
Boundaries between public and private are subject to radical change.
Emoticons &
New Languages
Open Publishing
– but what is the business model?
On Sylvia Plath
'There certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to
take notice.'
The Spy who Came in from the Cold by John le
‘You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.’
Animal Farm by George Orwell
‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’
Excerpts from Publisher Rejection Notices
Originals may have come from Andre Bernard, Rotten
Rejections: The Letters that Publishers Wish They’d Never Sent,
Robson Books, 2002
Communication, Technology
and Governance
Governance issues arise when users access computerized systems –
Should there be sanctions for ‘bad’ behaviour?
What’s New?
‘Mass action’ hacktivism emulates traditional forms of protest and applies them
in mediated electronic spaces, e.g. Electronic Civil Disobedience.
‘Digitally correct’ hacktivism uses technical features of online media to amplify a
message without disrupting communication networks.
Hacktivists face problems in maintaining critical/radical stance - political impact
is translated into the media.
‘We should be done once and for all with the search for an outside, a standpoint
that imagines a purity for our politics’ (Hardt and Negri 2000).
Arguments for new governance measures to control the use of technologies in
order to avert threats, but which infringe on civil liberties, may be misguided.
Hacktivism – Homeless Shelter
with Radio Communication;
Source: We Make Money Not Activism
Communication, Technology
and Governance
Mediated Terrorism
What’s new?
Potential for propaganda - the Web, chat-rooms, ICQs, blogs, email; mobile
technology, and technologies that combine text, audio and video elements.
Internet used by fundamentalist groups as a ‘portable homeland’.
Netwar or cyber-terrorism as convergence between non-state actors and
communication technologies involving hackers or hactivists.
Evidence is that terrorists make full use of online communication but that they
have not yet engaged in cyberterrorism.
Hackers, Hacktivists being repackaged as terrorist in the media; ordinary
cybercrime is being relabeled as cyberterrorism.
Many are being constituted by the media as contemporary ‘folk devils’.
activism--wired and
confrontational. Some
question whether it's
really a desirable form of
protest, but the
Electrohippies are hoping
to defuse criticism by
popularizing not just their
tools, but a code of
ethics. D. Cassel
Source: Steven Verriest (artist)
Communication and Technology What’s New?
• Much hype and speculation.
• Too little systematic empirical research on
the appropriation of technology.
• The turn to governance and control of new
communicative spaces by the state is often
based on media stories that, when
challenged, are found lacking in empirical
• Policy is over-reactive, responding to the
‘folk devils’ of our time.