There is no sociology of the Internet

Martin is 28 years old. He hosts his own blog about fashion on the Internet. He posts daily photos, taken with his smartphone, of the clothes that he desires, wears, shops for, orders online and puts together into personal outfits. A lot of like-minded people – fans of similar styles as Martin’s – read his posts through its rss-feed, visit the site of the blog, and sometimes comment and engage in discussions with Martin and his other readers.

Berit is 70. Since she recently became a widow, she spends a lot of time in front of the tv. She also has a computer which she uses to pay the bills through the internet service of her bank, and to stay in contact with her sister who lives in another part of the country, and to receive photos of the grandkids from her two daughters, using a free webmail service.

Tuva is 15. She is a fan of vampire novels and movies. During school days she is constantly connected to a global community of fellow fans through her 4G mobile phone. She engages in discussion forums, follows news sites, and stays in touch – real-time – through a chat client with a set of close friends from all over the world that she met on one of the forums. At night, Tuva writes her own short stories based on characters and places in well-known vampire fictions. She posts them, under her nickname FANGirl_15 to a fanfiction site where she is one of the most popular authors, even though her grades in school bear no witness to this potential.

Lars is 67. After his premature retirement, due to a stroke, he is now realizing his life-long dream of authoring a crime novel. Up until now, his computer use was limited to reading the news on the websites of a number of newspapers. But recently, his computer, with a word processing application, enables him to create, order and store the various chapters in an orderly way. This makes it possible for Lars to easily move in and out of the project as time to write surfaces now and then throughout his days as an active pensioner. His book was eventually printed through an online publishing house.

Internet research within social science is about much more than hackers, nerds and ”virtual” interaction. It is about how an increasingly complex media landscape intertwine with our lives in society.

Just think of all the media and information technologies that you use or encounter within the course of one single day! A common daily mix of content and platforms could consist – for a relatively average user – of waking up to old school radio through a transistor, leafing through a traditional news paper at the breakfast table, listening to mp3’s or podcasts on the way to the bus, catching up on the news via web-tv or news sites on the laptop during the working day, looking at a commercial poster on the bus stop on the way home, emailing, chatting, logging on to social networking sites, and even authoring the odd blog post.

In addition to this, many people use their evenings to watch cable television, dvd:s or streaming media. There is no denying the ways in which technologies for retrieving, creating, and exchanging information and meanings permeate our everyday lives. In daily language ‘the media’ many times refers to news institutions. There is talk about the role of the media in politics, or of how the media choose to report certain issues.

It is however important to remember that the media are much more. A wide variety of genres, communicated through an increasing number of platforms, channels, and technologies, in a world where borders between producer and consumer are increasingly blurred – or at least questioned. Media is about communication and production of meanings. It is your online profile, the cell phone in your pocket, the music in your headphones, the t-shirt on your body, and the newspaper in your mailbox. Media use is also about community. The media provide its users with means of networking, collaboration and interaction.

When the Internet was new, the widespread talk of a cyberspace or a virtual reality — distinct from our actual ”real” existence, contributed to a sort of science fiction understanding of these new media. But now, a couple of decades on, the new media are entangled with old media, and with our everyday lives, to the extent that any sociology of the Internet is rather a sociology of the social. Well… er… that would be, I guess, a sociology.

 

 

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