Machines That Become Us
The Social Context of Personal Communication Technology
Social critics and artificial intelligence experts have long prophesized that computers and robots would soon relegate humans to the dustbin of history. Many among the general population seem to have shared this fear of a dehumanized future. But how are people in the twenty-first century actually reacting to the ever-expanding array of gadgets and networks at their disposal? Is computer anxiety a significant problem, paralyzing and terrorizing millions, or are ever-proliferating numbers of gadgets being enthusiastically embraced? Machines That Become Us explores the increasingly intimate relationship between people and their personal communication technologies.
In the first book of its kind, internationally recognized scholars from the United States and Europe explore this topic. Among the technologies analyzed are the Internet, personal digital assistants (PDAs), mobile phones, networked homes, "smart" fabrics and wearable computers, interactive location badges, and implanted monitoring devices. The authors discuss critical policy issues, such as the problems of information resource access and equity, and the recently discovered "digital dropouts" phenomena.
The use of the word "become" in the book's title has three different meanings. The first suggests how people use these technologies to broaden their abilities to communicate and to represent themselves to others. Thus the technologies "become" extensions and representatives of the communicators. A second sense of "become" applies to analysis of the way these technologies become physically integrated with the user's clothing and even their bodies.
Contributors examine fashion aspects and uses of these technologies, that is, how they are used in ways becoming to the wearer. The conclusions of many chapters are supported by data, including ethnographic observations, attitude surveys and case studies from the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Finland, and Norway. This approach is especially valuable in a field that has been traditionally dominated by extrapolation and speculation, and that has focused on possible future states rather than analysis of current situations. Other chapters are integrative, seeking to advance emerging theoretical perspectives.
This exciting volume generates new insights concerning the burgeoning electronic confusion that increasingly penetrates and blurs the boundaries of various spheres of life in modern society. Machines That Become Us will be of interest to students of communications and technology, sociologists, and social psychologists.
James E. Katz is professor of communication at the School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies at Rutgers University. He is the author of Connections: Social and Cultural Studies of the Telephone in American Life, published by Transaction.
"From cell phones to smart homes, James Katz shows how "ICTs" (information and communication technologies) not only serve as extensions of human capabilities, but are being integrated into all aspects of our lives and our "selves." This book presents timely and valuable insights into how pervasive information technologies are latering the way people live, act, relate to others and think of themselves. Bravo!!"
—Starr Roxanne Hiltz, New Jersey Institute of Technology
"A valuable addition to our growing understanding of the wide ranging implications of new technologies. From teenagers' use of mobile phones to the aesthetics of astronauts' clothing, Machines That Become Us offers a rich compendium of insights into why we think new machines both "improve" and "jumble" our lives."—Steve Woolgar, University of Oxford
"A fascinating excursion into the realm of mind-body relationships in the Information Age, led by a multinational team of farsighted scholars." —Robert La Rose, Michigan State University