Monday, November 2, 2009

The People We Become: The Cost of Being Always On by Naomi S. Baron

According to her profile, Naomi S. Baron is currently a Professor of Linguistics at the Department of Language and Foreign Studies, College of Arts and Sciences at American University in Washington, DC. As a professor of over 20 years, she has also taught at the following institutions: Brown University; the Rhode Island School of Design; Emory University; Southwestern University. And in reading her biography, it is apparent that a great deal of her work has centred around children and technology.

From chapter 10, in her book entitled Always On, Language in an Online and Mobile World, Baron believes that we have now come into a technological state wherein “the same digital technology that enables us to track packages also makes it possible to track each other.” Services now exist that “let you know if someone on your mobile network is physically in the vicinity” (213). Obviously, this has both its merits and drawbacks, including the fact that the creation of the same tools “have herded us into a landscape where we are increasingly available as communication targets and we incessantly strategize how to control social contact” (213). So based on these realities, Baron believes that the costs of being “always on” in a networked and mobile world can be measured in personal terms – both ethically and cognitively – and also with respect to social interaction (213).

One interesting fact that Baron notes is this; although mobile phones were designed as communication tools, they are also handy instruments for halting unwanted conversations. So despite their intended functionality, they can also serve as a tool in creating barriers or obstacles for unwanted social interaction. In essence, it has also allowed for the formulation of a new set of social processes (214). Or as Baron says, “mobile phones are just one technology of many that can signal “Keep Out” (214).

Sociologist David Riesman posits that a middle-class American “remains a lonely member of the crowd because he never comes really close to the others or to himself” (216). His notion of the lonely crowd, of people surrounded by others yet nonetheless quintessentially isolated, has reverberated over the decades. Riesman initially made these observations in the 1950s, yet it still applies today – so maybe it’s not even a technological determinism thing, wherein new technologies help shape culture and social relations, but that loneliness, isolation and the feeling of being alone in the world are constants that are merely amplified by new technologies.

According to Baron, some cognitive consequences of always being on include the following: multitasking breaks our concentration on the initial task at hand, and the performance on that task degrades; a possible correlation between ADD and ADHD and new technologies; what psychiatric professor John Ratey refers to as "the condition of people who are accustomed to a constant stream of digital stimulation and feel bored in the absence of it” (Baron 219).

However, as opposed to the creation of seemingly negative social consequences, many theorists, including our own U of T professor Barry Wellman, instead believe that "the Internet supplements rather than displaces traditional face-to-face interaction” (Baron 221). For me, this is quite interesting because for the most part, I do agree with Wellman. As an example, I relate it to dating – I think that no matter the connection one can have with another online, there’s simply no way to replace face-to-face interaction. Once you meet the girl or guy and there’s a connection there, you’ll want the face-to-face as much as possible. And where we now have the Internet, in the past, people used to have all sorts of pen pals and the like. People made use of the technology at hand. So although the technology has changed, the actual socialization aspect has not. People will continue to interact with who they choose to and technology only functions as a medium for this interaction. With this being said, however, I also believe that the advent of new technologies has created different social relationships that simply weren’t available before. In particular, I’m talking about webcams. You know, THOSE kinds of FUN webcams. So I’m not so sure how those particular forms of technology fit in. But maybe they had random sexual pen pals too before, so who the heck really knows….

I found Baron's article to be both interesting and informative. And for the most part, I do agree with her assertions. But since contemporary language technologies are quite new, then perhaps we really won't know what their cumulative effects are until a number of years have passed. So, regardless of your position on the topics I have brought up, one thing is for certain, and that is “contemporary language technologies are poised to redefine our longstanding notions of what it means to communicate with another person” (226) – BUT "as David Hume taught us long ago, constant conjunction has no necessary relationship with causation” (227).

Monday, September 21, 2009


In response to Li's question....sort of....

Li's Blog

Currently, I find myself still troubled by and attempting to negotiate my position on an issue that was brought up in the previous class: whether or not that one example of spoken word or free verse should be accepted as "academic writing." And in thinking this through, two of the questions that Rhonda has posted comes to mind: is writing in text symbols an acceptable linguistic form for scholarly work and information professionals?; how does your reaction position you from a young person's perspective, and where do you fit within the normative social narrative on new media?

I believe that both of these questions will be recurring themes that I will need to address throughout this course. From a standpoint of an academic, I can easily argue that the writing example shown, and all that are similar to it, cannot and should not be accepted as academic writing. Simply, it does not conform to, and in fact, openly challenges the traditional form of academic English writing by its form and the author's choice of words. For if we begin to accept and legitimize this type of writing, where do we draw the line? Will this trigger a slippery slope towards a completely illiterate society?

On the other hand, being a punk rocker, I can easily identify with the use of bricolage, not to mention the clear challenge authority and institutions. In this particular case, bricolage functions thusly: by creating new forms/words and purposefully "bastardizing" the language, in essence, the writer is creating new meanings for the words he chooses to use.

Moreover, it can also be argued that the English language, and any language for that matter, is continually in flux. A quick look at the etymology of countless English words display a different original spelling than that which we recognize and accept as being correct today (ex. the word "sir" originated from "sire" and "syre"). So, who is to say that the way this author chose to spell his words is not akin to Chaucer's methodology or rationale back in the day?

So I remain conflicted, but I do believe that normative social narratives, for the most part, suck ass anyways!!! :)



Sunday, September 20, 2009


Hey y'all!

My name is Rhon and I'm a PhD student at the ISchool. Prior to U of T, I did my Master's in Cultural Studies and Critical Theory at McMaster University, a Bachelor's in education at Brock University, and my undergraduate honours degree at York University - a double major in English and Communication & Culture. So, one could say that I'm doing a grand tour of a buncha unis in southern Ontario.

The reason I'm doing my PhD is because I have to become a professor/academic/scholar on account of hating everything else, save for music, which I'll get into a bit later. I'm also really hoping not to have to utilize my BEd 'cause that would simply mean that I crapped out with this whole doctoral thing....YIKES!

Holding on tightly to my punk-rock ideology, I despise most everything that is corporate and although the university is becoming more and more commercialized, I still envision it as being one of the last remaining bastions of refuge from the "real world" - which is why you'll find me wandering the hallowed halls (mostly) with a big-ass smile on my face! I simply adore the ivory tower and NEVER wanna leave!!!

My research deals with the effects of media and new technologies on culture. Specifically, I will be conducting a two-year case study at an inner-city school to investigate how the children's online activities help inform their identities. As you can see, this class ties in perfectly with the research that I am undertaking, which is why I'm here. Plus, Rhonda's a pretty chill gal! :)

Previously, I was involved with the Canadian music industry for a number of years performing with a plethora of indie bands. And from that realm, I would have to list playing with the Beastie Boys at a showcase in NYC as one of the highlights of my career.

So, let's do this shizznit up right and have a ball this sem, yo! Booyah!