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Participation in broadband society Leopoldina Fortunati, Jane Vincent, Julian Gebhardt, Andraž Petrovčič and Olga Vershinskaya (editors).
Participation in broadband society.
Volumes 1 and 2.
Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2010.
cloth, 262 p., ISBN 978–3–631–58393–7, $US99.95, €46,50, £42,00.
Pantheon: http://pwww.peterlang.com

 


 

Since the advent of Web 2.0, there has been much interest, both at academic and non–academic levels, on the nature, dynamics and impact of ICT users’ individual and collective contributions to the information society. The authors of this series adopt the terms “broadband society” and “e–actors” rather than “information society” and “ICT users” to emphasize the new socio–technical landscape powered by broadband, always–on and portable connectivity, which has opened up new opportunities for user empowerment and involvement in processes of social change. As argued by Fortunati, “e–actors” is more suitable than “ICT user” because it allows covering the multiple and often overlapping roles of user, non–user, drop–out, buyer, customer, consumer, co–designer, stakeholder that individuals take while experiencing the broadband society. There is an increasing demand, not only within the academic context but also by public and private organizations, to fully comprehend these complex phenomena. However, our conceptual lenses to analyze them are not sufficiently developed. This is particularly true for studies that go beyond national boundaries and that take into account also socio–cultural and policy aspects. The book provides a significant contribution in this direction by providing a theoretical framework for conceptualizing, analyzing and comparing e–actors’ individual and collective interactions and experiences with the broadband society.

The publication of the first two volumes of the series is one of the main outcomes of the COST Action 298 (http://www.cost298.org), an open network of scientific research funded by COST (http://www.cost.eu), the oldest and widest intergovernmental framework for cooperation in science and technology in Europe and beyond. All book chapters are extended papers from a COST conference from 2007; although quite diverse in topics and style, the volumes are coherently structured into themes that are complementary in nature.

The first volume has a more theoretical flavor, since it aims at introducing conceptual perspectives on e–actors interacting with broadband society. Its four opening chapters frame the whole discussion by defining e–actors and placing them at the core of the discourse. This supports the argument that ICT development should be user–pulled rather than technology–pushed.

The second theme examines in more detail central aspects of communication among e–actors, such as shaping of the self, inter–subjectivity and emotions in situated contexts across different cultures. These issues, which are at the core of e–acting and social interactions in public and private media spaces, are successfully described; Jane Vincent’s chapter is particularly convincing for the original description, drawn by her own studies in the U.K., of the emotional attachment e–actors develop with their mobile phones.

The third group of contributions illustrates current research on e–actors from Russia; these chapters do not significantly contribute to the goals of the book. Specifically, Zherebin’s contribution takes a very abstract viewpoint that places information, rather than the e–actor, at the center of the discourse. Moving from information theory, the author tries to explain the evolution of society towards an information society without relating it to the emerging broadband society.

The fourth and final theme of the book analyzes e–actors within the institutional context and in different European countries. The key aspect shared by these contributions is that technological convergence corresponds to a growing social divergence and fragmentation — all forms of digital divide. This challenge, known for years by policy–makers, has not been sufficiently addressed at a large scale in Europe because of legal, economic and socio–cultural constraints. Similarly to the chapters focusing on Russian research, also these contributions do not systematically employ the term “broadband society”, but instead remain anchored to the more traditional information society policy scenarios.

The second volume of the series is complementary to the first one as it does not aim at developing the conceptual basis of broadband society and e–actor; rather, it presents a wide range of experiences of use, by different types of e–actors and in different contexts, of various forms of old and new media. It is worth noting that the authors have not deliberately focused their analysis around online and mobile social networking applications; as the original papers were written around 2007, this choice is perhaps due to the fact that these technologies were still in their infancy, and therefore could not yet determine any major impact at a societal level.

The first theme of the second volume presents two case studies that deal with the use of social software among children and in rural communities. The former contribution investigates the relationship between a group of children in Belgium and the involvement in the online community of the 3D online virtual world of Ketnet Kick. The key finding, which is in line with much research on this topic, is that a sense of community is enabled through collaboration and co–creation of content. However, children’s ultimate goal is not simply to communicate but rather to enjoy a common experience and to cooperate for a shared purpose. The framework of community co–construction is also common to the second case study from rural communities in Argentina. In this context, ICT tools are employed by NGOs for spreading innovative practices, which help overcoming geographical isolation and social exclusion. The two chapters succeed in presenting, from different angles, how new forms of ICT promote user empowerment by community involvement.

The second group of contributions investigates the diversity of experiences from a generational perspective. The three chapters dealing with this topic illustrate separate but interrelated phenomena. The first study reveals the under–use of ICT features, even in the expert community of users of scientific databases; the second critically analyzes the common assumptions on digital natives’ literacy and global scope of their interactions. The third study argues that the portraits of elderly use of digital media, which are common in the policy discourse, is based on misleading stereotypes.

The potential of ICT for sustainable development represents the third theme of the book. The first contribution takes an exploratory approach on energy consumption and climate change, while the second considers the potentially harmful impact of mobile phones on human health from the viewpoint of e–actors’ perceptions. Although quite different for the topics addressed, the chapters in this section give a glimpse on the requirements for a sustainable broadband society.

The last two contributions of the book present new emerging research areas, which will certainly add numerous additional flavors to the multitude of experiences with the broadband society. In particular, Larissa Hjorth’s reflections on mobile and immobile media in the era of digital convergence are inspiring.

By putting together such a diverse type of contributions and through the analysis of e–actors in different contexts and from several perspectives, the authors of the series have succeeded in their purpose of describing the multiple facets of the broadband society from the viewpoint of e–actors. However, the richness and diversity of the topics hinders from recognizing the link between the proposed conceptualization and the actual experiences of e–actors. Nevertheless, there was need for a series like Participation in broadband society to strengthen, both conceptually and with specific cases, the idea that technological development cannot lead to societal development without properly acknowledging and including in all its processes the multifaceted nature, role and potential of e–actors. The series provides an added value to all academic, policy–oriented and business–oriented researchers interested in understanding the complex relationships between society and technology, and in pushing forward a broadband society with a human touch. Although there are studies from non–European countries, the series has predominantly a European focus because of the nature of the COST framework in which it has been conceived. For this reason, it is particularly appealing to all readers who want to get a better understanding of the research, challenges and experiences on the European broadband society. — Giuseppe Lugano, Science Officer for Trans–disciplinary Research, COST Office, Brussels. End of article

Copyright © 2012, First Monday.

Review of Participation in broadband society
by Giuseppe Lugano.
First Monday, Volume 17, Number 4 - 2 April 2012
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3909/3198
doi:10.5210/fm.v17i4.3909





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