What to study when the Internet disappears

I have long taken the view that the most effective and timeless perspective to studying technology is to look the human aspects of it, and think that I can make the claim that my research on the Internet has stood the test of time as a result of this philosophy.

Malcolm Parks ponders how we will study the Internet when it “disappears,” when its ubiquity is pervasive to the point that we can no longer parse out any direct effects. Today, the Internet is no longer this separate “thing” that people go to, but rather exists all around us in multiple forms (SMS, i-phones, e-mails, Twitters, etc…). Freshmen entering college accept this pervasive technology as part of their lives; it has always been there. But in the meantime, it exists, and people today are dealing with unique communication experiences. We do not know much about the effects of simultaneous media usage, nor how people manage it.

Parks proposes focusing on the underlying communication processes, as opposed to studying the “surface” technologies. Here is perhaps the biggest contribution that academics can make, delving deeply into theories of how people connect, and where the technologies intersect. To wit, “As Walther (in press) recently observed, CMC [computer-mediated communication] research has not yet adequately addressed underlying assumptions, has failed to develop typologies that would allow meaningful comparison of technologies, failed to articulate boundary conditions for theoretic perspectives, and, in too many cases, has devoted inadequate attention to underlying explanatory mechanisms.” Another opportunity is to track how people’s behavior has evolved as a result of technology over time.

Although these things do not receive much play from non-academic research, a growing number of Internet watchers emphasize that when looking at “social media,” it is the “social” that should stay at the forefront. And here is one place to start that investigation.

Parks, M. (2009). What Will We Study When the Internet Disappears? Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 14, 724-729.