Technically Together: Rethinking Community within Techno-Society
Author: Michele A. Willson
Publisher: New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006
Review Published: June 2008
From the outset, I would like to thank both reviewers for their generous and articulate reviews of Technically Together: Rethinking Community within Techno-Society. As a relative newcomer to the receipt of reviews, I had some trepidation about their potential content. I can only say that my fears were quickly allayed and I am delighted with the reception the book has received here.
Community is about ways of being–together; consideration of community needs to be coupled with consideration of how togetherness is understood and practiced. Therefore it seems self-evident that questions about contemporary forms of community must necessarily also engage with questions of technology: at the very least it must be asked how we use, develop, and respond to the technological mediation of our relationships. In this book, I have suggested that the increasing use of technology to mediate our social relations has ramifications for the ways in which we understand and relate to ourselves and others. This is more complex than simply asserting that we can keep in contact with one another more easily with fewer constraints from time, space, or bodies. It is also more complex than simply asserting a shift to personal networks. And there are arguably ethical consequences that we need to engage with as a result.
I am pleased therefore that Lisa Hernandez responded so positively to the ethical elements within the book. Ethics underpin many discussions and critiques of community though they are often less broadly apparent (in the sense in which I refer to them) in the virtual community and social network literature. Yet how we relate to one another, how we enact commonality, and how we respect differences are central to ideas of community. This is particularly the case as we find ourselves living in a globalised, increasingly technologically mediated, climate-challenged, post 9-11 environment.
Barbara Iverson notes that the book is "Thick with theory and formal vocabulary of theorizing." This is indeed true: although I tried to make its style relatively accessible, the approach, subject matter, and intended audience meant that the book was always going to evince some of these characteristics. However, the issue of theory and 'how much theory' seems particularly important to raise in internet studies where much of the literature embraces a more empirical approach. This is not to assert a lack of theory but to acknowledge the strong emphasis upon, as Terry Flew has labelled it, a new empirics. This theory/practice negotiation has a long history more generally, and one that I am not going to engage with in detail here. However, I will make two points. First, I believe that theory (and the abstract level at which it operates) offers opportunities to ask different types of questions and offers different ways of seeing the subject matter in question, than that offered by more empirically driven approaches. However, and this is the second point, there is a related danger (and the book makes this claim) that theory only offers us a partial means to address social and political issues; there also needs to be some practical measures or translations. These need not be immediate or straightforwardly direct, they might also work through shifting sensibilities and changing perspectives. However, it is important that this next step is taken. How to take this next step is a question that I am presently struggling with in my own work. I would suggest that the development of practical measures and understandings can (and possibly should?), result from a dialogical process inasmuch as I don't think that one author need offer all the solutions. Thus it would be nice to think that Technically Together begins a conversation that others might pick up and extend further.
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