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Perpetual Contact: Mobile Communication, Private Talk, Public Performance

Editor: James E. Katz, Mark Aakhus
Publisher: Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002
Review Published: January 2003

 REVIEW 1: Tim Detwiler
 REVIEW 2: Scott Campbell
 REVIEW 3: Wendy Robinson
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Mark Aakhus and James E. Katz

We thank reviewers Tim DetWiler, Scott Campbell, and Wendy Robinson for their thoughtful and thorough comments and are pleased that each reviewer found the book engaging and provocative. To us, though, most meaningful was mention of how this book has influenced their research interests and provided a rich resource for their undergraduate and graduate courses. These were our central goals in initiating the Perpetual Contact project.

On one level we set out to create both an empirical ground and a theoretical formulation that could help elucidate the role of personal communication and information technologies in quotidian life. While we were viscerally reluctant to introduce a new theory per se, we found that many of traditional theories, which we in the communication discipline rely upon, were inherently derivative of other, more traditional academic perspectives. As such, they had baggage which at once aided and limited one's ability to understand this area. This for instance would be our judgment of the diffusion of innovations perspective. But similarly we wanted to avoid some of the complaints of tautology that had been leveled against communication theories, such as has been the case of the uses and gratification perspective.

Hence we proposed Apparatgeist; it is our attempt to carve out a unique area for the communication discipline that both pertains to an arena of activity unique to communication and that also highlights in a new way the relationship of humans to their highly personal technologies. We see it as making a special contribution is the under-studied topic of folk understandings and "tribal behavior" as well as to the processes by which people choose their communication modalities to affirm or reject membership in value groupings.

We readily agree with critics who find it an embryonic theory -- a set of ideas in transformation -- and thus is not a finished product. There remain many points and nuances yet to be nailed down. At the same time, we assuredly appreciate the interest of these scholars. We see their comments as part of a dialogue that will advance understanding of a domain of human activities that has special relevance to the communication discipline. As such, it is also part of the process by which the communication profession can stake a claim along side the classic liberal arts disciplines.

We along with our contributors have sought to stake out a novel territory, one fraught with ghosts of the past and ambitions for the future. We found in our inquiry a world of buzzing blooming confusion, but also one without a great deal of underlying structure and order. The reviewers here seemed to appreciate the fact that the mobile phone is the stage upon which broader empirical and theoretical work took place. So while the mobile phone is in some ways special, it can also serve in a fundamental way as a point of entry into understanding the relationship between people and their information and communication technologies.

In sum, our reviewers seem to conclude, as did we, that Perpetual Contact is about the idea of communication and how people orchestrate their lives around the possibility of (and ability to refuse) communication. We hope that Perpetual Contact and Apparatgeist Theory continue to stimulate interesting research and theoretical development.

Mark Aakhus and James E. Katz


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