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Society Online: The Internet in Context

Editor: Philip N. Howard, Steve Jones
Publisher: Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2004
Review Published: August 2004

 REVIEW 1: Mei Zhang
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Philip Howard and Steve Jones

Society Online was conceived as a 'textbook with an argument.' Like many editors, we wanted to select the latest research with smart analysis, accessible language, and intellectual longevity. But we also sought to help authors collaboratively craft their pieces through shared access to high-quality sources of qualitative and quantitative evidence. Moreover, we chose to organize the book around the different spheres of life in which we maintain social relationships.

But in writing about new media and society, one of the challenges of trying to develop a complex, scholarly argument, and an accessible textbook is trying to avoid the stale language of society constructs technology and technology constructs society. In other words, it is not simply that the language must be accessible and free of jargon, but that truisms should be avoided. To get around this, we prefer a perspective that considers the capacities and constraints of new information technologies. There are two advantages to thinking in terms of capacity and constraint, rather than the more banal rubric of mutual construction. First, it makes us aware that the capacities and constraints of technology are distributed unevenly among different communities. Second, it reframes the issues we consider intellectually intriguing as very specific social problems -- scholarship or action in pursuit of social equity.

As editors, we made a deliberate effort to discourage the use of data that would show its age quickly. This meant encouraging authors not to link their arguments to particular informational software or hardware tools. For authors using survey data, this meant encouraging authors to use trend lines over snapshot data points. Almost all of the survey data is online for replication and further analysis. Data from many prominent social science projects studying new media are represented in this collection: the General Social Survey, the HomeNet Study, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, the Survey2001 Project, the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, the Webarchivist.org, and the World Values Survey. The core arguments in this volume are strengthened by the fact that the contributors use their various disciplinary interests and methods to triangulate on answers to some of the most challenging questions about the role of new media in society.

We have built a website for Society Online. This website will store some of the raw data used as evidence in chapters, catalogue university courses that have made use of Society Online as a graduate and undergraduate text, and keep other background information on the book. We are grateful for this constructive criticism, and the opportunity to participate in contemporary debates about new media and society through Society Online as a text and RCCS as a forum.

Philip Howard and Steve Jones

<pnhoward@u.washington.edu>

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