Communicating in the Information Society: New Tools for New Practices

Communicating in the Information Society: New Tools for New Practices

Lorenzo Cantoni (University of Lugano, Switzerland) and Stefano Tardini (University of Lugano, Switzerland)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-088-2.ch010
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Abstract

The present chapter provides a conceptual framework for the newest digital communication tools and for the practices they encourage, stressing the communication opportunities they offer and the limitations they impose. In this chapter, Internetbased communication technologies are regarded as the most recent step in the development of communication technologies. This approach helps have a broad perspective on the changes information and communication technologies (ICT) are bringing along in the social practices of so called knowledge society. As a matter of fact, these changes need to be considered within an “ecological” approach, that is, an approach that provides a very wide overview on the whole context (both in synchronic terms and in diachronic ones) where ICT are spreading. In the second part of the chapter, the authors present two examples of relevant social practices that are challenged by the most recent ICT, namely journalism (news market) and Internet search engines.
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Introduction

New digital communication tools (information and communication technologies, or ICT) rapidly spreading worldwide have a deep impact on the way we interact and communicate, both in everyday life and in our professional activities; they are changing our social life and our social practices. For instance, the way we can access, edit and share documents (movies, songs, pictures, images, texts or any other kind of documents) has changed, as well as the way we relate to government, access health, banking, and other public services, the way we work, play, learn, buy and sell, search information, meet (un)known people, and so on (Cantoni & Tardini, 2006).

The rapid growth of these new technologies has raised the issue of digital literacy, creating a divide between those who can (are able/have access to) manage them and those who cannot (are not able/do not have access to), as well as between those who are digital natives and those who have “migrated” into digital technologies (digital immigrants). The term digital divide refers to “the inequalities that exist in Internet access based on income, age, education, race/ethnicity, and … between rural and metropolitan areas, through such factors as pricing and infrastructure” (Hill, 2004, p. 27).

However, a first important clarification is needed here: it is not the first time new communication technologies have arisen and caused changes in a society, nor will it be the last. Suffice it to think of the enormous changes brought along by the invention of writing and the alphabet, which made it possible also for people who are both spatially and temporally separated to communicate (Danesi, 2006); again, the invention and the diffusion of letterpress print gave rise to the first assembly line, embedding “the word itself deeply in the manufacturing process and [making] it into a kind of commodity” (Ong, 2002, p. 118).

Generally speaking, every “technology of the word” has always brought along larger or smaller, positive or negative changes in the contexts where it was adopted (McLuhan, 2001), always raising the issues of literacy and access to information.

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