We have talked in class about new information technologies and some of their characteristics. We are most concerned with digital technologies connected in networks that allow for multiple,
two-way communication. In other words, any computer (or person) connected to the network can send information to (or receive information from) any other computer on the network.
We have also discussed networks as both technological and social systems. In this sense, networks can be connections among computers or other communication devices (a technological network/system) and they can be connections among people (a social network/system). Sometimes there is a significant overlap between a particular technological network and a particular social network. People who participate in a computer bulletin board or chat room may not know one another outside their interactions online, therefore these two networks are closely linked: they establish their social network through their use of the technological network.
For our purposes we are interested in new information technologies largely because of the ways they may be used to establish, promote, or change social interaction. New information technologies may make it possible (or perhaps necessary) for people to relate to one another in new ways. It is not the technologies themselves that are so interesting, but what we do with the technologies that matters.
Today I want to introduce a new concept, conversational media. As Amy Gahran puts it, “Conversational media are tools and channels which allow people to participate in a public or group conversation.” These can be online tools, like email and weblogs; but they can also be non-digital tools and formats, like radio call-in shows. As Gahran continues, conversational media are:
“different from private conversation because the tools and channels of conversational media inherently allow more than two people to participate in the conversation. Also, it’s different from a simple group conversation or meeting because the participants need not be in the same physical space. “
She is most interested in conversational media because they can be used to “change the balance of power in just about any situation where power applies — politics, business, health, education, community, culture, spirituality, sports, human rights, civil rights… you name it.” In other words, she is interested in how conversational media networks can be used to transform social networks.
This is a very important issue with new information technologies, and one that relates to everything we have learned and done, and everything we will learn and do in this course. As you do the practical tasks for this course, as you do the course reading, and even beyond the course, please keep this idea in mind.