I’m interested in the impact of media and technology on society and humanity. In earlier work, I researched patterns of television use and how they vary by age, the formation of primary groups and primary group ties in mass media use, the ways that virtual reality has influenced our ability to determine what is “really” real, and the intersection of science and culture. My current projects seek to understand and explain how social bonds and communities are formed, experienced, and given meaning in the absence of face-to-face contact generally, and through online and mobile technology use in particular. I also study the consequences of connecting in these ways for individuals, their relationships, and their societies.
My pre-doctoral and doctoral research focused on how people use technology to form social bonds and communities without ever having had face-to-face contact. For my dissertation and my first book Connecting (2002, State University of New York Press), I interviewed fifty people at length and conducted 143 shorter online surveys to demonstrate how this type of bonding actually develops and how people experience it, feel about it, and are influenced by it. I interviewed both high-tech and low-tech social connectors of a variety of ages and backgrounds — at the time of this research (the mid-1990s), it was not unusual to find even college students who were not particularly technologically connected. I determined that physically separated people often can feel undeniably and genuinely bonded in the course of creating online (and other types of distant) connections and communities. The book discusses the ways in which such connections are made, maintained, and broken, and contains dozens of examples demonstrating their potential strength, intimacy, bidirectionality, authenticity, limits, and dangers.
My next major research project became the book Portable Communities (2008, State University of New York Press). My concern here was the social dynamics inherent in online and mobile groups and how involvement in such groups influences members. For this project I designed an e-mail interview format that was administered to 87 people in what is generally called a “snowball sample,” which generates qualitative research data suitable for identifying and describing specific social forms and for examining certain social phenomena in depth. The interview consisted of several open-ended, multi-part questions; it permitted subjects to respond to the questions in as much (or as little) depth as they wish. In addition, I followed up with these subjects in additional e-mails, probing for further detail with regard to those issues most relevant to this work. These interviews, excerpted throughout the book, provided me with a wealth of qualitative data regarding the inner workings of, and impact of membership in, online and mobile groups and communities. I identified the emotional, cognitive, playful and practical aspects of “portable” communities, the positive and negative consequences of getting involved in them, and the larger humanistic and societal implications.
I then became involved with a project (with Corey Dolgon) documenting the work of some of the pioneers in the field of public sociology — doing sociology on behalf of people, particularly those without much power in society. We culled the journal Humanity and Society for which Corey had been editor and I an associate editor for outstanding articles that are representative of this tradition, and presented them alongside rejoinders that extended and updated them. We wrote the preface and introductions to each section of this book, along with some of the articles and rejoinders, to provide an organized and comprehensive overview of public sociology. The result is our jointly authored and edited anthology with Sloan Publishing (2010), Pioneers of Public Sociology.
More information on each of my books, including tables of contents, sample chapters, procedures for requesting examination copies and for purchasing them, can be found on the “writing” page.
My current and future work remains the exploration and explanation of social connectedness in the modern technological age. My newest book Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Techno-Social Life (Sage Publications, now in its third edition) brings together related research from a number of fields. If I can help people better understand the implications of all their media and technology use, and contribute to the building of a strong, safe, more just society, I will consider my work successful.