Cybersociety 2.0: Revisiting Computer-Mediated Communication and Community


Edited by: Steven G. Jones

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  • New Media Cultures

    Series Editor: Steve Jones

    New Media Cultures critically examines emerging social formations arising from and surrounding new technologies of communication. It focuses on the processes, products, and narratives that intersect with these technologies. An emphasis of the series is on the Internet and computer-mediated communication, particularly as those technologies are implicated in the relationships among individuals, social groups, modern and postmodern ways of knowing, and public and private life. Books in the series demonstrate interdisciplinary theoretical and methodological analyses, and highlight the relevance of intertwining history, theory, lived experience, and critical study to provide an understanding of new media and contemporary culture.

    Books in this series

    Exploring Technology and Social Space J. Macgregor Wise

    CyberSociety 2.0: Revisiting Computer-Mediated Communication and Community edited by Steven G. Jones


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    To paraphrase Ted Peterson's introduction to the revised edition of his book Magazines in the Twentieth Century, almost as soon as this book's predecessor, CyberSociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community, first appeared, netizens, software developers, hardware manufacturers, social scientists, social critics, and social activists set about making it out of date. When CyberSociety was completed late in 1994, the World Wide Web was something I clearly recall talking about with colleagues on-line. Web sites were few and far between, and content was, well, let's only say that it was by and large text with an occasional image thrown in for variety.

    As I had expected at that time, though, innovations in CMC (Computer-Mediated Communication), and communication via computers generally, exponentially increased to the point when electronic mail is as common in most countries as a phone call, or, as Adrianne Laird, then one of my undergraduate students, put it, even virtual reality was “just around the corner from commonplace.” The Internet still is not so ubiquitous that we all know what it is and how to use it, though, partially due to the fact that the technology still is rapidly changing, that it is not embraced by all, and, most important, because it is still inaccessible to the vast majority of people in the western world, and in other countries it is almost unknown.

    CyberSociety 2.0, like its predecessor, is rooted in criticism and analysis of technologies that do presently exist and form the foundation for the media-ready pronouncements by everyone from MIT's Media Lab, to Microsoft, to Nintendo, about the wonders we are about to witness. And, also like its predecessor, CyberSociety 2.0 will not assist its readers to become more proficient at using any of a variety of tools for computer-mediated communication (CMC). Such assistance can be found in a variety of sources available at most bookstores and libraries and even more readily available on-line.

    CyberSociety 2.0 is so named because, as in the world of software engineering where it is common to number versions of revised software sequentially, it builds on its predecessor's foundations. Some parts of those foundations still are present and visible in this book, and have been reengineered, whereas other parts of this book represent entirely new construction. The goal was not to document the changes that have taken place since the first book's writing, just as the goal of this book is not to anticipate what changes will come our way. Instead, the goal of this book, as of its predecessor, is to assist readers to become aware and critical of the hopes we have pinned on computer-mediated communication and of the cultures that are emerging among Internet users. Both books are products of a particular moment in time, and also thereby serve as snapshots of the state of affairs, the concerns and issues, surrounding these new technologies of communication.

    I am indebted to the authors whose work appears in these pages. Their enthusiasm about the project and about computer-mediated communication not only constitutes this book but gives it life. They have patience, perseverance, faith, integrity, and diligence, and I will be forever grateful to them.

    I am also indebted to Margaret Seawell, my editor at Sage, with whom it is a joy to work, and who is thoughtful, caring, and helpful. Frank Christel, general manager of KWGS-FM at the University of Tulsa remains a good friend and fellow cyberspace explorer who continues to alert me to new Internet-related developments, and whose insight and humor are priceless. The ADN/Academic Computer Center staff at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and my colleague Jim Danowski, have been most helpful in assisting with, and providing, network resources, and I am most appreciative. Emily Walker has been most supportive and helpful, and my colleagues in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago have given friendship, guidance, and intellectual sustenance. The support of Sidney B. Simpson, Jr., Eric Gislason, Larry Poston, and Steve Weaver in UIC's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has been invaluable and is greatly appreciated. The Computing and Information Resources staff at the University of Tulsa, in particular Reed Davis, Tristia Watson, Cherie Stovall, and Rick Kruse were always helpful and ready to assist. I owe my colleague in the Faculty of Communication at the University of Tulsa, Joli Jensen, far more than words can convey. Her critiques of my work and the insights I gain from conversation with her are a high point of my academic life.

    I also wish to thank my mother and father, Jan Reynolds, Eric Cartman, and many http://net.friends who have provided support and encouragement.

    I want to thank Jodi White, whose company I missed on many evenings and weekends while I worked on this book's predecessor, and who must have inwardly cringed when I broached the subject of working on another, but who showed patience, understanding, and pitched in to help me out.

    Lastly, I wish to thank Ted Peterson, former Dean of the College of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for his friendship, his teaching, his editing, the music he passed on to me, his handwritten letters, and the lucky penny. I miss him.


    For Laza, Boris, and Sofia


    Steven G.Jones

    We have never known

    Was it you drawing near?

    Or me

    Pulling close?

    —“Filled,” Lynn Canfield/Area, 1987

    Our concept of cyberspace, cyberculture, and cyber-everything is, more than we care to realize, a European idea, rooted in Deuteronomy, Socrates, Galileo, Jefferson, Edison, Jobs, Wozniak, glasnost, perestroika, and the United Federation of Planets.

    —Neal Stephenson (1994, p. 100)

    The Internet, World Wide Web (WWW), Usenet, electronic mail, messaging and bulletin board services (BBSs), intranets; these are the words that probably best define the late 1990s. Electronically distributed, almost instantaneous, communication has for many people supplanted the postal service, telephone, fax machine—in some cases it has supplanted face-to-face communication as well. There are now more than 30 million Internet host computers. Businesses continue to spring forth every day offering Internet access, consulting, design, countless services. Nearly every sector of business has been touched by the Internet. And most any industry involved with delivering anything remotely electronic (and in many cases nonelectronic—on-line grocery delivery services come to mind) to the home, be it cable television, telephone, even electricity itself, has ventured into providing network services. To borrow from Lynn Canfield: Are we pulling close to these technologies, warming to them, or are they drawing nearer and nearer, inexorably encroaching on daily life?

    In truth, such dualisms are never actual, and in the late 1990s likely bespeak of millenialism. Accompanying these technological manifestations is an ongoing resurgence in prophecy related to computers and computing. Some portion of that prophecy relates to virtual reality (VR) technology, which promises all flavors of reality on demand but has yet to deliver it. Some of it is associated with the combination of audio and video in the computer that is to lead us to the long-promised connection between the radio, television, computer, and to the combination of the Web and television, a match, one might say, made by those who make and sell couches. Most of the prophecy is simply about the newfound capacity to never be “out of touch.” There are fewer comments about the wonders of technology, though, as we've become accustomed to at least the hype. We do find concerns about privacy, protection, safety, and civility; about the new forms of community brought about by CMC, the new social formations I termed “cybersociety.”

    James Carey (1989) has eloquently argued that prophecy has accompanied the arrival of most every new communication (not to mention other) technology. What Carey and collaborator John Quirk argued is that “electrical techniques (are hailed) as the motive force of desired social change, the key to the re-creation of a humane community, the means for returning to a cherished naturalistic bliss” (p. 115). Perhaps technology's numerous unfulfilled promises have led us to expect less bliss, but expectations for social change and community remain. Evidence of the expectations for social change can be found in the sublimity with which electronic mail and Internetworking are said to be of importance to democracy. As a press release touting the White House's e-mail connection claimed,

    Today, we are pleased to announce that for the first time in history, the White House will be connected to you via electronic mail. Electronic mail will bring the Presidency and this Administration closer and make it more accessible to the people. (Letter from the President and Vice President in announcement of White House electronic mail access, June 1, 1993)

    What is meant by “closer”? What is meant by “more accessible”? Our hopes and expectations for community are evident in these terms, and in the everyday discourse on-line, on Usenet, in mail messages and interactive media like Internet Relay Chat (IRC), MUDs and MOOs. More important, these hopes lurk between the lines of that discourse, in the assumptions CMC users make about the connections they have to other users.

    To examine those assumptions is to understand fundamentally human needs for contact, control, knowledge, the social and sociological elements of communication, and community. Whereas it is true that the Internet overcomes distance, in some ways it also overcomes proximity We may eschew some forms of proximal communication (chatting in the hallway at work, for instance) for ones that distance us (as we concentrate on the computer screen and not our environs), even as these technologies make distance seem meaningless. Each essay in this volume provides another glimpse of how the promises of technology and the reality of its use mesh, collapse, and reorganize, and of the forms of cybersociety that are conjoined with that promise.

    The “Net”

    Cybersociety relies on, of course, the forms of CMC allowed by current computer network structures, and some discussion of those is in order. Excellent written introductions to electronic mail, the Internet, the World Wide Web, and a host of other computer networks, as well as software, are readily available, and I will not cover the ground they do. Each can readily assist with connection to the variety of computer links, experiences and activities described in CyberSociety 2.0, and I suggest you use this technology (if you have not already) to experience electronic mail, to examine the bulletin boards, lists, and newsgroups, to “surf” the Web and share the experiences about which the contributors herein write. Unlike many other analyses and studies of contemporary society, one may enter the communities and discourse described in these chapters with relative ease. The issues with which sociologists and anthropologists, among others, traditionally have engaged when conducting their research are part of that discourse, for it becomes necessary to cover ground concerning participant observation, privacy, and biography. The best way to come in contact with those issues is to experience CMC.

    As background to the following chapters, though, some introduction to the history of computer-mediated communication is useful. The connections in place for the most widely discussed computer network, the Internet, were formed in the 1960s and early 1970s when the U.S. Department of Defense and several research universities, via DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Program Agency) linked computers. Of course, one may draw deeper connections to older technologies, as do Carey (1989), King, Grinter, and Pickering (1997), and Marvin (1988), for example. The resulting network, Arpanet, allowed for access to each site's computers not only for research but also for communication. The former role took a back seat to the use of Arpanet as a means for researchers to share information by way of electronic messaging. Initially such messaging was in the form we are accustomed to from using the post office; individual messages are sent from one person to another.

    Nevertheless, it quickly became clear that messages often contained information to be shared by many users, and thus mailing lists were created. These lists allowed one person to mail one message to a central point from which that message was “bounced” or “reflected” to others who subscribed to the list. Eventually lists became specialized in particular topics, and the terms “bulletin board” and “mailing list” came to have some interchangeability. Bulletin boards, though, generally referred to computers one could reach by dialing through standard phone lines with a computer modem and linking with another computer. The effect of each, board and list, was similar in many ways, as both provided news and information to users and came to be subsumed under the category of “newsgroup.” Newsgroups gather the messages posted by users in a centralized fashion and permit interaction with posted messages by way of simple means of reply. Lengthy threads are created by individual messages that generate dozens, even hundreds, of replies. The largest manifestation of newsgroups is known as Usenet, a massive repository of thousands of newsgroups accessible from most any computer with a connection to the Internet. In the 1990s, the creation by Tim Berners-Lee of the World Wide Web, as a means of sharing visual, aural, and textual information, became the most visible, and most talked about, of the Internet's uses.

    The Internet essentially serves as the main connecting point for many other networks. It has come to be a “backbone” by which networks link up with each other. It is a decentralized network, and its overall management now occurs via several not-for-profit governing organizations, though day-to-day management (maintenance of network services, allocation of domain names and access, etc.) is managed by a handful of for-profit companies, telecommunications industry giants, and computer networking companies. More important, no one group manages it. Instead, a variety of groups, such as the Internet Society and InterNIC, in concert with industry, circulate information, resolutions, and do research on the network's needs.

    There are many purposes the Internet can serve, but the ones with which its users most frequently engage are text-based, even in the case of the World Wide Web. It could be argued, in fact, that the Internet is the latest expression of print-capitalism. Much as newspapers and pamphlets spread word of the New World to Europe, the Internet spreads word of electronic environments.

    Technologies continue to converge. Virtual reality (VR) technology and even computer games like Nintendo's and Sega's, for example, provide still more arenas for communication and interaction. Still, textuality and narrative provide an important focus of study for anyone seeking to comprehend the varieties of CMC, and it is important to ask questions about power in relation to them. Who will secure the “master” narrative (if there will be one) concerning CMC? Some say software will enable all users to contribute to, or create, an unlimited amount of narratives and texts.

    The notion of self and its relation to community is one that must be taken up critically, and the contributors to CyberSociety 2.0 do so. Given, for instance, the mutability of identity on-line, where it is possible to post messages anonymously and pseudonymously, how are we to negotiate social relations that, at least in the realm of face-to-face communication, were fixed by recognition of identity? One answer to that question comes in the form of the previously mentioned constraints on CMC users. The developers of Eudora, an electronic-mail software package, for instance, in early versions made it possible to send messages adopting anyone else's name by using their e-mail address. Later versions of Eudora circumvented this software loophole by appending the word “unverified” in parentheses next to the e-mail address of the sender if the message originated without a password.

    Still other means of fixing identity and conduct continue to develop, and along with them so does the exercise of power in the social relations being formed via CMC. Such matters speak directly to the creation of community via CMC, as one area of development, that of standards of conduct, is in a sense the development of a moral code, a system of values, akin to the ones that arise and are revised in most social formations. Consequently, the question that needs to be asked is: In these fleeting worlds, how does an individual, much less a community, maintain existence?

    That question points to one of the most compelling issues concerning CMC: Who are we when we are on-line? The question becomes even more important as new technologies are developed for creating “bots,” “agents,” or “alters” that roam the network for us when we are away from our terminals. Perhaps the issue is not, in fact, identity but anonymity, a state difficult, in most ways, to achieve off-line.

    The preeminent arena for real-time interaction on the Internet is the MUD, Multi-User Dimension, Dungeon, or Domain (take your pick). In a MUD, many users can interact using a text-based communication system and collaboratively created spaces. We have, in a sense, created virtual worlds since the invention of writing. But rarely have those worlds been created and shared simultaneously among people at such great physical distance from each other. Though text-based, MUD discourse combines elements of the written and spoken, which itself points to the “naturalness” of the environments MUD users create. The spontaneity with which discourse and dialogue can occur affects the text itself, and MUDs are an arena within which users communicate in real time and with little time to construct carefully written texts.

    CyberSociety 2.0 is at heart an attempt to understand and probe into these social formations. The contributors probe issues of community, communication, identity, knowledge, information, and power. One reason such work is needed is to understand the framing of reality that CMC brings about. As Mary Chayko (1993) claimed,

    In modern everyday life, it is difficult (and becoming impossible) to definitively classify experience as “real” or “not real”; it is more helpful to determine the degree or “accent” of reality in an event. The frames we once used, conceptually, to set the real apart from the unreal are not as useful as they once were; they are not as sturdy; they betray us. As they become ever more fragile, we require new concepts and understandings. (p. 178)

    The purpose of this book is to provide a few such concepts and understandings. It also emphasizes that new social formations may require new forms of inquiry, too. How will sociologists, ethnographers, communication scholars, and anthropologists, for instance, grapple with issues related to studying electronic communities? The essays in CyberSociety 2.0 are evidence of some answers to that question. They are descriptive, sometimes empirical, sometimes theoretical but not prescriptive. The interest is to understand the everyday life of the network and its citizens, to, as Carey (1993) puts it, engage in “a sociology of border crossing, of migration across the semipermeable membranes of social life that constituted … disorderly fronts” (p. 179). In this case the fronts are on our computer screens, beckoning us to go from a place, a “where” of our own boundaries to a less palpable site, a “who knows” that, like any new frontier, is colonized first by our imagination and thought.

    Carey, J. (1989). Communication as culture. Winchester, MA: Unwin-Hyman.
    Carey, J. (1993). Everything that rises must diverge: Notes on communications, technology, and the symbolic construction of the social. In P.Gaunt (Ed.), Beyond agendas (pp. 171–184). Westport, CT: Greenwood.
    Chayko, M. (1993). What is real in the age of virtual reality? “Refraining” frame analysis for a technological world. Symbolic Interaction, 16(2), 171–181.
    King, J. L., Grinter, R. E., & Pickering, J. M. (1997). The rise and fall of Netville: The saga of a cyberspace construction boomtown In the great divide. In S.Kiesler (Ed.), Culture of the Internet (pp. 3–33). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
    Marvin, C. (1988). When old technologies were new. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
    Stephenson, N. (1994, February). In the kingdom of Mao Bell. Wired, 2(2), 100.

    Other Books Authored or Edited by Steven G. Jones:

    • Virtual Culture: Identity and Communication in Cybersociety
    • CyberSociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community
    • Rock Formation: Popular Music, Technology and Mass Communication
    • CyberSociety 2.0: Revisiting Computer-Mediated Communication and Community
  • About the Contributors

    Philip E. Agre is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Computation and Human Experience (1997) and co-editor (with Marc Rotenberg) of Technology and Privacy: The New Landscape (1997). He also edits an Internet mailing list, the Red Rock Eater News Service, which distributes useful information on the social and political aspects of networking and computing to 4, 000 people in 60 countries.

    Nancy K. Baym is Assistant Professor of Communication at Wayne State University ( where she teaches Computer-Mediated Communication, Discourse Analysis, and Interpersonal Communication, among other courses. Her research into the creation of the on-line social world of r.a.t.s. has been published in several journals and books. She is extending her research into the creation of social worlds in other on-line fan groups. She earned her Ph.D. in speech communication from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    Lynn Schofield Clark is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Center for Mass Media Research in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Colorado, where she completed her Ph.D. on U.S. teens and their use of media in identity construction. She is coauthor with Stewart M. Hoover of Finding God in the Media and coeditor of Cultural Practice and Cultural Meaning: Explorations in Media, Religion, and Culture, both forthcoming. She has published several book chapters and articles in several journals including Critical Studies in Mass Communication. She serves as a tutor to junior high students in her free time.

    Brenda Danet ( teaches sociology and communication at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and holds the Danny Arnold Chair in Communication. Her publications include an edited issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (1995, 2(1)) on “Play and Performance in Computer-Mediated Communication,” entries on digital communication for the Encyclopedia of Semiotics and Cultural Studies (Oxford, 1998), and her book, Keybo@rd K@perz: Studies of Digital Communication (in press).

    Steven G. Jones ( is Professor and Head of the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His other books include Virtual Culture (1997), CyberSociety (1995), and Rock Formation (1992). He is editor of New Media Cultures, a series of books on culture and technology. In addition to his scholarly work, he has been providing Internet consulting services to many corporations and not-for-profit organizations. He also has been a featured speaker at numerous scholarly, government, and industry-sponsored seminars and conferences.

    Beth Kolko ( is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Texas at Arlington where she teaches courses on rhetoric, cultural studies, and cyberspace theory. Her recent work includes articles on virtual communities, electronic discourse, gender and virtuality, and teaching with technology.

    Cheris Kramarae ( is Visiting Professor at the Center for the Study of Women in Society at the University of Oregon. She has authored, edited, or coedited 11 books, including Technology and Women's Voices, and Women, Informaton Technology, and Scholarship (WITS), and has published a number of articles on the Internet, gender, and law. She is coediting, with Dale Spender, the Women's International Sourcebook and Encyclopedia.

    Mark Poster teaches in the History Department and the Critical Theory Program at University of California, Irvine. His recent books include Cultural History and Postmodernity (1997), The Second Media Age (1995), and The Mode of Information (1990).

    Elizabeth Reid ( began studying on-line communities in 1990 at the University of Melbourne in her native Australia. She now lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a consultant on psychological and sociological factors in on-line system design. Her recent work includes articles on community formation in text-based environments and design issues in graphical virtual worlds.

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