Saturday, April 01, 2006

Michael Bugeja's Interpersonal Divide is wrong

A recent book by Michael Bugeja, Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age is very disappointing.

The books begins by making a number of very strong statements that indicate the author is gravely concerned about the extent to which technology and media are harming interpersonal skill development and damaging our ability to create a “sense of community.”

The difficulty with these assertions is that these statements require some evidence. For example, the author says, “Historically, technology (in all its mechanical forms) precipitates displacement” (p. 14). He defines “displacement” as an “unfathomable feeling of isolation not only in our hometowns but also in our homes—connected, wired, and cabled to the outside world” (p. 13).

Taken as simple fact this assertion would essentially mean that civilization has only been in decline since the very earliest toolmaking. Surely this is too board a claim.

Another example of the terrible effects of technology is on our families. He writes, “Far from making life more convenient and work easier, media and technology have blurred the boundaries between home and work so that work intrudes on family and family on work to such an extent that many of us no longer know where we are—literally” (p. 16).

There are a couple of problems with this assertion. First, he provides no specific evidence that in fact, people can't tell when they are at work or at home. More importantly, he also doesn't provide any evidence that people find it problemmatic that work and family time is blurred.

The book is filled with many assertions and little evidence. This is dismaying especially since there is evidence about these issues. In general, the eivdence suggests that email and the Internet do not create an "interpersonal divide." Most people use cell phones and email to maintain contact and sustain relationships with people that they also see face-to-face. Technology is not a substitute for face-to-face relationships, but an addition.

There are some real reasons to be concerned about your interpersonal relationships are influenced and how web technology and the like influence the development of community and a sense of community, but our understanding will not be assisted by outrageous claims that the "Interpersonal divide is coming!"


Anonymous said...

The analysis of this post makes false statements about the research involved in Interpersonal Divide, which has won major research awards in media ethics. The data are all around us contradicting the thesis of this post by a professor whose work happens to be based on use of technology. Those seeking to verify these statements should visit the book site You will find news stories ranging from the Washington Post to USA Today based on the research in the book. You also will find more than 100 teaching modules.

Robert Hughes Jr said...

This is not a very helpful comment because the author doesn't provide any new information. The comment implies that since I use technology that my critique of the book is automatically flawed. This comment is similar to the analysis in the book. If everyone who used technology was biased, then the book author himself couldn't critique technology since he also has a website devoted to his book.