Converging forms of communication? Interpersonal and mass mediated expressions in digital environments



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Concluding discussion


Mass mediation of interpersonal communication makes boundaries between forms of communication seem blurred. Although interaction as well as participation appear as significant parts of all analysed threads, the social relations between participants differ significantly, from fleeting and ephemeral connections to stable and strongly tied networks. Consequentely, the ritual functions of different forms of mediated communication vary. Individual weblogs are private spaces for creative expressions, and may additionally have a significant function as social networking apparatuses. Ella’s online diary is a space where she maintains weak as well as strong social relationships. Underskog is a networking-service as well as a venue for expressing points of view and sharing knowledge. MetaFilter is first of all a venue for sharing links and knowledge, though social networking features have been added to support emerging networking practices. The point of departure for reader-debates on db.no is very different. These discussion are placed within a mass mediated arena, and are supposedly intended to encourrage open and democratic discussions among citizens (consumers). db.no runs several community-oriented services such as the social networking site blink.no and the blogging-service blogging.no, but the reader-discussions analysed in this article do not contain any embedded features for social networking. Commenters on db.no remains relatively anonymous and unconnected. Importantly the aim of reader-debates on db.no is not to foster social relationships, and research of mediated communication easily tends to overemphasise the significance of social networking. There is an independent value of providing readers with simple tools to participate and express their points of view. However, the analysis indicates that the actual content of discourses benefits from users being recognisable. Commenters on db.no can choose to be totally anonymous. Underskog and MetaFilter-users on the other hand have a continuous and traceable presence in the form of user-profiles (even considering the exisistence of fake profiles). MetaFilter-profiles track previous user-activities, a feature which will also be included in Underskog 2.0 to be released during the summer of 2006.

The prevalence of unformatted user-participation within digital mass media forms such as db.no does not imply the end of the structurally asymmetrical relations between mass media performers and audience. Although mass media institutions righteously experiment with increased user-participation, there is arguably still a need for mass communication in its traditional sense. Following ritual perspectives, mass communication will remain a vital part of the social symbolic process of constructing and maintaining senses of reality and the representation of shared beliefs. In cases of asymmetrical communication processes, social integration depends on audience identification and recognition, rather than on direct interaction (Holmes, 2005). In line with an overemphasis of interactional aspects of communication, there appears to be an overemphasis on dialogue as superior to monologous broadcasting (Peters, 1999). Claiming that mass communication is asymmetrical is hence not the same as claiming that mass communication is inferior to symmetrical forms of communication in a normative sense. This makes it all the more interesting to explore the combination of mass communication and more symmetrical forms of communication emerging in cases such as db.no-debates. Exploring whether these mixed forms of communication change the power relations between mass media performers and audience is beside the point and a futile hope.




Notes



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1 See also Lüders 2006 (Lüders, 2006b) for a discussion of the relationships between technique, media technologies, media forms and genres.

2 I have interviewed 19 young people about various aspects of their use of personal media, but four of the informants do not write any form of weblog or online diary.

3 All names are pseudonyms.

4 http://underskog.no/nyhet/2297#comments

5 http://underskog.no/samtale/2157

6 NRK P2 is the public service radio-channel with the most distinct focus on culture and with an emphasis on high-culture (Medieforvaltning, 2004).

7 VG is the biggest Norwegian tabloid newspaper.

8 http://www.metafilter.com/mefi/51801

9 http://www.kjendis.no/2006/05/21/466739.html

10 http://www.dagbladet.no/kultur/2006/05/16/466344.html

11 http://www.dagbladet.no/nyheter/2006/05/20/466699.html#comments

12 http://www.dagbladet.no/nyheter/2006/05/19/466644.html

13 http://www.dagbladet.no/kunnskap/2006/06/07/468223.html#comments

14 http://www.dagbladet.no/magasinet/2006/06/15/468983.html



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