Getting all meta.

Last coursework assignment. I am almost free. This is my interesting ‘creative’ take on the understanding of the development of online support networks. I am sure that you will all love reading it. My favourite part is the “I think therefore I am” reference. Yep. That’s right. I worked that in there. Haha. Finally got to work count (or close enough) week left to edit, then bye bye last coursework assessment ever! Yay! 

 

 

Understanding the emergence and development of online support groups through Mediatisation

Aim

This paper provides a theoretical argument for new forms of communication created via online support groups and structure of these groups within the media and information society. It describes the emergence and development of online support groups, whilst presenting a critical history of self help and support groups. Analysis of the notion that media technologies can potentially be held responsible for these changes and exploration to what extent ‘old mass media’ (the traditional face to face support group) endure the new media environment (online support networks) is the purpose of this paper.  

The main problematic occurring within current literature is the clear impact that Mediatisation has upon the development and alteration of interaction in online environments. Exploring the impact of virtualization of support and the creation of new social geographies is something that will be explored in depth in this paper.  The importance of this topic area is to explore the effects of Mediatisation to “denote the long-term, large scale structural transformation of relationships between media, culture and society” (Hjarvard, 2013, p. 3).

Methodology

This paper will critically explore the development of online support groups by analysing the way new media environments have been shaped and constructed from external factors. When technological and social change occurs simultaneously, questions of cause and effect need to be considered. Are computer technologies the basic cause for changes in social interaction and communication or do new media just adapt to the needs and characteristics of modern society that has evolved independently from technological advancements?

This paper argues that both Technological Determinism and Social Shaping theories of technologies present effective models on the development of technology, but will present a conceptual analysis using Mediatisation Theory as a framework for discussion. Furthermore, the paper explores how the technological tools we shape determine our behaviour and thus are more influential on our futures. Better understanding of how individual technologies have developed will inform the use and acceptance of the modes of technology. Individual technologies have the potential to narrow the scope and customise the wider technological environment; catering to the individual.  Mediatisation Theory will be used to grasp a more profound understanding of the shift to online forms of communication, making specific reference to the development of online support networks.

Analysis of the development of the traditional support group will be explored, examining the support groups shift to an online medium and the theory and reasons why this shift occurs in society, making reference to the development of Web 2.0 technologies and their influence in the changing media landscape.

Theoretical background

The term ‘Media Logic’ was coined in the 20th Century to signify the influence of independent mass media on political systems and other institutions. In the past decade the term has been reworked and labelled ‘Mediatisation’ in an attempt to encompass both old and new media (Schulz, 2004; Krotz, 2007). Couldry (2008, 2012) has criticised the notion of ‘Media Logic’ as suggesting that there is a linear development of social change and a single logic working behind all media operations. A key concern with this concept is how theoretically this notion acknowledges the specificities of media and shows how these specificities come to influence culture and society through human interaction (Hepp, 2012).  ‘Media Logic’ does not suggest that there is a universal, linear or single rationality behind all of the media , but rather the logic of the media influence these social forms of interaction and communication (Stromback, 2008). Mediatisation is therefore not to be seen as a one-sided process where the influences are unidirectional. Rather Mediatisation is a dynamic process where media are in continuous interaction with others, shaping and re-shaping its institutional qualities (Pallas & Fredriksson, 2011).

Since the new media are not seen as substitutes for the old, the number of media environments grow and media environments become differentiated (Krotz, 2007). Mediatisation can be understood in the case of this problematic as the central concept in a theory of both the strengthened and changing importance of media and culture in society. By the Mediatisation of culture and society we understand the process whereby culture and society to an increasing degree is dependent upon the media and their logic (Hjarvard, 2013).

The transition from the process of Mediatisation in the late 20th Century (the mass media) to the processes of implied ‘new’ media can be defined by four variables: extension, substitution, amalgamation and accommodation. Extension explores the idea that the media are extensions of man; extension of the “possibilities of communicative action related to place, time and means of expression” (Hepp, 2013, pg. 40). This expands upon the idea that media are an extension of man, first proposed by Marshall McLuhan (McLuhan & Lapham 1994, McLuhan, 1969).  Substitution explores the notion that media have wholly or in part, replaced social activities or institutions. An example of this shows video and computer games as a replacement for face-to-face play. Amalgamation shows the way that action related to the media and unrelated to the media become increasingly blurred into one another. Mediatisation is seen as a progressive process of amalgamation amid media-related and non-media-related activities. An everyday example of this is how many people will check emails on their phones, whilst also completing manual tasks at work. Accommodation is understood as Mediatisation with the concept of media logic. Schulz (2004) suggests that there is a tendency in different areas of society to become oriented to certain ‘media logic’ describing this as a staging process of society, “affected by the use of television” (Schulz, 2004, pg. 89).   

The “Mediatisation of communication” (Krotz, 2001, p. 19) changes the characteristics of the way we perceive society itself as “media worlds and living environments merge” (Bauer, 1996, p. 2). If social life outside a mediatised context is hardly imaginable, this can be extended into other realms of our everyday lives. Mediatisation therefore refers to ‘‘a meta-process of shifting media,’’ but it is also considered a ‘‘micro-process affecting human actors and their social relation’’ (Krotz, 2012, p. 36). Over the past two centuries, media technologies have matured as part of everyday social practices. Generic technologies like the telephone and the telegraph have developed in conjunction with communicative routines or cultural practices, such as chatting on the phone or sending short messages over the wire (Dijck, 2013). 

Media technologies can be held responsible for socio-economic change and this is proposed by McLuhan’s ‘medium is the message’ slogan (McLuhan & Lapham 1994). He argues that the central mediating factor in any society is the medium of communication itself, rather than the communication. Opposing the assumption that technology is socially conditioned, social constructionism acknowledges some influence of technologies on culture and communication within society. It assumes that understanding, significance, and meaning are developed not separately confined within the individual, but in coordination with other human beings (Leeds-Hurwitz, 2009).  Social Constructionism also seeks to uncover the ways in which individuals and groups participate in the construction of their perceived social reality (Burr, 1995) and by extension the way they participate in online environments.

Contrasting the notion of social constructionism, is the emergence of technologies that are not seen as neutral nor the principle factor of social change as exemplified in Technological Determinism. Rather technology arises from human society and takes questions of agency and intention into consideration (Higgins, 2001). This is comparable to the Humanist Theory which stresses that individuals are recognised as having agency, power and responsibility over the social forms and technologies that they create (Lister, 2003).  Of note is the seventeenth-century Cartesian idea of the human subject, ‘I think, therefore I am. I have intentions, purposes, and goals; therefore I am the sole source and free agent of my actions’ (Sarup 1988, pg. 84).

There is a specifically ‘Marxist humanism’ in the sense that it is believed that self-aware, thinking and acting individuals will build a rational socialist society. For our purposes of this paper it is important to stress that a humanist theory tends only to recognise human individuals as having agency (and power and responsibility) over the social forms and the technologies they create and, even, through rational science, the power to control and shape nature (Lister, 2003). The conceptual framework of this paper is based on the assumption that digital media ‘are not that new’, that the effects of ‘old’ mass media are seen to ‘endure the new media environment’ (Finnemann, 2011, p.67); the main perspective is that of convergence between old and new media.  This is typified by the prominence of face to face support groups that are still represented within society, though there has been a discernible increase in the eminence of online support groups that are now available.

Implications

Understanding the emergence and development of online support groups through Mediatisation is important for developing our knowledge of a relatively new phenomenon; signifying that face-to face and online support can work holistically. This will in turn give those unable to participate in face-to-face groups the opportunity to gain support when it is relative to them. Remediation, the representation of one medium in another is a defining factor in the understanding of new digital media (Bolter & Grusin, 1998) and can be compared to the remediation of the support group. Mediatisation then is seen as “an expansion of the opportunities for interaction in virtual spaces and a differentiation of what people perceive to be real” (Hjarvard, 2008, pg. 111).

While face-to-face interaction gives everyone involved the opportunity to see and hear everything that is being done and said, the media make it possible to manage information to and from the participants within the conversation (Hjarvard, 2008). The sender thus has more control over the image of themselves that they present to others (Dunn, 2013). The growing complexity of regions in mediated interaction bears observation to a general effect of mediatisation, the virtualisation of social institutions. Establishments that were once bound to specific places: support groups once needed to take place in a church or hospital, but as a consequence of media intervention, individuals can contribute and participate in many different social institutions regardless of the physical geographic location (Hjarvard, 2013).

Support groups are an important formation within society and can come in many differentiated forms. They can be a helpful tool to allow members to share analogous experiences and similar challenges they may be facing, which can lead to the exchange of social support (Gottlieb, Maitland et al., 2013) and provide the opportunity for social comparison with peers (Campbell, Phaneuf, & Deane, 2004). The small support group movement emerged to combat the forces of fragmentation and anonymity within society; to enhance the engagement and practice of human community (Wuthnow, 1994; Kurtz, 1997). 

Specialised support group sessions were documented in the 1950’s (Wuthnow, 1994, pg. 40) and the movement was documented to have developed on a national scale in the 1960’s. The majority of these small groups were run through the Catholic Church as religious organisations realised that small groups could play a vital part in their programs. Support groups are defined as groups that meet for the purpose of giving emotional and informational support to people who share a common problem or condition (Kurtz, 1997). During the 1980’s the small group movement grew rapidly and spread to other settings; group participation was recommended for those who could not afford high priced fees for professional individual counselling. The 1990’s saw the development of therapy groups modelled after the twelve steps of recovery process (Kurtz, 1997, pg, 7).  A twelve steps of recovery process is a set of guiding principles outlining a course of action for recovery from addiction, compulsion, or other behavioural problems; a means to seek support and guidance (VandenBos, 2007). Originally offered by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) as a method of recovery from alcoholism (Bill, 2001), the method was then adapted and became the foundation of many other twelve-step programs. In addition to these, countless varieties of self-help and support groups have been formed to meet more specialised needs in the population (Wuthnow, 1994, pg. 44; McKay & Paleg, 1992).  With the rapid growth of Internet and computer-mediated communication over the last decade, online support groups (OSGs) have developed as a new setting for social support (Chung, 2013).

Online support groups offer participants benefits that face-to-face groups do not: greater accessibility in terms of time and geographic proximity and the ability to obtain information without face-to-face interaction. Participation in online support groups can also be a source of empowering outcomes such as feeling informed, increased confidence with physicians, increased acceptance, confidence, and optimism; and enhanced social well-being (Blank, Schmidt, et. al., 2009).

Media technologies can be held responsible for these changes as they link different physical localities and social contexts into a single interactive space, creating a distance between the virtual ‘stage’ of interactive space and the participants respective place-bound social contexts, of which they still also remain a part of.  Ever since the nineteenth century, media have dis-embedded (Giddens, 1984) social interaction from the local level and embedded it in a national – and later global – context (Hjarvard, 2003). The human experience is no longer destined to a local or national context, but also takes place on a globalised context; media making it possible to connect with others across political and cultural boundaries (Hjarvard, 2013). This development leads to greater cultural reflexivity and as media communications cross more frontiers, virtually no culture will be able to develop in isolation from others (Urban, 2001).  

Web 2.0 and the age of user generated content and sharing have a vast influence in the changing media landscape. The shift to Web 2.0 as stated by Ravenscroft (2009) considers the Web 2.0 to be the social and participative web; with emphasis on social networking, media sharing and virtual communities. This shift is important to note as it cements the significance of the idea of Web 2.0 (Hesse, et. al., 2011) highlighting the internet maturity and development over the last decade (Levy, 2009). Web 2.0 is seen to incorporate particular features of website design, such as self-generated content and interactivity and is not just a label given to a certain set of sites or a chronological description of a sites development (Han, 2011). Social network sites are considered to be the greatest exemplification of Web 2.0 technology; they are positioned within the broader landscapes of the innovative tech scene of “Web 2.0” and the development of computer-mediated communication (boyd & Ellison, 2013).

The virtualization of support and the creation of new social geographies allows for the development of a realm of shared experiences. Mediated interaction is neither more nor less real than non-mediated interaction. The circumstance that mediated interaction takes place between individuals or groups of people who do not share the same physical space, changes the relation between the participants. The media not only enable individuals to interact  over vast geographic proximity, but make it possible for that individual to keep several interactions going on at the same time. In this way, media allow their users to optimise social interaction to their own advantage (Hjarvard, 2013).

Mediatisation has an immense impact upon the development and alteration of interaction in online environments and the effects of Mediatisation “denote the long-term, large scale structural transformation of relationships between media, culture and society” (Hjarvard, 2013, p. 3). As the media are seen as resources for lifestyle development, moral orientation and for developing and sustaining social relationships, they serve to reproduce and renew the habitus of the individual. Habitus refers to the lifestyle, values, temperaments and expectations of particular individuals that are attained through the activities and experiences of everyday life (Scott & Marshall, 1998).  By reconsidering the concepts of social character and habitus, the influence of media on cultural and social identity can be reconsidered. The logic of the media influences these social forms of interaction and communication (Stromback, 2008) and as a consequence, social interaction increasingly takes place via the media.

Implications upon the creation of online communities in regards to Mediatisation based on the  conceptual framework that digital media ‘are not that new’, that the effects of ‘old’ mass media are seen to ‘endure the new media environment’ (Finnemann, 2011) occur through the shift from the traditional support group to the online support group. Even though online support networks are prominent within our society, the endurance of the traditional support network is still appreciated and seen as having an important place within society.

Conclusion

This paper contributes to the understanding of our media landscape and the convergence between old and new media through the Mediatisation Theory. It iterates that ‘old mass media’ (the traditional face to face support group) endure the new media environment (online support networks) and thus change the media landscape, as there are now varied ways of gaining this type of support. New media are not merely seen as substitutes for the old, the number of media environments grows and media environments become differentiated. Technological Determinism and Social Shaping theories of technology present effective models on the development of technology, but conceptual analysis using Mediatisation Theory as a framework for discussion is important to contribute to our understanding of the development of these technologies. The Humanist Theory also aids in the understanding that individuals are recognised as having agency, power and responsibility over the social forms and technologies that they create.

Mediatisation is wholly understood as a dynamic process where media are in continuous interaction with others; shaping and re-shaping institutional qualities. Better understanding of how specific technologies have developed will inform the use and acceptance of the modes of technology. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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