Abstract - The Information Society 14(2)

Our Own Devices: Heterotopic Communication, Discourse and Culture in the Information Society

Leah A. Lievrouw

The main premise of this paper is that in information societies generally, and in virtual social contexts particularly, a distinctive style of interaction to facilitate the communication of difference, heterotopic communication, has emerged. It rests on two cultural foundations: an ideological belief in the positive, socially integrating power of communication, and a prevailing ethic of instrumental rationality, subjective individualism and strategically practiced self-interest. The former is demonstrated by the use of simulation and spectacle as sources of information; exhibitionism/voyeurism as a communicative style; and the awareness of surveillance. The latter is seen in the competitive use of knowledge as a commodity; a surface globalism masking deep parochialism; lateral as well as vertical information inequity; and the use of public vs. private as strategies for engagement rather than as spaces. Those who engage in heterotopic communication resort to their "own devices" both in the sense of personal agendas, strategies, interests, and interpretations, and in the form of the telecommunication tools that help realize them. These personal and technological devices allow individuals with the right educational and technical resources to avoid exposure to disagreement, difference, or other information that does not serve their direct purposes or reflect their particularistic views of the world; yet they also help convey the appearance of openness, availability and cooperation. This style of interaction is used strategically in combination with information and communication technologies to gain social or economic advantages, but it may encourage social separatism and parochialism, inhibit the negotiation of disputes, and emphasize competing interests.

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