Book Review: The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media

Ilana Gershon is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Culture at Indiana University, Bloomington who developed the idea for this research project out of an undergraduate class on language and culture. Four years ago, she looked at her lecture notes and threw a new question out there, “What counts as a bad breakup?” Interestingly enough, all of the answers revolved around mediated breakups that often involved various forms of social media.

One overarching theme in all of the interviews was that the medium itself became part of the message. As Gershon states, “ people’s media ideologies – their beliefs about how a medium communicates and structures communication – makes a personal e-mail account different from a work e-mail account, or a text message different from a phone call. The difference often lies not in the actual message, but in people’s understandings of the media.”

Throughout the book Gershon demonstrates how second-order information (the means by which people understand how to interpret words and actions) and media ideologies are inextricably entwined – social media cannot contain one and not the other. She then goes on to cite an example of a couple who primarily had used text messaging in a joking and light hearted manner. When one partner used a text message to reveal they had feelings for someone else, it was not taken seriously, primarily as that medium had never been used for any serious conversations before. Gershon is careful to state that media ideologies are neither true nor false, but instead that understanding a person’s media ideologies can give insights into how messages are received and how responses are constructed.

In Chapter Two Gershon discusses how the structure of technology also influences media ideologies, such as the 160 character limit of a text message. Some of the interviews described starting a fight via text message (which requires a response as opposed to email), with the expectation that it would then transition to face to face for the actual final break-up. Interviewees also described the various meanings associated with instant messaging and the away messages posted by men and women. Women overwhelming tended to post quotes attributed to others that were meant to reveal how they felt. Men, on the other hand, tended to post about their social activities with no acknowledgment of their feelings. When a male did post openly about his heartache it was regarding as “strange” and “off-putting” by his peers.

Gershon closes with looking at how the advent of Facebook and blogs have redefined “breaking up in public.” Some couples described the pressure of being “Facebook official” and then later the drawn out process of removing themselves from their Facebook relationship. Facebook also made people conscious of “public statements” in new ways and is forcing the development of new strategies for interpreting second order information. How does one interpret when two women are “Facebook married?”

What I found most interesting was how through her research findings Gershon provides insight into the use of social media and how it has redefined relationships, both private and public. I think one of the most important findings was that public breakups remove second-order information and are now presenting dilemmas of how to react, behave, and even acknowledge as the various audiences change. The assumptions she has applied to romantic relationships and social media can be applied to other areas as well (business, family, etc.). With the constant shifts in the “public space” media ideologies will continue to change. Just as the undergraduates she interviewed felt email was formal and akin to receiving a letter in the mail, and the non-students treated email like an oral conversation, we can expect that future generations will change how they view IMs, texts, Facebook, etc.

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2 Comments on “Book Review: The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media

  1. Clint says:

    Interesting. Looking forward to hearing about tomorrow!

  2. I love stuff like this!


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