[N] is for Networked – A Book Review Presented in CMN8130

My first assignment – well, technically the second or third assignment because using Twitter (@jdeemill / #uoam17) and maintaining this blog are part of the course requirements – was to read and present on a book, related to the course found in the bibliography provided by Professor Levy. I chose to read and present on Networked: The New Social Operating System, written by Lee Rainie (Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project) and Barry Wellman (NetLab, University of Toronto).

The book examined how networks have transformed the way we (as a society, as individuals) connect – in person and electronically – using data from Canada and the United States. It included real-life illustrative examples to show “the power” of networks, when harnessed efficiently and effectively.

The book was divided into three parts:

  • Part 1 of examined the actual technological changes – that is how we got to be where we are (the rise of the Internet, how adoption evolved over time, current online activities in social networks) – and also looked at the rise of mobile phones and the concept of ‘always-available’;
  • Part 2 considered the impact of the social networks, the internet and the mobile phone impact communities, families, identities, work; and
  • Part 3 suggested possible ways that technology (mobile, the Internet, and social networks).

The focus of my presentation was on Part 2 of the book. In particular, I found two sections of the book to be the most interesting and informative: How the triple revolution (mobile, Internet, and social networks) impacted the transformation of our individual networks and how it transformed the family.

Networked individualism


According to Rainie and Wellman, ICTs (information communication technologies) have transformed – not destroyed – social networks. These transformations pre-date the Internet, starting post-WWII with cars, phones, and planes. This allowed personal communities to extend beyond neighbours and neighbourhoods, enabling place-to-place networks. ICTs led to the adoption of person-to-person networks, where individuals take on multiple roles. They allow people to connect in ways that provide diversity (larger networks lead to more people in a network), more choice (larger networks) and manoeuvrability between networks (based on what’s important to the individual right now.

Rainie and Wellman argue that instead of social isolation – a myth that they attempt to bust in their work – we see a shift towards ‘flexible autonomy’ when it comes to our relationships. But, what does this mean? It means that

  • The individual (not the household, the workplace, the family) is the centre of their networks
  • That people now have more freedom to choose with whom they interact; and that they can be more selective about who they choose to interact with
  • Their position in their network is strengthened by having a larger more diverse network – and knowing which network to tap into at a particular moment.

The implications of this “networked individualism” are that

  • Individuals now have to take full responsibility for maintaining their own social networks
  • That maintaining one’s network requires significant resources (including time) and skill (how to know who to connect to, through which platform – including face-to-face – and when)
  • That our identity – a “networked self” as the authors refer to it – is singular but is in constant flux – with a core nucleus – that changes and adapts with every interaction that we have in the online (and arguably, the offline) world.


Networked families

In this part of the book, Rainie and Wellman (attempt to) debunk the suggestion that technology has had a detrimental impact on the family – i.e. that families not sit at the dinner table on their phones rather than engaging with one another. In particular, they argue that while technology may have weakened the physical togetherness of family, it now links families by multiple communication media. They can be connected all the time, without having to be physically in the same place. Households have become networks.

This shift is important in light of changes that have occurred in the familial structure: smaller families, delayed marriage, women in the workforce, higher divorces rates, more cohabitation, dual-job households, and shifting family roles. Managing these new structures and their resulting obligations actually requires the use of one’s network (and networked technologies).



Networked families use ICTs to stay connected to each other -> it allows them to communicate despite being in physically different places, with different schedules. Arguably, the bigger or more complicated the household (i.e. divorced families, with step-siblings), the more communication that is needed. Rainie and Wellman conclude that families now communicate all day (even when they are in physically separate locations), thereby eliminating the requirement of physical and temporal proximity. Thus, although families might have less “face-time”, they have more “connected time”.