Critical theory on new media and internet and the impact of the internet on social commonality - case study of Iran

Sadaf Javdani Haji, PhD project funded by DAAD, Supervision: Prof. Dr. Undine Froemming

Key words: Globalization, modernity, new media, critical theory, Iran, technology, Internet, students, brain drain, communication, human interaction, the culture industry.


I. Abstract

This study will focus on Iranian students between the age of 20 and 30 in two groups:

    * Students who live and study in Iran

    * Students who has left Iran in favor of continuing their education

The first part will explore the role of internet as a new way of communication. With the special focus on the critical theories about technology in the work of Marcuse, Habermas and Heidegger, the second part will explore the role of internet in changing social interaction and commonality in my target group. Comparing my two target groups, one aim of this study is to analyze if the role of internet and its negative/positive sides could be altered by the context of the study.

The theoretical focus throughout both parts will be on media studies and critical theories starting out from Martin Heidegger and the Frankfurt School, that is, from doctrines keenly sensitive to the failure and indeed the threat of modern technology. On the other hand, this study also aims to go beyond the pessimist approaches about modern technology and look into the advantages of the internet and the alternatives and new possibilities that it provides. Internet open new opportunities for human communication and build an integrated and unified picture of our world. Consequently there are two sides while studying this new media: “Capitalism has survived its various crisis and now organizes the entire globe in a fantastic web of connections with contradictory consequences (...) The internet opens fantastic new opportunities for human communication, and is inundated with commercialism. Human rights prove a challenge to regressive costumes in some countries, while providing alibis for new imperialist ventures in others” (Feenberg 2005). Therefore while studying this subject, we should pay a parallel attention to both sides.

In summary, the study has two aims: the first is the theoretical exploration of internet and analyzing its impacts on human interactions and the second is to use these studies and gather data that enable the author to analyze the impact of internet on the social interactions of Iranian students living both inside and outside of country.

No country for young men. ©Sadaf Javdani 2010


II. Study Questions/Objectives

In a society as restricted as Iran which is ruled by Islamic laws, while the internet has a big role in increasing the general consciousness and awareness, the increasing use of internet has altered the social interactions and relations. My main hypothesis is that the use of internet by Iranian students descreases their social commonality. The study aims to analyze the role on internet on four variables as follows while looking at the previous related researches that have been done in Iran:

1) On family relations and relations in peer groups

While many scholars and experts are concerned about how the online communications result in the more limited face-to-face interactions and increase isolation and depression (Nilson 1993, Yang 1997, Floyd 1996, Greenfield 1999) this study aims to analyze how the use of new technology in a context of a developing country with high family ties and traditional connections may change the form of communication. The hypothesis is that while a person has an access to a more private and safe sphere, his/her interactions withhis/her family and friends decreases (Doran 2002, Poor Shahriari 2005, Ganji 2007).

2) On isolationism

People who spend a lot of time on internet become more isolated and introverted as they find less time for social interactions. While using many technologic devices result in decreasing body motilities, internet as well decreases social mobility and could cause social isolation (Atieh 2009, Ramezani 2002, Poor Shahriari 2005, Greenfield 2009).

3) On the social awareness

Access to Internet can compensate the restrictions and censorships available in other sources of news and information in a society like Iran as it is easier to control the other sources of mass media and conceal the realities. (Rad 2001, Mashayekh 2003, Poor Shahriari 2005, Moharram Zadeh 2005, Ganji 2007).

4) On immigration and brain drain

As internet provides new windows to the outside world, it can offer the possibility of expanding one’s perceptive of life and his/her expectations. It can also offer a high range of possibilities which were unknown before. As internet provides a form of communication beyond the borders, these borders become less bold and easier to cross. While many Iranians become familiar with the possibilities and facilities that other countries could offer them by using the net, they leave their home country.


III. Methodology

The first part of my study will focus of the theoretical background and the previous researches and studies that have been done on my topic. In the environment of the Ethnology institute (Freie Universität Berlin), I will first be able to refine my hypotheses and theoretical approach to the study of new media, internet and communication.During the field work, I am planning to do in-depth interviews and be involved as a participatory observant (with a reflexive mind frame). After gathering the first set of data through my observations and interviews, I plan to analyze them in a qualitative method of “content analysis”. Using these out-puts, I plan to make an experimental questionnaire and test it while using a probability sampling in my target group. Getting feedback from the people who were chosen in the first sampling, I plan to make the final questionnaire. I will then use statistic sampling- Clauss method- (Rafipour 2005) and will fill out the questionnaires with participatory interviews in Iran. For Iranians living outside of Iran I am planning to send them my questions via email. After the extraction of the data, I will first conduct further research on existing related literature and theoretical debates before carrying out any fieldwork/interviews. This will enable me to formulate a more precise theoretical debate once I have located the main tensions during/after fieldwork.