Category Archives: Book Chapters

Books

Self Tracking
Venture Labor
Surviving the New Economy

The Political Economy of Digital Health

The Internet and digital media are increasingly seen as having enormous potential for solving problems facing healthcare systems. This chapter traces emerging “digital health” uses and applications, focusing on the political economy of data. For many people, the ability to access their own data through social media and connect with people with similar conditions holds enormous potential to empower them and improve healthcare decisions. For researchers, digital health tools present new forms of always-on data that may lead to major discoveries. Technology and telecommunications Companies hope their customers’ data can answer key health questions or encourage healthier behavior. 

  • Gina Neff, “The Political Economy of Digital Health” in Society and the Internet: How Networks of Information and Communication are Changing Our Lives. Edited by Mark Graham and William H. Dutton (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019).

The Potential of Networked Solidarity

This chapter argues that the concerns of propaganda, voice, and democracy that characterized the rise of communication and media studies as disciplines were anchored in a set of twentieth-century liberal ideals that presumed the key role that information plays in people’s lives. This chapter argues that media and communication scholars need to update their theories for the twenty-first century. Both the election of Trump and the ‘Brexit’ referendum in the UK are case studies how twentieth century ideas about information, media and democracy are no longer sufficient to anchor contemporary media and communication scholarship. This chapter suggests a corrective by means an early twentieth century thinker who has not been used widely in media and communication, Emile Durkheim. By reintroducing the metaphor of organic and mechanical solidarity, this chapter argues that empathy and social cohesion might be alternates for intellectual anchors for our field for the future.

  • Neff, Gina. “The Potential of Networked Solidarity: Communication at the End of the Long Twentieth Century” in Pablo Boczkowski and Zizi Papacharissi, eds. Trump and the Media. MIT Press.

Agency in the Digital Age

Recent advancements in technology challenge our fundamental notions of human power and agency. Tools and techniques including machine learning, artificial intelligence, and chatbots may be capable of exercising complex “agentic” behaviors (Dhar, 2016). Advanced technologies are capable of communicating with human beings in an increasingly sophisticated manner. Ranging from artificial chat partners through the commercial algorithms of social media to cutting-edge robots, these encounters with interactive machines often result in a complex and intimate relationship between users and technologies (Finn, 2017). For instance, people now may have their own virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. Other commercial technological agents “help” people find new movies on Netflix or friends on Facebook. Robotic companions, like Huggable developed by Cynthia Lynn Breazeal at MIT, can read human emotions and react to them accordingly. Chatbots have long evoked reactions from people that can be used therapeutically for psychological counselling and now these tools are being rolled out as apps to help people cope with anxiety and depression (Lien, 2017; Neff and Nagy, 2016). Such developments present a quandary for scholars of communication. Does the agency of the people and, increasingly, of things that we chose to communicate with matter? This question prompts us to urge communication scholars to develop a better definition of agency and more clarity on how agency is enacted in practice within complex, technologically-mediated interactions.

  • Neff, Gina & Nagy, Peter. “Agency in the Digital Age: Using Symbiotic Agency to Explain Human–Technology Interaction” in Zizi Papacharissi, ed. The Networked SelfHuman Augmentics, Artificial Intelligence, Sentience. Routledge.