Schroeder (2002) 'The Consumption of Technology in
Everyday Life: Car, Telephone, and Television in Sweden and
America in Comparative-Historical Perspective'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 7, no. 4, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/7/4/schroeder.html>
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Received: 17/7/2002 Accepted: 3/10/2002 Published: 30/11/2002
2See Caplow, Hicks and Wattenberg (2001: xiv and 279-80) for references to these follow-up studies.
3Braun (1993: 25-6) has also commented on the relative absence of conflict in relation to non-work everyday technologies, especially once problems of standards and compatibilities at the outset have been overcome. Much of this may have have to do with the pluralization or diversification effects of technologies - again, Braun's argument - that will be discussed below. The reason that conflict in the sense that Kline (2000) describes in relation to the introduction of the car, for example, strikes us as 'odd' or 'amusing' from today's perspective is because of the way in which the car has vanquished this type of conflict so decisively and with such finality.
4A few of the most relevant (mainly online) sources will suffice here: The still ongoing publication of material from the Middletown study can be followed at <www.pbs.org/fmc>. The 'America's Use of Time Project' can be found at the University of Maryland Survey Research Center <www.bsos.umd.ed/src/>. For time spent and uses of Swedish media, see <www.nordicom.gu.se>, which includes annual surveys of daily uses of different media, as well longitudinal data going back to the late 1970s. Perhaps the most useful for comparisons of Sweden and America today will be the currently ongoing study by Venkatesh, who has carried out an in- depth analysis of the uses of the internet and other media in Swedish and American households (as well as in India), concentrating on consumption, forthcoming on the project's homepage (<www.crito.uci.edu/noah/publica tions.htm>), and Polk (1997), which contains references for Swedish-American comparisons of mobility.
5This diversity of new social 'actions' makes it hard to pin down the effects of new technologies on the micro-level except in the general terms that I have done here (greater spatial reach, more time spent, frequency of contacts, etc.). The effects of new technologies are diffuse in that television, car and telephone don't simply allow or constrain the user to do one thing, but many things. Braun and Joerges are close to Luhmann's ideas about 'social differentiation', but it needs to be mentioned that Luhmann himself has not theorized the role of technology in everyday life, though he has written extensively about the role of science in society.
6Braun and Joerges are close to Luhmann's ideas about 'social differentiation', but it needs to be mentioned that Luhmann himself has not theorized the role of technology in everyday life, though he has written extensively about the role of science in society.
7This formulation indicates my disagreement with Latour (1993), who has argued, as the title of his book suggests, that 'we have never been modern' in relation to the role of science and technology in society. I am not aware of studies that have made inventories of the main technologies that are used in everyday life across industrialized and industrializing countries, but prima facie there is a lot to be said for the idea that these technologies are very similar in 'modern' societies. If we think, for example, of the stock of technologies in a typical household in Sweden and America - not only car, telephone, and television, but also kitchen appliances, computer (not yet a standard item, but possibly becoming one) and others, then many of the items are basically the same. But if the items are the same, then so, too, according to the argument here, should their uses. Does this imply that the consumption of technology is becoming 'globalized'? We cannot be sure, since, as far as I am aware, systematic evidence on the uses of technologies among consumers outside the industrialized world has not been collected in the detail that we have for Sweden, America, and a few other countries (though see Stearns for a global history of consumerism, which, incidentally, also emphasizes the 'modernity' of consumerism (Stearns 2001; see esp. p.44)). It is worth stressing here that because technology and culture are kept analytically separate in this essay, the argument does not entail the much criticized view that cultures will converge or that 'culture lags' behind technology: the view presented here does not address culture apart from technology, and argues only that those parts of culture that have been transformed by technology become both more homogenous and more diversified.
8Here the connection with the definition of technology offered at the outset becomes obvious: 'refining and manipulating' and 'disenchantment' on the side of (cumulative) technological advance translate into 'more' on the side of uses, consumption, and the technological mediation of cultural activities. This also means that 'more' entails a greater ability to manipulate the social and natural worlds, even if, on the consumption side, technology does not have this instrumental 'feel' to it since the main purpose in this case are leisure and sociability.
9Thus the practical 'use' of the study of technology and everyday life that was mentioned in opening paragraph of this essay (in addition to the value of enhancing our understanding of the cultural significance of technology in modern society) could be to serve as a template for other studies of ongoing technological changes in comparative perspective, for example Venkatesh's study of the uses of the internet and other consumer electronics in Sweden and America. One question that the study of everyday consumption can shed light on is whether the internet is likely to be used more like the television or more like the telephone, with all the different consequences for everyday life that this might entail. It can be mentioned in this context that Venkatesh's America-Sweden comparison (Venkatesch 1999) and Haddon's five country European study (Haddon 1999) of the uses of the internet broadly support one of the arguments made here; namely that the similarities in everyday uses of the internet across countries are more striking than the differences.
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