Rich Ling’s forthcoming book, New Tech, New Ties, which I have read in advance, is the best book so far about the social effects of the mobile phone, in the context of sociology and social capital theory (and is very well written, as well). Highly recommended.
In New Tech, New Ties, Rich Ling examines how the mobile telephone affects both kinds of interactions–those mediated by mobile communication and those that are face to face. Ling finds that through the use of various social rituals the mobile telephone strengthens social ties within the circle of friends and family–sometimes at the expense of interaction with those who are physically present–and creates what he calls “bounded solidarity.”
Ling argues that mobile communication helps to engender and develop social cohesion within the family and the peer group. Drawing on the work of Emile Durkheim, Erving Goffman, and Randall Collins, Ling shows that ritual interaction is a catalyst for the development of social bonding. From this perspective, he examines how mobile communication affects face-to-face ritual situations and how ritual is used in interaction mediated by mobile communication. He looks at the evidence, including interviews and observations from around the world, that documents the effect of mobile communication on social bonding and also examines some of the other possibly problematic issues raised by tighter social cohesion in small groups.