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New Tech, New Ties: How Mobile Communication Is Reshaping Social Cohesion

reviewed by Dominic Mentor - May 12, 2011

coverTitle: New Tech, New Ties: How Mobile Communication Is Reshaping Social Cohesion
Author(s): Rich Ling
Publisher: MIT Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 0262515040, Pages: 239, Year: 2010
Search for book at Amazon.com

New Tech, New Ties captures the impact of the mobile phone on societal interconnections. The mobile phone untethered traditional telephone interlocutors from their fixed locations to being available anytime and anywhere a cell phone signal is accessible. However, making oneself constantly available to others creates a host of pros and cons that impact society in many ways. While people are now able to stay connected with their selected communities of contact, the mobile phone can also be an intrusive tool at the expense of co-present interactions. The introductory “plumber’s entrance” at the beginning of the book allows Ling to present the pressure and positive impact of the mobile phone on individuals and society as a whole. Through theoretical underpinnings, Ling posits both the tensions and advantages of mobile communication. In this way, like the book’s subtitle and main point suggests, mobile communication is shaping and reshaping social cohesion through the consequence of constant contact.

Ling’s book is essentially divided into two parts: the first initiating the discussion on ritual interactions, and the second addressing those ritual interactions as catalytic communicative events facilitated by mobile telephony and the building of social cohesion. The exposition on ritual interaction begins in chapter one and continues through chapter five, while chapters six through ten address examples of mobile telephony and its catalytic effects on society. The latter portion of the book attends to the impact of mobile communications on co-present interactions and how mobile telephony enacts mediated ritual interaction.

Ling devotes more than half the book to establishing theoretical frameworks based on the writings of Durkheim, Goffman, and Collins and extracts insightful analyses from everyday observations relating to people and their common mobile phone use. In this way, through New Tech, New Ties, Ling seems to provide a deeper social theoretical basis for his previously published research in the field of mobile communication (Ling, 2004; 2005). He also refines the meaning of his own previously assembled evidence, rooting it in the aforementioned social theories, while substantiating his interpretations of other researchers’ work in the field of mobile communication.

Ling corroborates the work of other mobile communication researchers such as Chayko (2007), Matsuda (2005), Ito (2005), and Okabe (2005), by reaffirming that the mediated interaction via the mobile phone is predominantly with those in our inner circle of friends and family. Ling calls the mobile phone “the tool of the intimate sphere” (p. 159) and indicates that even though we interact with strangers in our daily lives, the “mobile phone tips the balance in the favor of the intimate sphere” (p. 159). What Ling refers to as an “intimate sphere” also speaks to the socio-emotional value of digital mediated interaction, which has been integrated in our daily human communicative interactions (Mentor, 2011). The socio-emotional elements in relation to human computer interface forms part of an affective domain which influences our ritual engagements and social bonding further enhanced by our perpetually available selves via the mobile phone.

After describing the tension between mobile technologies as well as social and individual impulses, Ling dedicates the first few chapters to a critique of Durkheim’s research. Additionally, Ling provides deep theoretical expositions of Goffman’s ritual interactions. These latter works form a basis for the remaining chapters, which espouse Collins’ ritual exchanges as connecting society and the catalyst effect of the mobile phone on our communicative patterns. Ling uses historical social theorists’ works as a foundation for positioning the mobile phone into the broader societal landscape, and as a basis for research on society and social communicative practices. This foundation helps the reader understand that our present situation with mobile phones is not an entirely new phenomenon. The social theoretical approach establishes and informs our understanding of mobile technology as a device that allows us to practice age-old social and communicative rituals. The connecting of society via mobile technology is discussed not only as ritual observances inherited from other social norms and communicative interactions, but also mediating catalytic events in creating and maintaining relationships.  

By providing theoretical frameworks to support his analysis of ritualistic behavioral patterns and mobile communication in modern society, Ling substantiates and highlights the reshaping of society via mobile communication affordances and practices. He also offers an informative structured roadmap of the mobile phone’s impact on society starting with a focus on our ritual behaviors and how these behaviors have been incorporated into society and enhanced by the provisions of mobile communication. The observations and anecdotes offered are used well to elucidate social theories and the emergence of the mobile phone as an extension of our technologically infused lives. This extension in turn affords society new opportunities and methods to transcend separated space, offering a constant connected presence with our contacts of choice.

The author also confronts the encroachment of mobile phone communication on co-present situations in the context of face-to-face (FtF) communication. The mobile phone at times strains the social bonds of co-present situations. While the mobile phone does offer a valuable sense of social connectedness to one’s selected and available community contacts, it risks breaking real relationships in favor of virtual communication and connection. However, technology-mediated communication does not necessarily rival FtF interaction, as it can also act as an extension of FtF interactions by means of both synchronous (voice) and asynchronous (texting) mobile communications.

The book has informative value for both specific and broad audiences. The obvious audiences are social theorists, mobile communication researchers, and academics focusing on the impact of the mobile phone on society. As Ling builds on his intellectual tradition in the mobile communication and sociology arenas, he informs his interpretations and arguments in this book with social theory and adds to the emerging mobile telephony field of research. A broader, less obvious audience could be university leaders, higher education faculty professors, along with teachers and education policy makers, who want to understand the social impact of the mobile phone on their constituents. The book is not intended to help formulate a practical guideline of how to implement a mobile learning or mobile communication effort in an educational setting. However, the theoretical insights offered in the first few chapters and the analytical interpretations in the last few chapters deliver valuable understanding into the ritualistic behaviors of people. The author’s insights could be applied to behavior patterns in educational environments, as they are influenced by ritualistic conduct aided and abetted by mobile phone communication.

The main point of the book is captured in the last chapter—the mobile phone is but a device woven into our daily practices, enhancing our ritualistic interactions, and in so doing it acts as a sort of social bonding tool to the socio-cultural fabric of our daily routines and interactions.


Chayko, M. (2007). The portable community: Envisioning and examining mobile social connectedness. International Journal of Web Based Communities, 3(4), 373-385.

Ito, M. (2005). Introduction: Personal, portable, pedestrian. In M. Ito, D. Okabe & M. Matsuda (Eds.), Personal, portable, pedestrian: Mobile phones in Japanese life (Vol. 3, pp. 1-16). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Ling, R. (Ed.). (2005). Mobile communications: Re-negotiation of the social sphere. London: Springer.

Ling, R. S. (2004). The mobile connection: The cell phone's impact on society. The Morgan Kaufmann Series on Interactive Technologies. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/catdir/description/els051/2003028268.html

Matsuda, M. (2005). Mobile communication and selective sociality. In M. Ito, D. Okabe & M. Matsuda (Eds.), Personal, portable, pedestrian: Mobile phones in Japanese life (pp. 123-142). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Mentor, D. (2011). Exploring social connectedness via mobile phone texting. (Doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City.

Okabe, D., & Ito, M. (2005). Intimate connections: Contextualizing Japanese youth and mobile messaging. In R. Harper, L. Palen & A. Taylor (Eds.), The inside text (Vol. 4, pp. 127-145). The Netherlands: Springer Netherlands.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 12, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16405, Date Accessed: 1/23/2022 11:09:10 AM

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About the Author
  • Dominic Mentor
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    DOMINIC MENTOR, Ed.D., is an Associate Adjunct Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. He initiated and co-teaches the nationís first mobile phone learning class and a course on cognition and handheld devices. His research interests include the social impact and pedagogical potential of mobile communication, social media and mLearning. Dominic has consulted with various groups and organizations on utilizing the power of social media, designing and implementing multimedia rich e-learning initiatives, knowledge management, and converting departmental silos into collaborative cognitive sharing spaces. Dominicís recent publications and conference presentations include Supporting Studentsí Connectedness via Texting as well as We are New York 2.0 ~ Social Media for Adult Education and Theoretical and Practical Considerations for an Educational Text Message Service at the TCETC 2011 Technology, Media & Designs for Learning conference.
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