Skip to main content

Conversation and Technology: From the Telephone to the Internet

Conversation and Technology: From the Telephone to the Internet

Ian Hutchby

ISBN: 978-0-745-66731-7

Apr 2013, Polity

228 pages



We live in a world where social interaction is increasingly mediated by technological devices. In this book, Ian Hutchby explores the impact these technologies have on our attempts to communicate. Focusing on four examples - telephones, computerized expert systems at work, speech-based systems dealing with enquiries from the public, and multi-user spaces on the Internet - Hutchby asks: are we increasingly technologized conversationalists, or is technology increasingly conversationalized?

Conversation and Technology draws on recent theory and empirical research in conversation analysis, ethnomethodology and the social construction of technology. In novel contributions to each of these areas, Hutchby argues that the ways in which we interact can be profoundly shaped by technological media, while at the same time we ourselves are shapers of both the cultural and interactional properties of these technologies.

The book begins by examining a variety of theoretical perspectives on this issue. Hutchby offers a critical appraisal of recent sociological thinking, which has tended to over-estimate society's influence on technological development. Instead he calls for a new appreciation of the relationship between human communication and technology. Using a range of case studies to illustrate his argument, Hutchby explores the multiplicity of ways in which technology affects our ordinary conversational practices.

Readers in areas as diverse as sociology, communication studies, psychology, computer science and management studies will find much of interest in this account of the human and communicative properties of various forms of modern communication technology.

Chapter 1: Introduction: Technologies for Communication.

Chapter 2: The Communicative Affordances of Technological Artifacts.

Chapter 3: Communication as Computation?.

Chapter 4: Talk in Interaction.

Chapter 5: The Telephone: Technology of Sociability.

Chapter 6: Telephone Interaction and Social Identity.

Chapter 7: Technological Mediation and Asymmetrical Interaction.

Chapter 8: Computers, Humans, Conversation.

Chapter 9: Virtual Conversation.

Chapter 10: Conclusion: A Reversion to the Real?.

Appendix: Transcription Conventions.



"'Postmodern babble has done little to help us understand how contemporary communication technologies have changed our world. This book fills a crucial gap in our knowledge by sticking to a focus on how ordinary people actually interact with these technologies. Using the insights of conversation analysis in an easy to understand way, this impressive volume will be required reading for students of work, technology, organizations and cultural studies." David Silverman, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Goldsmiths' College, London
A A well-written, innovative book, which makes an important contribution to current debates about the role of communication technology in society.

A Based upon his own case studies, Hutchby shows how human conversation is being shaped by technological media such as the telephone, the Internet and video-conferencing.

A Ian Hutchby is a leading figure in the field of conversation analysis and has written widely on the subject.