I belong to the generation which grew up with no internet. The first time I heard of it, back in the '90s, I hardly understood what it was, let alone what it did! In those days, socializing was done in person, over dinners with friends and office get-togethers. The only technology involved back then were phone calls on a land line. They were very appreciated, as it was the only way to communicate in real time but at that time they cost money and whoever had friends scattered around the world usually spent much time on a very busy home-phone set on weekends and after 10 pm when long-distance rates were discounted. Those were the pre-web days, then came the internet.
The new technology introduced a strong, radical discontinuity with the dynamics and processes of the past. It was a sort of metamorphosis that brought new behaviors, trends and models. Within the short span of a quarter of a century, attitudes, values and old dogmas that were so rooted in our lives were swept away and replaced by other ways of viewing and living. From one change into another our society passed through several stages of development that would ultimately create the new interactive environment. That's when a central element overbearingly charged into the scene: the social gossip.
From everyday life to the world of work, from commerce to politics, from media to individual blogs, its role has become so significant and its presence so pervasive that is well beyond the tittle-tattle and seems to be the backbone of any interaction, whatever its nature may be.
"Any relationship, even the most intimate one, requires closeness and distance, knowledge and secrecy. Gossip is closely related to curiosity: secrecy must be unveiled in order to trigger the gossip cycle" explain Antonia Cava and Francesco Pira in their book "Social Gossip, dalla chiacchiera di cortile al web pettegolezzo" (Social Gossip, From Idle Chitchat to Web Gossip).
Their book tackles this theme from a scientific perspective - not by accident as they both teach at the University of Messina, Italy, professor of Cultural Industries and Media Studies the first one and of Journalism and Communication the latter - analyzing gossip's value as a crucial interaction medium.
Easily dismissed as fatuous and useless, gossip has come a long way blurring the line between public and private on the web and has shaped a new sense of identity, I am what I want others to see me as.
The news world has also followed this trend, or perhaps kicked things into high gear, and the digital journalism world has sanctioned gossip as an effective news source.
Kudos to the authors for taking up this relevant and most topical subject in all its essential aspects such as politics, television and cyberbullying, for digging out objectively and thoroughly such a controversial tool's role and value and for addressing gossip as a communication formula worthy of scientific interest.
For Digital Immigrants like me - that's how I've been labeled by my students - the immediacy of technology-enhanced communication (and its impact) are nothing short of amazing. Yet, I will continue to be a strong supporter of communicating and interacting which is not as simple as one might think. It is the foundation of knowledge transfer, it is the key in socializing and in developing interpersonal relationships, it builds understanding among people and bridges cultural and social gaps. So, let's welcome the new player in the team, but let the game be played well. No pun intended!