books and reading · reviews

Book Review: The Breakup 2.0 by Ilana Gershon

Until recently, romantic commitments were all about the tangible: rings, pins, letter jackets.  All of these things let people know when a couple was together and when they broke up.  But with the advent of social media, the rules are changing.  What does it mean to be “Facebook Official,” and what happens when one person in a relationship cancels that status?  What are the rules when it comes to breaking up in a 2.0 world?

Gershon is an associate professor at Indiana University, and a few years back, she was teaching a linguistic anthropology class.  In order to get her students thinking about language and its impact, she asked them what makes for a bad breakup.  Instead of hearing stories about cheaters and love lost, her students started arguing about etiquette, especially in light of social media technology.  Was it okay to break up with someone via email?  On Facebook?  Via text?  As her students argued over logistics, Gershon started formulating a research question.  The result is The Breakup 2.0, an accessible rehashing of the interviews Gershon did with 72 undergraduate students (18 male, 52 female).

It’s a limited but very intriguing study.  Because social media usage is limited amongst older generations, Gershon’s focus on the upcoming generation is particularly fascinating.  Social media users who have essentially grown up with the technology have their own set of rules that govern its usage, and these explanations of the norms and mores are some of the book’s most fascinating tidbits.  The increasing reliance on technology to conduct personal relationships is alarming but also fast becoming what is normal and expected.  Examining it is important in order to better understand society.

One of the most interesting parts of the book focuses on the usage of Facebook, both in beginning and terminating relationships.  Gershon makes a particularly astute observation when she points out Facebook (by far the most public of all 2.0 technologies) is implicitly conservative in its operations: by creating options for relationship statuses, Facebook present monogamy as the ideal and encourages users to link to one another’s profiles.  It is an interesting observation that many casual Facebook users have probably missed.

Although the book starts to feel overly long in its final third, Gershon’s observations about 2.0 technologies and breakups are still relevant and important.  Recommended to those interested especially in how social media 2.0 technology is changing our relationships.

The Breakup 2.0 by Ilana Gershon. Cornell University Press: 2010.  Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.

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