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Profile: Steve Jones is a virtual communications expert

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Steve Jones

“Technology is sort of the new pop culture,” says communication professor Steve Jones, who’s widely quoted in the national media.

Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Steve Jones is in the Rolodex of news reporters around the nation.

When they need a quote about new media, social networks or other aspects of online communication, they give him a call.

Professors are mentioned in the UIC News “Quotable” column when they get interviewed by a TV program or newspaper.

Nobody makes the column as often as Jones.

Topics he gets called on?

“It’s anything to do with the Internet, cell phones, iPads and tablets,” the communication professor said.

“And occasionally with gaming, which is another form of digital media. Most of it has to do with how young people are using technology.”

Forty or 50 years ago, reporters would have been asking Jones about the ways young people watch TV or listen to music.

“Technology is sort of the new pop culture,” he said. “You notice kids using it a lot and wonder why, and you wonder what are the consequences.”

For example?

“Probably the most interesting thing going on is the change in relationships and friendships — not necessarily for the worse, although that’s how it’s portrayed,” he said.

Some people are able to stay in touch with friends from as early as grade school “in unprecedented ways,” Jones said.

This raises such questions as, “Do they feel as strongly about old friends as new friends?”

And: “Does having a friendship over a long time, thanks to Facebook, translate to a quality relationship over time?”

Jones confesses that he doesn’t know.

“Nobody knows yet,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time to find out.”

Jones is busy with research on new technology for health.

For instance, he noted, people are using smartphones to remind themselves to take medication, via pill or asthma inhaler. They can even find a pill bottle they’ve mislaid — the missing bottle beeps.

He said they are also using smartphones to encourage exercise.

“Every smartphone has an accelerometer — essentially a pedometer — for which you can easily write an app to record your movements throughout the day and share with your friends,” he said.

“With social networks, you can cheer each other on as you pursue an exercise goal.”
Jones is the author or editor of 13 books. One of his latest is Afterlife as Afterimage, “based on my interest in posthumous fame,” he said.

Musicians and movie stars often get a burst of notoriety when they die. Michael Jackson is a notable example.

“This prompts such aphorisms as ‘Death is a great career move,’” Jones noted.

About 12 years ago he met Bela Lugosi III, grandson of cinema’s first vampire.

“He’s an entertainment lawyer whose primary concern is preserving family and estates’ rights in the work and likeness of the deceased,” he said.

“His work is to keep the dead undead. When you’re gone, who’s going to speak for your property?”

The dead also live on digitally. When actor Oliver Reed died during the filming of “Gladiator,” director Ridley Scott used still images to complete Reed’s scenes.

Jones’ most recent book is The Long History of New Media.

“Debates about privacy were rampant when photography came along, and debates about violent content when movies became popular,” he said.

“If you go back to Plato, there is a wonderful dialogue about writing as a technology. The argument was that writing would destroy memory — if we write things down, maybe we won’t remember them anymore. These are ancient debates.”

Jones grew up in South Shore, Edgebrook and suburban Skokie. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he majored in biology.

“But I was pretty quickly sucked into a life in journalism,” he recalled.

“It was the perfect place to be; every band touring between St. Louis and Chicago was there. I got interview after interview” with the likes of Elton John, U2 and Cheap Trick.

After graduation he got a line on a magazine job in New York.

“I was prepared to live in a rathole for a few years and be a starving journalist,” he said.

Instead, with the encouragement of a professor, he stuck around UIUC to earn a doctorate “and fell in love with teaching.”

He was a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for three years and the University of Tulsa for seven before starting at UIC in 1997.

Jones lives in Evanston with his wife, Jodi White Jones, assistant dean for communications in the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, and their kids, Ella, 7, and Mack, 5.

He loves to travel.

Jones visited Hawaii about 10 years ago, and he’s “almost desperate to go back,” he said.

“I’ve never had a harder time leaving someplace,” he said.


More profiles:

With smashes and bangs, physicist David Hofman studies past

Jean Powlesland makes preemies comfortable in new world

Fluent in many languages, Kevin Ngo sees world of possibilities

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