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Posts Tagged ‘strong ties’

Look Up Exaggerates Damages of Social Media uses science to dismantle the claims in the viral video “Look Up” made by Gary  (aaaand no, I’m not linking to it).

They put claims such as ” We share frivolous bits of ourselves on social media, but leave out anything meaningful” up against current literature and find the claims ring as hollow as an empty keg. The sources they cite are diverse including: danah boyd, Kowert, Griffiths, and Oldmeadows article on “geek” stereotypes, the New York TimesPew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, and Deters and Mehl’s article on how Facebook can make us feel less lonely. They wrap up by citing an article from Slate.com which not only recaps technohysteria of the 20th century  but also reminds the reader of the Douglas Adams comment that any new technology will be regarded with suspicion and trepidation by people 35 or older.

Le sigh.

My generation?  We embraced 24/7 MTV and the the Sony Walkman with gusto. However,the Nervous Nellies of my youth intoned that these communication advances would erode our morals and make us socially disconnected narcissists. And now I see so many of us spouting those same arguments about computer and/or mobile media. Has my generation become our our parents at their most hand wringingest?

(Well, some of us, your gentle blog writer refuses to succumb to that kind of thinking.)

This cyberhysteria is the latest incarnation of panic over technology. Marvin’s When Old Technology Was New (1988) is a good book that tackles this topic with full force. She spells out how in the 19th and 20th centuries, electricity, the telephone, telegraph. the radio and television were subject to the same fear and hysteria as computer and mobile media is today.

Our most advanced consumer technology serves at the whim of its owners. I’m not a utopianist but a realist, we control our technology and that means that we have the lion’s share of control over what it does to us, our families and our children. On its own technology isn’t not good or bad, it’s tool and like a hammer it can be used to build or destroy.

Take a deep breath Gary, now exhale. There, that’s better isn’t it?

 

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I’ve been away from my beloved blog here for so long, I feel as though I should sing a chorus of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”.

But I’ll spare you.

My primary academic interest is examining the ways we create and recreate our lives in virtual spaces. I come from the point of view that technology like a hammer or saw;  fantastically useful tools that someone can decide to pick up and use as an implant of construction or destruction. It’s not the tool, its the end user.

Virtually every new communication technology from the alphabet (Thank you Nancy Baym for that great quote from Plato!)* to the airplane (because you do realize that transportation is a type of communication tool, right?) to the Internet has been decried as that thing that will make our society dystopic, make our society utopic, make us smarter, make us dumber, foster connections between people, drive us farther apart. And someone will always proclaim that it somehow makes us less human and our youths sex mad, .

Poppycock and Balderdash.

This is why I disagree with authors like Robert Putnam and Sherry Turkel. Yes I think society has changed, but I think it was and is still doing just that: changing.  Every age has its affordances and constraints from its technology, but technology is just the tool, not the determiner of the world we live in.

That is completely up to us.

Anyway, for the uninitiated among you, xkcd is a thrice weekly web comic written by Randall Munroe.  It is funny, highly geeky, and at times head scratchy. A few days ago, he absolutely nailed how ridiculous the moral ( and every other) panic associated with technology is.

(BTW: if you are not familiar with the comic, I suggest checking it out. It’s great!)

* In her book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy Baym quotes Socrates’ warning‘, by way of Plato,  that the creation of an alphabet that allowed people to write instead of extemporaneously orate would make us all dullards. Makes me chuckle every time. 

(Link to this comic: http://xkcd.com/1289/)

xkcd Simple Answers

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I arrived in Indiana on July 31, ready to move into my new place and onto this next part of my life. The first two days couple of days were spent all of the “I need this today to function” items. Day three though, I was hit by a wave of homesickness.  I wanted nothing more than to kick back with a tasty pork roll sandwich on a poppy seed hard roll.

I went to my computer and logged into I ❤ Radio and spent the morning listening to a couple of my favorite radio stations. I was able to hear the DJs whose voices I recognize talk about the stores and events I was familiar with. The traffic report told me that the same old roads that get backed up every morning were backed up again.

I went on Facebook and updated my status to say the following:

I’ve been okay up to now but this morning I woke up very homesick 
Thanks to the Internet, I’m able to listen to NJ101.5 and WMGQ, that’s made me feel better. I think once school starts for me on Monday I’ll be too darned busy to be homesick, lol.
I’ll try to post more pics of my place later since a lot of the boxes are gone. —feeling alone
😦

In less than an hour I had messages from people from all the different parts of my life: former classmates, people I grew up with and people I used to work with as well as friends and family. Some made me laugh, another told me she would utter an expletive in my honor on a particularly expletive worthy highway. A couple of others reminded me of the adventure that lie ahead  but my mother (a new Facebook user at the tender age of 70*cough*) had the final word,

Just read your blog. hon, you’re not alone tho. You’ve gone thru a lot in your life, and survived my dear…. You’ve stood up to the challenge. I think you’ll do it.” (by “blog” she means my FB status update.)

I took a class with Keith N Hampton when I was at Rutgers and a couple of times ( I think in part to help me rein in my gleeful techo-utopian attitude) he reminded us that a message on a screen doesn’t take the place of a hug.  He’s absolutely right, they don’t and both academic and popular literature gives us evidence of that.[1] However, my being able to almost instantly access the radio and people from back home was a great mood picker upper.

My FB friends and I were not  alone together in the sense of the title of Turkle’s book;  in the physical presence of others yet using technology to isolate us from each other. Instead that morning SNSs allowed us to be alone, yet together. Alone in our homes, cars and workplaces yet able to simulate a togetherness in spirit and heart.
Not necessarily as good as a warm hug but pretty darned good at doing the job nonetheless.

[1] One extreme example of this is the horror of Romanian orphanages under Nicolae Ceauşescu’s. One of the reasons the children were in such desperately poor physical condition was that they had little or no affectionate physical contact from their “caretakers”.

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This is why it’s dangerous for me to look at any cultural subgroup.

While my academic interest in online connections and communities, what I study is naturally an extension of the study of how people connect with each other and form communities based on common interest as opposed to geography or blood.

I was so fascinated with this documentary I watched it twice. I think this is in no small part due to my own perceptions, preconceptions and prejudices of the denizens of Juggaloville.

 

When I put all of my baggage around Juggalo culture aside, the jargon is different, the drag[1] is different, the cultural icons and touchstones are different; however; this could just as easily have been a gather of battle re-enactors, furries, Pennsic attendees, LARPers, extreme athletes or any other societal micro-subgroup.

Some of the commonalities I saw include,

  • The expressions of their collective outsiderness and the idea of being misunderstood by society at large
  • The sharing (and passing along of) common cultural touchstones with the documentarians
  • The situating of oneself in the history of the ad hoc community  (see 2:40-2:53)
  • Discussing use of the word family and the like to describe the fandom

McMillan and Chavis define community as “a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together” (D. W. McMillan & Chavis, 1986; p. 9) .  The operationalized by breaking it down into four factors:

  • Needs fulfillment (a perception that members’ needs will be met by the community)
  • Group membership (a feeling of belonging or a sense of interpersonal relatedness)
  • Influence (a sense that one matters, or can make a difference, in a community and that the community matters to its members)
  • Emotional connection (a feeling of attachment or bonding rooted in members’ shared history, place or experience)

I can see each of these played out in this short documentary.

It took me about 20 minutes to go from, “Gee, there folks seem odd” to “wow, look how universal their creating a sense of identity and community is”. And that is why I do what I do.

 

References

Drag (clothing). (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved August 10, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drag_(clothing)

McMillan, D. (1996). Sense of community. Journal of community psychology. Retrieved from http://history.furman.edu/benson/hst321/McMillan_Sense_of_Community_1996.pdf

McMillan, D. W., & Chavis, D. M. (1986). Sense of Community: A Definition and Theory. Journal of Community Psychology, 14(January), 6–23.

Validation of a brief sense of community scale: Confirmation of the principal theory of sense of community. (2008). Journal of Community  …. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.proxy.libraries.rutgers.edu/doi/10.1002/jcop.20217/abstract

 


[1] In this case I am using the word “drag” as in “clothing carrying symbolic significance” (“Drag (clothing),” n.d.)I used the word “costume” at first but I didn’t like the association of that word with artifice.

This is more than just something these folks put on. In fact, for those with tattoos or non-traditional piercings on their face or neck, this is part of how the present themselves every day.  But I wanted to capture that how they dress at this event, whether it’s an element that is visible or invisible to the “straight” world isn’t quite  uniform, but is a distinct way of identifying themselves as part of the Juggalo family.

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The dichotomy of the virtual world versus the real world is a lie.

Now that I have your attention, let me explain.

There are no longer two separate spheres of existence. Activity online has become more ubiquitous, commonplace. There is only one real world and online interactions are just one of the many stages we perform upon within it. It has become another venue in the same way we in habit other spaces such as out home or the bowling alley or school.

Nancy Baym, Microsoft Research principal researcher and author of Personal Connections in the Digital Age is an active tweeter. Recently, she tweeted a link to an article about by Paul Miller about what happened when he decided to unplug from the Internet for a year.

Talk about unexpected consequences.

The second sentence in his essay is, “One year ago I left the internet. I thought it was making me unproductive. I thought it lacked meaning. I thought it was “corrupting my soul.” This statement isn’t shocking, we’ve heard people say variations of this before. What is more telling is his first sentence,

I was wrong”.

Why his experience didn’t work out the way he thought it would is played out in this passage, “I drew her [his young niece] a picture of what the internet is. It was computers and phones and televisions, with little lines connecting them. Those lines are the internet. I showed her my computer, drew a line to it, and erased that line.”

Internet I

He made a mistake that all but doomed his experience to end with a feeling of desolate isolation as opposed to the  feeling of freedom he was thinking. When he illustrated the Internet for his niece, he showed it the way an IT person might, a network of various bits of electronica connected by cords and cables.

But the Internet is far more than that. A more accurate depiction would have been a network of all of the family, friends, and acquaintances in his life linked together by lines of varying thicknesses. Some lines might be doubled or tripled, and maybe even different colors.

The Internet isn’t about computers and smartphone and tablets; it’s about people and how we connect with each other. It’s about the myriad types of relationships we can initiate and maintain with keystrokes, images and sound. It’s about who we contact and why we contact them

Internet II

At the end of the day, the Internet is about people and their process of using the technology to connect, not that machines that facilitate the act of connecting. This is true whether you are talking about the alphabet, train travel or email.and  how often; it’s about how close we are to them and what methods we use to contact them

Miller’s experiment ties back to a tweet that Baym posted later on, “So important to study old media because otherwise we think everything is new and we are historically special. That’s me talking.”

In the same way that living without a phone is hard for most of us in the First and Second worlds to imagine, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine life without connection through the internet: email, social networking sites, message boards, etc. While Miller initially enjoyed things he felt he was missing, he ultimately found that he was engaging in the same behaviors he blamed on the Internet. He stopped leaving the house and would passively watch TV all day. Without tools such as Skype, email and Twitter, he began to feel the social disconnect that would occur for many of us if our Internet access was cut off.

The lesson learned is that while the hardware is new, the attitudes and behaviors are the same. From the alphabet to television people expressed concerns about how a particular communication technology was going to degrade the quality of our relationships and civilization  itself.

What Paul Miller discovered is that once a new technology becomes integrated into society it becomes enmeshed in the fabric of our relationships. It is the rejection of new communication technologies that can have a negative impact on our ability to be fully present in the lives of those we know and love, not new technologies.

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Wellman asked the Community Question: How does the nature of a given community affect and are affected by the the community at large” How does the macro structure affect the composition, structure and contents of interpersonal ties and how does the constellation of social ties that form a network affect larger social structures (1999,p. 2). He, I think rightly, refers to Granovetter’s findings on the functions of weak ties vs strong ties[1]. In the Wellman quote I see Fischer nodding his head in agreement when describes the interpersonal bonds as creating society interaction. Everything, from getting advice to gossiping to falling in love, is another building block that forms (or hinders the formation of) network ties. Our interlocked network ties are what form the fabric of what we find community. This reminds me of Fairhurst and Putnam’s article on how discourse forms community (2004). And while they use the term “organization” this can just as easily reflect a community structure. In finding work in the community with people he knows and getting married and building his family in that same community, Mr N is at once being shaped by as well as helping to shape the community. Being shaped by in the manner in which the community serves as a template for his life and shaping it in his and his wife’s addition to the existing social structure, reinforcing its behaviors and attitudes towards things such as government agencies, for example.

Bott’s (1957) examination of the effect of spousal relationships on the social network they form and the networks those ties comprise. Succinctly, the greater the separation of the masculine and feminine domains was in the family, the denser, and more localized the strong ties were. This was also was also predictive of a higher degree of multiplexity, something that Haythornethwaite (2005) would point to as an indicator of greater tie strength. One of the things I extrapolated from her discussion of the N’s was that while weak ties can be helpful in getting employment, those weaker ties weren’t as important for employment in these network. I would put forth that because Mr N’s network was formed by men he had long standing ties to, when a young man looked for his first job (1957 being the age where one got a job and stayed with that company until retirement), he automatically followed his longtime friends (and probably elder men in his geographically close family) to the same factory or trade where they worked. While the strong tie didn’t necessarily pass on information to get the job, it did create an environment where a man wouldn’t have to give much thought to,” what do I want to be when I grow up?”[2]

References

Bott, Elizabeth. (1955). Urban Families: Conjugal Roles and Social Networks. Human Relations 8:345-83.

Fischer, Claude. (1982). To Dwell Among Friends. Berkeley: University of California Press. [Ch. 1, 7-10]

Kalmijn, M. (2003). Shared Friendship Networks and the Life Course. Social Networks, 25, 231-249.

Klofstad, C., Sokhey, A,. & McClurg S. (in press). Disagreeing About Disagreement: How Conflict in Social Networks Affects Political Behavior. American Journal of Political Science.

McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Brashears, M. E. (2006). Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades. American Sociological Review, 71, 353-375.

Price-Spratlen, T. (2008). Urban Destination Selection among African Americans during the 1950s Great Migration. Social Science History, 32(3), 437-469. doi:10.1215/01455532-2008-005

Sides, J. A. (2000, January). Working Away: African American Migration and Community in Los Angeles from the Great Depression to 1954. Dissertation Abstracts International, 2652.

Wellman, Barry, and Scot Wortley. (1990). Different Strokes from Different Folks: Community Ties and Social Support. American Journal of Sociology 96(3):558-88.


[1] I would identify this paper as the one that triggered my intense interest in social network ties. I found his basic theory an elegant way of explaining the different role played by the connections we have with the various people in our lives. I think so much of what has been written since then is a refinement or criticism of this initial work. I want to add to this by exploring how it is situated within the age of Computer Mediated Communication age, including email, message boards, blogs, and any other format that facilitates online communities.

[2] I see so much of my parents’ neighborhood experiences in the story of the N family.

My mother grew up in a small town where her family had lived for many generations. Her grandfather ran the produce store and the town’s only taxi. They were working class people and my mother’s generation almost all grew up and lived their lives within a few miles of their home town. As a child I don’t think we ever had to drive more than 15 minutes in any direction to get to almost any family member’s home. The story of the tightly interwoven social network where people depended on family (because in this community almost everyone was related, however distantly) to each other was their story. Gender roles were proscribed and this is no more evident than in my grandmother’s advice to her daughters to, “marry a man who has a pension”. There was no thought that the women would have a job of any significance, it was up to the man to provide for the family from marriage until his death (because it was always assumed that they man would die first) and having a pension to supplement Social Security was one of the important ways of doing it.

My father’s family was part of the Second Great Migration of Blacks (roughly 1940 into the late 60s) when people moved out of the primarily still agrarian South to the Western states which were where the industry (especially for the aerospace industry) was booming. They relocated from New Orleans to the Bay Area of California in 1950 and my aunt tells the story of being a little girl and coming over the bridge for the first time (unfortunately, I’m not sure which bridge).  It was a structure far bigger than anything she had ever seen; something awesome. However, within this vast metropolis, the working class families that moved west, instead of adopting the behavior of the upwardly mobile families in Bott, moved into neighborhoods where people they already knew from their neighborhoods back home already lived. Often the move was prompted by a letter that said, “There are plenty of good paying jobs and I know where you can find a place to live. My aunt says that each street or two was peopled by people who knew each other from , “back home”.  In recreating the neighborhood, the roles and behaviors of the community were reinforced, as opposed to weaked, by the move.

By contrast, my generation of the family, (with my sister and I being the youngest of the group) is populated with people who, even if they live in a more wirking class environment, have a more egalitarian division of labor. We are better traveled and more open to different ideas and ways of comporting our families.  (And on a non-academic note, every time I use that moniker, I realize that Bott had *no* idea of the significance referring to people by the initial “N” would have today).

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