Category: Snapchat

The “Foreign Lands” of Social Media.

Foreign Lands
By: Robert Louis Stevenson

Up into the cherry tree
Who should climb but little me?
I held the trunk with both my hands
And looked abroad in foreign lands.

I saw the next door garden lie,
Adorned with flowers, before my eye,
And many pleasant places more
That I had never seen before.

I saw the dimpling river pass
And be the sky’s blue looking-glass;
The dusty roads go up and down
With people tramping in to town.

If I could find a higher tree
Farther and farther I should see,
To where the grown-up river slips
Into the sea among the ships,

To where the roads on either hand
Lead onward into fairy land,
Where all the children dine at five,
And all the playthings come alive.

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To help understand the social media landscape, it is sometimes useful to imagine different social media users as citizens of “Foreign Lands”. If we look at digital technology users as existing in separate countries, with separate languages, laws, and customs, we begin to understand differences in usage, but we also start to gain clarity around the attitudes which one set of users hold about the other.

From this perspective, we can imagine adult digital technology use: practical, efficient, business-like, productive, serious. Here, newly developed technology is functional. Valuable hardware allows for communication, software is used industriously, social media helps to make business contacts and to retain business relationships and social networking is one-to-one, relationship maintenance. When content is created, it is purposeful and solemn. The self-censored, mature self is presented carefully.

In another country, digital technology provides an opportunity for “play”. Technology is used frivolously, creatively, messily. Hardware and its value matters little. Software is used incessantly, social media helps to maintain close friendships, social networking and content creation is one-to-one and one-to-many. The online self changes, it amuses and, oftentimes disappears after 10 seconds. In this fun land, citizens compare themselves to others, they aspire to ideals, they obsess over image, they emote, and they have fun.

There is a third country, landlocked by both these countries. Here, is the best of both worlds. Citizens were born and raised here and while there are borders, they are not “hard borders”. Movement between countries is permitted; it is even encouraged. The chief export from this country to their neighbours has been digital technology.  Here, valuable technology is used, equally for its functionality and productivity and for its playfulness and frivolousness. Software allows users to maintain relationships at numerous levels; close personal ties and more informal business contacts. “Friends” number in the hundreds. Residents of this land “invented” social networking and so, are familiar with its nuances and capabilities; content creation comes naturally and flows from the user. Social media applications were adopted and adapted by these nationals, in fact, most application design is by and for these burghers.

Seeing the landscape like this allows us, in the first place, to explore each. We can examine the citizens; we can almost look at them ethnographically. It is also possible from this vantage point to position ourself in the world of the other. We can look at each of the “lands” from the perspective of another land. How do serious people view the frivolous? How do the unconcerned see the serious and the messy? Importantly, it is also possible to see whether our attitudes, laws and customs apply in the foreign land of another. We can imagine, as a tourist, what it would be like to impose our customs, laws, morality and fears on the behaviour of the other and we can even see if our ways of being necessarily apply here.

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Think for a moment of an article published on line by the Independent in the UK, where an addiction expert is quoted as saying that giving a young person a smartphone is like giving them a gram of cocaine or a bottle of wine. Leaving aside the fact that this statement is made without any supporting evidence, isn’t it fair to ask whether this person is imposing her beliefs on the residents of a “Foreign Land”? Is it fair to say that this person is speaking to the residents of her own country about the residents of another country; one which she has never visited, one where they speak a language she doesn’t understand?

Making statements like these is deeply unfair. It terrorises parents, while at the same time, diminishing their parenting. It is disingenuous to young social media users, making it seem as though their online activities are somehow nefarious, illicit and dangerous. And, it trivialises substance abuse and addiction. When we make statements about the outcomes of social media use, we really need to do better.

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Could “Loneliness” be the solution to the Facebook migration problem?

In a previous post I spoke about the fact that some young users are migrating from Facebook to different types of social media. This news comes as no surprise to analysts or indeed young  social media users. The fact users are migrating in such numbers (see below) has even prompted one analyst to opine that “Facebook appears to already be moving past the maturity stage into the decline stage” (Gunelius, 2015)…steady on!!!

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I have been wondering about the possible causes for this migration and have thought that maybe, privacy, permanence or parents could be the problem. But maybe it’s something else. Could it also be that the thoughts, feelings and behaviours which result from our use of Facebook are encouraging us to seek reward elsewhere?

In our research on the negative consequences of FoMO we have found that, among other negative consequences, loneliness emerges as a significant negative outcome. At its most basic, loneliness is sadness associated with being isolated, removed from intimates, being abandoned or rejected. Given these types of descriptors, it is hard to imagine that a negative consequence of one’s social media experiences is “loneliness”, considering that one is just a click away from friends and family and that, in the main, very few of them reject or abandon the user.

Perhaps another definition for “loneliness” or an investigation into the causes and correlates of loneliness would shed light on why some social media users describe their experience this way.

Loneliness or perceived isolation can be viewed either as a single entity or a multifaceted conceptualisation of the emotional reactions to the absence of others. It is a temporary state for some, but a chronic condition for others. While temporary loneliness can be buffered by social support, the chronically lonely are more likely to be high in negative affect and low in positive affect, withdrawing socially and displaying a lack of trust in others (Ernst & Cacioppo, 1999). Furthermore, chronic loneliness has been associated with depression and hostility.

Kraus et al (1993) see loneliness as a direct consequence of our cognitive appraisals (determined by one’s social network, situation and person factors) of whether interpersonal needs are being met. Studies have shown that numerous “person” factors, including pessimism and low optimism, correlate with loneliness, which in turn has been strongly correlated with low happiness (Booth, Bartlett, & Bohnsack, 1992) and low life satisfaction (Riggio, Warring, & Trockmorton, 1993). Damsteegt (1992) suggested that lonely individuals display feelings of alienation, isolation and bitterness, and that these feelings combine to form poor social networks. Additionally, Krauss et al. (1993) propose that, for interpersonal needs to be met successfully, social provisions of attachment, reassurance of worth, social integration, guidance and reliable alliances have to be satisfied.  It may be that Granovetter’ s (1982) “weak ties”, provided by Facebook, are not quite meeting these requirement or satisfying users interpersonal needs.

When our participants described “loneliness” as an outcome of their social media experiences, I would guess that they were describing a more transient and impermanent state. If this is the case, ironically, the social support provided by social media can buffer against these feelings. Indeed, Kim et al (2015) have shown that loneliness can be a cause and a consequence of social media use.

Over the last few years active Facebook use has declined (falling by 9% in 2014), with social media users migrating to platforms (Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Youtube etc) where they can actively share content with closed groups. Could young users be avoiding loneliness or looking to alleviate it elsewhere? On these newer platforms, social provisions are being met and communication occurs between attached, integrated and reliable groups. These strong, closed, intimate groups assure and reward and our interpersonal needs are being met.

If Facebook are to stem the migration, addressing loneliness could be the place to start.

Types of social media: Similarities and differences.

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Social media (collective noun) describes online communications outlets which allow input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration to a shared community. Social media come in many forms, but most allow the formation of online communities, the sharing of information, and the distribution of ideas, opinions, messages and videos. The social media landscape shifts rapidly and, what could be a “go to” social media platform today, could be a nostalgic memory tomorrow. The following are some currently available types of social media.

Social Network Sites – The most common definition of social network sites (SNS) comes from Boyd & Ellison (2007), who describe them as, “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system”. These web services generally consist of a profile, allow users to interact with each other and afford connections to others with whom the user has a shared connection. Popular examples include Facebook and LinkedIn.

Media Sharing – Media sharing applications allow users to upload and share media e.g. pictures, video, etc. Most media sharing platforms now have social networking features like profiles, commenting, etc. The most popular are YouTube, Instagram (10 million members in 2011, 400 million in Sept 2015) and Flickr.

Microblog – Microblogs like Twitter and Tumblr let users post short updates to other microblog members who subscribe to receive updates. With many of the 111 microblogs (Yes! Really!) in existence, message length is restricted, but members can post other elements of content, such as pictures, video and links to websites.

Bookmarking Sites – Probably not as popular as they  once were, Bookmarking sites allow users to save and manage links to other websites and resources on the internet. Most allow you to “tag” your links, making them easy to search and share. The most popular are StumbleUpon, Pocket and Delicious

Social News – Social news sites let users post news items or links to outside articles and allow users to “vote” on the items. Voting is the central feature and items that get the most votes are most prominently presented on the sites. So, the community decides which news items get seen. The most popular are Digg, Reddit and Propeller.

Blogs and Forums – The numerous online forums allow members to post content and hold conversations by posting messages. Blog comments are similar except they are attached to blogs and usually the discussion centres around the topic of the blog post. There are many, MANY popular blogs and forums.

Anonymous & Disappearing – With the arrival of social media smartphone apps like Snapchat and Yik-Yak, the privacy concerns of younger social media users, are answered. It is now possible to make content available to closed, private communities, safe in the knowledge that they, and only they, will see it and that it will disappear, once seen. With anonymous smartphone apps (Yik-Yak, Whisper, Nearby, etc) it is possible for users to anonymously view, create, up/down vote discussion threads with other anonymous users in close proximity.

There is a trend for many content providers to include social media affordances, so it true to say that there is considerable overlap between these “categories” of social media types; Facebook allow microblogging in the form of “status updates”; Youtube allow commenting on videos; WhatsApp allows the formation of private groups and content sharing; Tinder and Grindr integrate Facebook and Instagram profile information.

This is by no means a comprehensive list; I have excluded document sharing (Dropbox, Google Drive) and Voip (Skype) media which people use to communicate and share information…the lines are blurred. I will add to to this list as new means of communication and interaction emerge. It will be fascinating, for example, to see how social media, VR and/or wearable technology combine to provide us with new ways to relate to each other and the world around us.

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Farewell Facebook?

Everything I know about social media is grounded in what I see my kids doing on line. My initial enquiries into SNS, my fascination with FOMO and my obsession with social media experiences started with me observing how my kids and their friends interacted with Bebo and Facebook and how they interacted with each other. These were the crossover generation; the generation between “digital immigrants” like myself and the “digital natives” who had grown up completely immersed in technology. For them, Facebook (R.I.P. Bebo) had become an indispensable part of life and communication using this new tech, had become seamless. A gentle revolution in communication had occurred, and now, with the proliferation of mobile devices, this revolution would now seem complete. Smart device ownership among young adults has almost reached saturation point and engagement with on-line platforms is an integral part of the lives of young adults.

While this revolution was going on, Facebook, being the only show in town, dominated. It was the platform where everything happened, where we had our social media experiences. It was not unusual for us to see groups of young people sitting around, all glued to handheld devices, laughing, whispering, pointing, blushing and sharing the intimacies of their lives with their community. Nor was it unusual for young people to spend a large amount of time on Facebook. Parents, teachers, the media and academia all became interested in this new phenomenon and studies highlighting the dangers and negative consequences of Facebook proliferated.

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All the while though, away from our gaze, young people have been quietly rebelling, as is their wont, and another revolution was taking place. While grown-ups were becoming more vigilant as to the dangers of Facebook, younger adults were migrating away from “traditional”, overt social media and were interacting with each other on new, more private media. Today, data suggests that, where young users shared information on highly visible, permanent platforms (Facebook, Pintrest, Instagram etc.) in the past, they are quietly transferring their allegiances to more invisible, temporary applications (Snapchat, Yik-Yak, KiK) and group chat (Messenger, iMessage and WhatsApp). Now, instead of posting updates to the multitude, they are sharing minute-by-minute and through filtered selfies, to a closer circle of friends.

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Last August, Pew Research Centre, in the U.S., found that 49% of smartphone users (18-29) used   messaging apps and 41% used apps that automatically delete sent messages. In a study by Edison Research and Triton Digital in March 2016, it was found that 72% of respondents aged 12-24 said they currently use Snapchat, up from 57% last year. Among this demographic, Snapchat has now surpassed Instagram usage, which itself has grown from 59% to 66%. According to another Pew study, 37% of people in that age range use Pinterest, 22% use LinkedIn, and 32% use Twitter. These figures would suggest that messaging is a more important form of publicly accessible social media for this age group. That said, 82% of people aged 18-29 said that they have a Facebook account, but I am suggesting that having an account is not the same as using an account, in the traditional sense. I’m suggesting, based on anecdotal evidence, that young users are now checking their Facebook accounts to see what others are posting, rather than creating content; photosharing, commenting, disliking and liking happen increasingly in closed, private, impermanent spaces, like Snapchat.

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There is little or no research, as yet, as to why young people are making this move. If I was to hazard a guess, I imagine the permanence of Facebook posts, that parents and indeed grandparents have Facebook profiles, and the fact that future employers, law enforcement and banks are examining Facebook profiles, would explain the attraction towards more ephemeral, personal modes of on-line communication.