Category: Twitter

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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Some thoughts on an ecological perspective of social media research.

Some thoughts on an ecological perspective of social media research.

In considering a framework for research into wellbeing and developmental outcomes of young people, in the context of their relationship with social media, Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological system (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Bronfenbrenner  & Crouter, 1983; Bronfenbrenner & Morrris, 1989) provides a useful perspective. Given the ubiquity of the media and young people’s seeming immersion in it, the significance which Bronfenbrenner places on daily or “molar” activities is particularly useful. In outlining, for instance, how “molar” activities are a reflection of development, differences in age, gender, context, time and place are focused on. Indeed, when considering development, how it is influenced and what it influences, ability, skills, behaviour, relationships and the development of identity all have a place.

A key concern of social media researchers in the last few years, for example, has been “time spent” using social media. Time is seen as a useful metric by which to make assumptions about associations between platforms and the psychosocial lives of users. If we take an ecological perspective, “molar” activities, which necessarily include social media use, are both a cause and a consequence of development. Young social media users reason, decide and choose how to spend their time and these decisions are based on their goals, interests and temperament. Not only this, but these decisions are not made in a vacuum, the young person’s context, family situation, social relationships, all play significant roles in time spent, whether use is active or passive, skilled or not. Additionally, Weisner (2002) identifies dimensions of activity settings where the culture of young people emerges; these could also be included in this ecosystem. These include others who are present when the activity is occurring, what  the activity is, why and how the activity is carried out.

Bronfenbenner allows us to see young social media users situated in a multi-layered context. From here we see users subject to influences that operate in their daily lives; from immediate to more abstracted contextual forces. The context in which the young user moves, is seen as a process, rather than an a processor. So, when we consider time as a metric to examine associations between social media use and wellbeing or developmental outcomes, not only would age and gender be considered, but recognition would also be given to the social class (what type of equipment or connectivity the user can afford), the device, the connectivity provided, the affordances and constraints of the life of the young person, who is being connected to and when, where these connections are being made and why and, importantly, what type of activity is occurring. If this were not complex enough, the ecological system requires us to think of the bidirectionality of contextual influences. So, rather than imagining social media users as passive recipients of content and being effected, we see them actively shaping their social media experiences, the social media landscape and consequently, their development.

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Figure 1: Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model.

Bronfenbrenners Ecological Developmental Model frames thinking about young social media users, consequences of use and interactions with other systems in the ecology.

Microsystems: The young social media user (individual characteristics, personality, temprament) sits at the innermost level of the system. This system involves interactions with peers, family, education provider and neighbourhood. Positioning internet technology, social media or different platforms here, helps to consider user/family, user/peer, user/school, user/platform contexts when thinking about wellbeing or developmental outcomes. We can also imagine interactions between this level and other levels. Furthermore, when one considers that each social media platform offers the user different social media experiences, with different affordances, one could imagine discrete microsystems for each platform.

Mesosystems: At the meso level, connections with other social contexts are made. At this level, those from the user’s microsystem interact with other nodes of influence; a friend may attend a different school or college and interact with others who do not belong to the user’s network. Similarly, parents, teachers and other influential adults within the microsysytem can interact with each other, bringing back to the microsystem artefacts of those interactions, thereby influencing interactions within the microsystem. It is easy to imagine Facebook “friends” interacting with others in their own separate social networks.

Exosystems: Young people are often effected by influences which are outside their control and experience. In the exosystem influences like parental employment, school internet policy,  and government regulation will effect social media use and the outcomes. For example, the type of technology available to the young person, if not in employment, is dependent on the employment status of a parent and if they can afford to purchase a smartphone or afford high-speed broadband. Government policy around availability of certain platforms effects usage and effects; certain governments restrict access to Facebook, WahatsApp etc., while others provide citizens with unlimited, free highspeed broadband. Both of these policy decisions effect users.

Macrosystems: At the more abstract level, wellbeing and developmental outcomes can be influenced by the legal, political and regulatory systems along with the values within the community, attitudes and norms. Importantly, again here, one should remember the bidirectioality of the ecological system. So, norms, attitudes, and values of a young social media user are influenced by others, but the norms, attitudes and values of young people can, in turn, influence others.

An ecological perspective highlights the complexity of researching wellbeing and developmental outcomes of social media. Importantly, this perspective also reminds us to consider proximal or more distal variables, how young people interact with other systems and, we are obliged to be cognisant of the bidirectionality of those interactions. Finally, when thinking about adaptive and maladaptive consequences of social media use, larger (government policy or platform developer ethical standards), abstract (societal values and attitudes), and sociohistorical systems (the changes that occur inside and outside the young person’s life over time) have a place in discussions.

 

References

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Harvard University Press; Cambridge, MA.

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. (1998). The ecology of developmental processes. In: Damon W, Lerner R, editors. Handbook of child psychology. Vol. 4: Theories of development. Wiley; New York. pp. 999–1058.

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Crouter, A. (1983). The evolution of environmental models in developmental research. In: Mussen P, editor. The handbook of child psychology. Vol. 1, Theories of development. Wiley; New York. pp. 358–414.

Weisner, T. (2002). Ecocultural understanding of children’s developmental pathways. Human Development, 45, 275–281.

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.