Tag: research

Social media studies: A new approach?

We live in an age of unprecedented intimacy with computer technology. Aside from computers at school, at work and at home, an increasing number of us are tethered to omnipresent smart devices. This is certainly true for the current cohort of young adults. In the U.S., in 2014, 85% of young people aged 18-24 owned smart devices (Nielsen, 2016), while in Ireland, RedC reported in 2012, that 65% of the emerging adults owned a smart phone (RedC, 2016); by 2014 this had increased to 85% (Thinkhouse, 2015). It is estimated that young Irish internet users spend up to six hours per day connected to devices (IPSOS/MRBI, 2014), with three hours spent social networking. And “we are not alone”. According to GlobalWebIndex, in 2014, the average global user spent more than 6 hours online, compared to 5.5 hours in 2012; almost 2 hours were spent on social networking compared to just 1.5 in 2012.
How do you spend 2 hours a day on social media? Well, it was found that, in the U.K., young people perform “checking behaviours” on smart devices up to 85 times per day (Andrews et al, 2015). That’s a start.

Research into young adults and their use of social media paints a partial and fragmented picture. Studies generally correlate social media use with outcomes such as self-esteem (Valkenburg & Peter, 2011), grade point average (Kirschner & Karpinski, 2010), emotions (Bevan, Pfyl, & Barclay, 2012), mood (Sagioglu & Greitemeyer, 2014), life satisfaction (Krasnova, Wenninger, Widjaja, & Bruxmann, 2013), social comparison (de Vries & Kühne, 2015) etc. Researchers reveal a host of undesirable social, emotional and behavioural consequences; decreased motivation (Flanigan & Babchuk, 2015), poor academic performance and psychosocial maladjustment (Cerretani, Iturrioz, & Garay, 2016), envy and depression (Appel, Gerlach, & Crusuis, 2016), body surveillance and appearance comparisons (Tiggemann & Slater, 2013), and cyberbullying (Gahagan, Vaterlaus, & Frost, 2016). That said, social media has also been shown to have positive consequences for the user; positive psychological and physiological experiences (Mauri et al, 2011), belongingness (Nadkarni & Hofmann , 2012), relationship formation and maintenance (Ellison et al, 2007), enhancing self-esteem (Gonzales & Hancock, 2011), reaffirming social bonds (Knowles et al, 2015), and socialisation functions (Barker & White, 2010), have all been related to social media use.

Important and all as these findings are though (and they are), it has been argued that the scope of this research is limited, that gaps exist in the current understanding, and with new platforms appearing regularly, with changing features and design, more integrated research examining the positive and negative consequences of social media use is required (Caers et al, 2013). Moreover, there have been calls for research that provides a coherent understanding of the drivers and the positive consequences of social media use; research which explores how “social media experiences” stimulate, help young people establish and maintain relationships or provide optimism (Finkelhor, 2014). Given the levels of engagement and immersion, and given that we have only gained an incomplete, disjointed understanding of the consequences of the social media experience, it is vitally important, particularly for young people and their development, that we gain a complete understanding of the broad range of positive and negative, social, emotional and behavioural outcomes of use.

Studies in the social media arena reveal a clear picture of the assumptions made by researchers. Research tends to be survey based, cross-sectional, conveniently sampled and correlational. Concepts, constructs and definitions are driven by adult researchers with limited knowledge of the lived experience, and whose interests do not necessarily coincide with those of the user. Participants, by virtue of having been born between certain dates are assumed to be “digital natives”(Prensky, 2001); uniformly familiar with, reliant on and immersed in internet technology. Simply being a member of a social networking site but not knowledge of what features of the site one is using, is enough to qualify one for inclusion in studies. Interestingly, comparisons between users and non-users are rarely, if ever, made. The list goes on! And these shortcomings have consequences.

Cohen (1972), said that “moral panic” occurs when a group in society is portrayed in the media as representing a threat to the norms, practices and values of society. The behaviour of this subgroup is sensationalised and magnified by its portrayal in the media. Public discourse around the behaviour is driven by the media, without regard to the actual “panic” being experienced, or evidence to support the phenomenon. Indeed, since this definition was offered, a new and worrying trend has emerged; sensationalist interpretations and dissemination of scientific or pseudoscientific findings by popular press. In this regard, the negative effects of social media use by young people is well publicised, with articles, based on findings like those mentioned above, appearing almost daily in mainstream media warning of the dangers of use, of excessive use, of “addiction” or of particular platforms.

Technological ingenuity and its evolution increasingly effects how we interact with each other, and as a collective. The social, emotional, behavioural and broader cultural consequences are just beginning to be felt. With our increased engagement with and exposure to platforms and their content, digital media is changing us, individually and organisationally, and young people are at the vanguard of that change. On-line surveys and correlations are no longer good enough, nor is it good enough for us to assume that all young people are “digital natives”. It is now time that research exploring the new hyper-connected landscape and its inhabitants reflected these changes.

To situate research findings in the world of the user, cognisant of the fact that she is using dynamic, evolving media, in a socially connected environment, novel research methods are required. First though, we need to examine the assumptions underpinning young people and their status as “digital natives”. Is mere membership of a social networking community enough to draw conclusions about the psychological state of the user? Secondly, I would argue that we need contextual, user-defined examinations, combined with research and theory, to provide us with accurate information. It is no longer adequate to correlate the use of social media with complex psychological constructs using online, self-report surveys; publication of this type of research is misleading. Certainly, taking into account the perspective and social interactivity of young people; the shifting, dynamic landscape of social media and that fact that users experience both positive and negative consequences, will ensure that correct, appropriate and relevant information enters the public domain.

FoMO and the “wished for” life

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I have been thinking recently about the nature of FoMO and its relationship to frustration.

At the heart of it, frustration lies between what we have and what we don’t have; between the life we are living and the life we want to live. There is a dissonance between our real world and our imagined worlds and I am wondering whether it is possible that it is this discrepancy which causes the negative consequences which we have discovered in our research (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-one-lifespan/201510/facebook-and-the-fear-missing-out-fomo).

In this modern, digitized world it seems that we are constantly stalked by potential, choices and options for a better life; the possibilities are endless and our perfect self is just a tap or a swipe away. But, as is more often the case, our actual life gets in the way and we are frustrated. Social media, and particularly Facebook, displays in living colour, an illusion of the possible, what we need to satisfy the incongruity and what would undoubtedly give us pleasure. Somewhere, right in our hands or on our computer, there is a potential life where our needs are being met, where our “wished for” life is playing out.

FoMO, by definition, is a feeling of apprehension one feels when one sees, on social media, that others are enjoying an experience from which one is absent. Could it be that these experiences are the unmet needs of our “wished for” life and that this absence is what produces the range of emotions, the jealousy, the judgement, the disconnection which we have uncovered?

On the other hand, isn’t our “wished for” life important? Does it not inform the life we live? Without it, where would ambition, determination, hope and courage spring from? It is in the mire of the discord between the actual and the imagined that we see beauty, that we recognise potential and that we prepare for action. Frustration at not living our “wished for” life, whether it arises externally (our social world or the environment) or internally (our personal deficiencies), shows us what we want, what will give us pleasure; this frustration can be inspirational.

Paper never refused ink

“Digital dependence ‘eroding human memory'” (http://www.bbc.com/news/education-34454264)

“Digital amnesia on the rise as we outsource our memory to the web” (http://www.sciencealert.com/digital-amnesia-on-the-rise-as-we-outsource-our-memory-to-the-web)

“Digital amnesia leaves us vulnerable” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/digital-amnesia-kaspersky-1.3262600)

Over the last few days, a number of news websites and news organisations around the world have run a story about a piece of research conducted by Kaspersky Lab. The study, pithily entitled “The rise and impact of digital amnesia: Why we need to protect what we no longer remember”, seems to have received widespread support from these organisations, in that the results have been published without any of the journalists questioning the methodology used in the study or for that matter the results themselves. Terrifyingly, the study states that “Connected devices enrich our lives but they have also given rise to the potentially risky phenomenon of digital amnesia…increasingly relying on devices to store information as our memory leaves us immensely vulnerable should the device be lost or stolen or the data compromised — particularly if we are out and about.”

I don’t know about you, but my risky behaviour as left me feeling “immensely vulnerable”, right now and I’m afraid to go “out and about”. I might just close the curtains…..

As Jennifer Aniston would say, “Here’s the science bit”: The researchers surveyed 6,000 male and female consumers, aged between 16 and 55+, with 1,000 from each of the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Benelux . The survey was undertaken online in February/March 2015.

That sounds like a fairly powerful study and given the number of people involved, the results should be very believable.

The only problem is that the participants in the study were only asked if they could recall phone numbers and it turned out that across Europe, up to 60% of adults could phone the house they lived in aged 10; but not their children (53%), or the office (51%) without first looking up the number. Around a third couldn’t call their partners.

Thankfully, Kaspersky Lab (short for “laboratory”….science-ey), a cyber-security firm, “is committed to helping people understand the risks their data could be exposed to and empowering them to tackle those risks”. Phew!

Memory is not only incredibly complex, but it has a limited capacity; we forget things that we don’t need to remember in order to remember things that we do. The fantastically named researchers Storm & Stone, examined if saving information to a device would effect the ability to learn and remember new information. Results showed that saving one file before studying a new file significantly improved memory for the contents of the new file. The authors suggest that “saving” provides people with the ability to dump memory onto the environment in order to reduce the interference it might cause to new learning and storing new information. Without going into more research and looking at these findings, would it not be as easy to say “Incredibly efficient human system dumps useless information” or “Human memory capacities enhanced by mobile devices”?

Digital Dependence?

imageWe live in a digital age. Whether it’s with the newest Smartphone or the latest laptop, technology and communicating with that technology are an all-pervading feature of life, particularly for young people. It seems that using communications technology and communication through social networking has become as acceptable as communicating face-to-face. In fact, young people have become so used to interacting with each other using social media, that this form of communication has become legitimate and indeed, vital.
In a recent survey conducted by Thinkhouse, it was found that 96% of Irish 15-35 year olds owned their own smartphone. Of that group, 98% used Facebook on those devices, with 90% checking their phone “when they wake up”, 87% checking in “on public transport” and 84% “while watching T.V. A majority of respondents (57%) to the survey even went so far as to say that they were more likely to check their phone “on the loo” than while on a date.
In July 2012, the IACP released a statement regarding social media addiction. The press release, quoting a “leading Irish counsellor”, warned of the dangers of social media addiction. The release likened the addiction to that of alcohol and tobacco; it claimed that relationships, jobs and studies would be adversely effected; that by giving into the urges to use social media, users were likely to be depressed and to suffer from low self-esteem (IACP, 2012). This press release, based on the finding of one study, was published with the headline “Does someone need to open a social media rehab?” on one popular website, Joe.ie. Further, the Addiction Counsellors of Ireland warn, without providing evidence, that internet addiction can cause anxiety and sexual addiction (Addiction Counsellors of Ireland, 2014).
In July 2014, The Irish Independent published an article claiming that social media and particularly the insatiable desire for connection (often referred to as FoMO – Fear of missing out) “is having an adverse effect on our mental health” (Whelan, 2014). This article, entitled “How social media is hitting our mental health”, goes on to state that social media usage can exacerbate pre-existing mental health problems and the author foresees a time when web services will have to carry a health warning. These alarming warnings seem to be based on a number of assumptions; that the online world is a dangerous place; that resultant outcomes, which manifest in the digital environment, are caused by that environment and that specialised solutions are required.
Social networks and constant high speed communication provide many benefits, allowing young users to feel connected and socially involved. Though the benefits of these technologies (almost instant communication, security, self awareness, self presentation, autonomy, mastery, competence etc) are many, there are consequences to living in the digital age which we are still coming to terms with.
That said, in their most recent Annual Review of Research, Livingstone & Smith (2014) point out that serious and repetitive online bullying occurs to 5% of young people, less than in face-to-face interactions. Further, they find that the majority of young people are not viewing pornography, with fewer still sending explicit sexual messages and images. Furthermore, only a small subset of the 2% of young people who “may” receive sexual solicitations are victimised. Additionally, the authors state that the digital world is no more dangerous than the actual world which young people inhabit. fb
Perhaps the problems posed by technology are merely a reflection of normal social interactions and that, rather than focusing research and resources on internet safety, efforts should be targeted on what excites and enthuses young people about technology and what benefits they derive from platforms like Facebook. Conceivably, more holistic, emotional intelligence and media training would be more appropriate than issuing sensationalist, often groundless warnings.