Journal Name: Information, Communication & Society:
Volume 10, Number 5, October 2007
Online ISSN: 1468-4462, Print ISSN: 1369-118X
Reconfiguring Friendships: Social relationships and the Internet (p591 - 618)
Corinna Di Gennaro (Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA, USA); William H. Dutton (Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK)
Debate on the social role of the Internet has centred on whether its use will tend to isolate or connect individuals, undermining or reinforcing social ties. This study moves away from this focus on more or less connectivity to explore the degree to which people use the Internet to make new friends and, thereby, reconfigure their social networks. The analysis identifies those who create new ties through the Internet and investigates under what conditions these online ties migrate to face to face settings. The analysis is based on data from the 2005 Oxford Internet Survey (OxIS), a national probability sample survey of individuals aged 14 and over in Britain. The findings indicate that about 20 per cent of Internet users have met new friends online, and about half of these individuals go on to meet one or more of these virtual friends in person. Sociodemographic characteristics, such as being single, shape patterns of Internet use, and are related to the greater propensity of some individuals to make online social relationships. However, experience with the Internet and the ways people choose to use the Internet, such as for chatting or communicating more generally, are most directly associated with who makes new connections over the Internet and who does not. These findings suggest that the Internet plays an important role in reconfiguring the social networks of many users. Also, multivariate analyses indicate that the dynamics of online friendships are driven more by the idiosyncratic digital choices made by users of the Internet than by any mechanistic social or technological determinism.
Keywords: Social relationships; Internet use; friends; reconfiguration of social networks
Taking risks when communicating on the Internet: the role of offline social-psychological factors in young people's vulnerability to online risks (p619 - 644)
Sonia Livingstone (Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK); Ellen J. Helsper (Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK)
Children and young people encounter a range of risks on the internet relating to communication. Making friends online has attracted particular attention as a risky behaviour, especially when this leads to offline meetings, as has giving out personal information online. This article, based on the 'UK Children Go Online' survey, seeks to explain the online communication of 9-19-year-olds in terms of their offline socio-psychological characteristics (shyness, life satisfaction, risk-taking), family communication patterns and online behaviour/skills. Findings show that older teens engage in more online communication activities than do younger children and so encounter more communication risks. Although girls communicate more on the internet, this seems not to put them more at risk. It was found that children's offline social psychological characteristics, particularly their levels of life satisfaction and risk-taking, influence their online communication, with different online communication activities being predicted by different patterns of off- and online characteristics. There are weak indications that, in families which have a more conversational style of communication, teens may take fewer risks online, including a lower likelihood of meeting online friends offline. Multiple regression analyses show that those children and teens who are less satisfied with their lives and who have become more frequent and skilled internet users are more likely to value the internet as a communicative environment in which they feel more confident than they do offline, particularly in relation to the potential for anonymous communication. Since this in turn leads some into risky activities, the implications for research and policy are discussed.
Keywords: Children and young people; online communication; contact risks; anonymity; trust
The Networked Household (p645 - 670)
Tracy L. M. Kennedy (Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada); Barry Wellman (Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)
The authors argue that individuals, rather than family solidarities, have become the primary unit of household connectivity. Many households do not operate as traditional densely knit groups but as more sparsely knit social networks where individuals juggle their somewhat separate agendas and schedules. At a time when many people enact multiple, individual roles at home, in the community and at work, the authors ask: how do adult household members communicate with each other? How do adult household members use information and communication technologies (ICTs) to organize, communicate and coordinate their leisure and social behavior both inside and outside the home? Interviews and surveys conducted in 2004-2005 in the Toronto, Canada area of East York show that households remain connected - but as networks rather than solidary groups. The authors describe how networked individuals bridge their relationships and connect with each other inside and outside the home. ICTs have afforded household members the ability to go about on their separate ways while staying more connected - by mobile phone, email and IM - as well as by traditional landlines. In such ways, rather than pulling families apart, ICTs often facilitate communication, kinship and functional integration.
Keywords: Households; media; networks; family; Internet; children
University Students' Local And Distant Social Ties: Using and integrating modes of communication on campus (p671 - 693)
Anabel Quan-Haase (Faculty of Information and Media Studies/Department of Sociology, The University of Western Ontario, London, tON, Canada)
The use of the Internet has increased dramatically in recent years, with university students becoming one of the most dominant user groups. This study investigated how the Internet is integrated into university students' communication habits. The authors focused on how online (email and instant messaging) and mobile (cellphones and texting) modes of communication are used in the context of offline modes (FTF and telephone) to support students' local and distant social ties. Using a mixed methods approach that combined survey data from 268 Canadian university students with focus group data, a rich description was obtained of what modes of communication students use, how they integrate them to fulfill communication needs, and the implications of this integration for the maintenance of social ties. It was found that friends were the most important communication partners in students' everyday lives. Regardless of the type of social tie, instant messaging was used the most for communication. Because of their high cost, the cellphone and texting were used less. Increased distance between communication partners reduced communication - local communication was more frequent for both friends and relatives. While instant messaging and email were used less for contact with those faraway, the decrease was not as sharp as with in-person and telephone contact. In particular, instant messaging was used extensively for distant contact with friends - often daily. While online modes were used widely for local communication, it was evident that they also filled communication gaps with those faraway. Because they were inexpensive and readily available on campus, email and instant messaging were highly used by students and they facilitated a close integration of far-flung ties into university students' everyday lives.
Keywords: Computer-mediated communication; online communication; Internet; university students; social ties; instant messaging; email; cellphone; distance; communication patterns
Media use in long-distance friendships (p694 - 713)
Sonja Utz (Department of Communication Science, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
New media such as email and mobile phones have made it easier to maintain relationships over distances. The present paper examines which media people use to maintain long-distance friendships. The main focus lies on the comparison of email and phone. Media choice theories like media richness theory assume that media can be classified according to their richness, and that people choose the medium which fits best to the affordances of a specific task. The phone as richer medium should be preferred over email in the case of maintenance of long-distance friendships because it is easier to express emotions and to give immediate feedback via phone than via email. Email is an asynchronous medium and communication via email is therefore independent of space and time. Therefore, it can also be argued that email is preferred over the phone because it makes it easier to communicate across different work schedules or even time-zones. In two studies (Study 1 conducted in the Netherlands, Study 2 conducted in Germany) media use in long-distance friendships was measured. Across both studies, email was the most frequently used medium. In Study 1, an interesting asymmetric influence of closeness of the friendship emerged. The closer the friendship, the more emails were written in total, but the less the relative use of email. Instead, the percentage of phone calls increased. Study 2 aimed to replicate and explain this finding and assessed also the content of the phone call or emails. Whereas the intimateness of the emails did not change with increased closeness of the friendship, the intimateness of the phone calls increased with increasing closeness of the friendship. This result indicates that people use email primarily for staying in touch, whereas important personal matters are still discussed on the phone.
Keywords: Media use; interpersonal relationships; computer-mediated communication
Neighborhoods in the Network Society the e-Neighbors study (p714 - 748)
Keith N. Hampton (Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA)
This study examines whether the Internet is increasingly a part of everyday neighborhood interactions, and in what specific contexts Internet use affords the formation of local social ties. Studies of Internet and community have found that information and communication technologies provide new opportunities for social interaction, but that they may also increase privatism by isolating people in their homes. This paper argues that while the Internet may encourage communication across great distances, it may also facilitate interactions near the home. Unlike traditional community networking studies, which focus on bridging the digital divide, this study focuses on bridging the divide between the electronic and parochial realms. Detailed, longitudinal social network surveys were completed with the residents of four contrasting neighborhoods over a period of three years. Three of the four neighborhoods were provided with a neighborhood email discussion list and a neighborhood website. Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) was used to model over time the number of strong and weak ties, emailed, met in-person, and talked to on the telephone. The neighborhood email lists were also analyzed for content. The results suggest that with experience using the Internet, the size of local social networks and email communication with local networks increases. The addition of a neighborhood email list further increases the number of weak neighborhood ties, but does not increase communication multiplexity. However, neighborhood effects reduce the influence of everyday Internet use, as well as the experimental intervention, in communities that lack the context to support local tie formation.
Keywords: Community; social networks; weak ties; computer mediated communication; political communication; Internet; neighborhood effects; social ecology; e-government; local media; community network; informatics
Networked Individualism of Urban Residents: Discovering the communicative ecology in inner-city apartment buildings (p749 - 772)
Marcus Foth & Greg Hearn (Institute for Creative Industries and Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia)
Certain patterns of interaction between people point to networks as an adequate conceptual model to characterize some aspects of social relationships mediated or facilitated by information and communication technology. Wellman proposes a shift from groups to networks and describes the ambivalent nature inherent in an egocentric yet still well-connected portfolio of sociability with the term 'networked individualism'. In this paper, qualitative data from an action research study of social networks of residents in three inner-city apartment buildings in Australia are used to provide empirical grounding for the theoretical concept of networked individualism. However, this model focuses on network interaction rather than collective interaction. The authors propose 'communicative ecology' as a concept which integrates the three dimensions of 'online and offline', 'global and local' as well as 'collective and networked'. They present their research on three layers of interpretation (technical, social and discursive) to deliver a rich description of the communicative ecology they found, that is, the way residents negotiate membership, trust, privacy, reciprocity, permeability and social roles in person-to-person mediated and direct relationships. They find that residents seamlessly traverse between online and offline communication; local communication and interaction maintains a more prominent position than global or geographically dispersed communication; and residents follow a dual approach which allows them to switch between collective and networked interaction depending on purpose and context.
Keywords: New media; communicative ecology; urban development
(This journal is available online: http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/1369118x.html)
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