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«NETWORKING IN EVERYDAY LIFE by Bernard J. Hogan A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy ...»

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Consider that if a person has a device that can be used in 90 percent of populated spaces at any time with at least nine different “media” each with their own distinct affordances then perhaps socially negotiated norms and behaviour patterns are the only possible “constants” left.2 I know of network members who are very active on all of these systems, with only some overlap between who is most active on one and who is most active on the other. In light of this situation, suggesting such technology is an isolating force is almost foolhardy. But to suggest that it has not changed how

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At present, the academic debate about social isolation has been mostly settled— social media do not push people away from each other, but are embedded in everyday life. The social isolation debate began in the utopian/dystopian punditry of the Internet boom nineties. The first major negative piece was Kraut et al.’s earliest HomeNet study that showed a relationship between alienation and Internet use (1998). Subsequent HomeNet work suggests this finding was as much a matter of historical contingency as it was due to the Internet in general (Kraut, Kiesler, Boneva, Cummings, Presently, my spouse’s iPhone can handle cell voice, cell text, cell answering machine, email, instant messaging, and dedicated applications for Twitter, blogging, Facebook, and online sharing of geographically tagged photos.

CHAPTER 8. CONCLUSION: NETWORKING AS ACCESSIBILITY 217

Helgeson, and Crawford, 2001). An excellent inversion of HomeNet is Hampton and Wellman’s Netville study showing how neighbours in a semi-wired suburb were more sociable if they had high-speed Internet than if they did not (Hampton and Wellman, 2003). Again follow up analysis revealed it was a historical contingency derived from the conditions of the natural experiment (where two-thirds of the homes were wired) as much as factors related to the Internet in general (Hampton, 2007; Arnold, Gibbs, and Wright, 2003).

Other studies have followed in this utopian/dystopian framework using a host of methods, and almost unequivocally positioning their work in relation to the potential for social isolation. From time-use data (Robinson, 2002; Nie, Hillygus, and Erbring, 2002), panel surveys (Katz and Rice, 2003), national samples (Veenhof, 2006), and network approaches (Boase et al., 2006; Wellman et al., 2006), most scholars have found that Internet users are perhaps differently social rather than less social or even asocial.

For example, Katz and Rice (2002) show that Internet users appear to access more nonlocal ties, and less local ones. Robinson et al. (2002) show that individuals seem to cut back most on asocial television watching in order to make up for time on the Internet.

Veenhof (2006) shows that Internet users seem to spend slightly less time with family, while still enjoying similar levels of social contact overall. In general, differently social is a stronger claim than less social.

Accessing these alters may become more problematic as people tend towards specific and customized approaches to the use of which medium and when—towards being “differently social”. But this problematic issue does not lead to social isolation as many scholars have posited and then discredited—for a further review see Shklovski et al. (2006). Considering normlessness rather than isolation may help explain the disconnect between McPherson et al.’s claim that the ties that bind are presently fraying (based on an analysis of who people discuss important matters with McPherson et al.,

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weak ties and heavy email users seem to have more ties rather than fewer (Boase et al., 2006).

McPherson and colleagues used “discuss important matters” as a datum for network size, despite issues that important matters are ill-defined (Bearman and Parigi,

2004) and that those people who ask no one are not, as one might contend, actually socially isolated. By contrast, Boase used a more encompassing measure of “closeness”, but as in this study, closeness suffers from biases, as do the instruments (Hogan et al., 2007).

On McPherson et al.’s side are also scholars such as Putnam, who bemoan the decline of voluntary associations while implicitly assuming they are the true sources of social capital and civic engagement (Putnam, 2000). On Boase’s side are scholars such as Ellison et al. who show that individuals are using social media sites to harness social capital in effective and highly efficient ways (Ellison, Steinfeld, and Lampe, 2007). New media are not causing individuals to become more isolated, although they are changing the rules for how people maintain contact. They are fragmenting our sense of the best way to access people, rather than interfering with our ability to access people in general.

Harmonizing all these analyses with the findings herein, one might say that many people are more accessible than ever (at least objectively), but it is quite a trying task to access the right people at the right time in the right way. Thus, we may simply interact with those who are more accessible, with whom we may not be interested in discussing important matters. (To be cheeky, why discuss important matters anyway, when any answer is just a Google click away?) Yet these individuals may be excellent sources of social capital more generally, especially if they come from diverse backgrounds or different parts of one’s social network (Erickson, 1996, 2003).





I believe that a focus on anomie may give a fresh start to the analysis of the so

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(the personal network) which always appears in surveys and interviews as a solid and all-too-reified object, we focus on the process of maintaining relationships first, and the structure of said relationships second. That is, it is not the ends that have seen the predicted dramatic shift, but the means. Then we can ask—is maintaining ties getting more complicated? Is the current media environment simply too individually governed? How can we make best use of new media in order to preserve the benecial affordances without dealing with unnecessary complexity and a further erosion of cohesive social norms such as public and private time (or what can we put in their place other than specific person-by-person instructions like “he is accessible by email all evening, but do not call after 10pm” or “when she says she is busy in instant messenger, it really means she does not want a random conversation, but she will let me talk to her”, c.f., Quan-Hasse and Collins, 2008)?

8.3 Limitations and caveats Before ending, I want to offer some caveats and limitations of this story. This work is limited in scope even if it’s ambitious in theory. And hopefully, this situation will have opened up new research questions as well as answering some older ones.

The most important caveat is in the research site itself. East York is not the world, nor is it even a fair representation of the city. It is ethnically diverse, but it is still merely the east side of a city, between the suburbs and the downtown core. As Michelson (1977) reports, the social activity patterns for individuals from the suburbs are markedly different from the downtown core. Individuals have to travel further to meet in person in the suburbs, but this is often compensated by pleasant surroundings, open yards and less bustle. Additionally, media are employed differently in different countries whether we refer to mobile email and web on cell phones in Japan (Miyata, Boase, Wellman, and Ikeda, 2005), cell phone texting in Europe (Castells et al.,

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son, 2007).

However, these are specific media, whereas this has been a pan media exercise.

Previous pan media work such as Kim et al. (2007) have shown patterns that would be entirely in tune with this work, even if they approach the analysis from a slightly different angle (that of coupling by role, rather than activity). In both cases, one can still interpret the use of multiple media in concert as an exercise in regulating and fostering accessibility.

The second caveat is in the sort of inferential connections made herein. As mentioned in Chapter 5, I can report on rates of media use for planning, and frequencies of certain social activities, but not rates of media for planning specific activities. So while those who drop-in daily might be frequently planning with their alters, they might actually be planning something entirely different and unmeasured (although it is not likely). Similarly, the analysis of group structure and social contact implies that individuals will be recalled either if they are frequently contacted or part of a perceptual structure. This assumes that others are not recalled. It makes sense, although there is room to do a more effective analysis of this claim by comparing the sociocognitive network to the network as exists in behavioral studies.

A third caveat is the conceptual leap that individuals actually want to network with their most strongly tied alters. I do not think that this is a guarantee, as close ties might provide redundant information (hence the strength of weak ties; Granovetter, 1973), or entail unwanted social obligations (Portes, 1998; Uehara, 1990). However, I still believe this is a safe assumption. Also, despite the fact that I undermined Haythornthwaite’s media multiplexity theory in everyday life, I think her findings offer a persuasive case that individuals do want to network with their closer ties all else being equal. In homogenous contexts where individuals have similar access to all their ties, it seems that individuals do, in fact, network with others with whom they feel closer

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This points to a potential for further study of this issue combining a number of methods ranging from time-use data and network name generators to thick descriptions of networking processes as people decide in situ which media to use and when.

I believe several questions posed herein could easily be expanded:

1. What sort of discrepancies exist between a person’s expectations of a new social medium before adoption and their expectations for this medium after a period of habitual use?

Based on the arguments herein, we should expect people to adopt based on an expectation that it will bridge gaps with more closely tied alters, but that they eventually will use it with those who are simply the most frequent or accessible.

2. Does the relationship between planning and ad hoc activities persist in more geographically contained places? Based on the arguments herein, media use unsettles previous normative expectations for behavior settings. Places where people would rarely call ahead before arriving will now do so after wholesale adoption of new media. This process should not be sensitive to the geography of the space.

3. Will prolonged use of multiple media eventually lead to media-specific triadic closure rather than role-specific closure? In order to harmonize one’s understanding of who is accessible by what media with one’s appreciation of who is close, will individuals increasingly close gaps on specific media rather than in person? Thus, individuals may link together disparate friends on Facebook or instant messaging simply because both are active at the same time? Or will the personalization of these media lead to ever more fragmentation of access and contact?

8.4 A shift in networking, or new tools for old needs?

One outstanding “big-picture” question about this work is whether it speaks to a larger social shift in the way individuals network, or merely elaborates on pre-existing

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not entirely clear what its consequences are going to be. This is the shift towards more diversified and partial forms of networking based on differential access between network members. That is, people will continually fine tune their networking habits to include a hodgepodge of telephone contact, cell, email, instant messenger, social software, and blogging. But people do not engage in these activities with the same gusto.

It is very difficult for me to ignore a knock at my door, but it is easy to not log into Facebook for a few weeks or on to my instant messenger client for as much time. I assume that others feel similarly, as there are wide variations in the patterns of online communication, even for those who are connected to the Internet. This makes life more complex, even as it makes social activities more specific and personally refined.

Wellman has already discussed this shift via his theory of networked individualism (Wellman, 2002). Therein, he assumes that a shift in how people network (using partial coverage of multiple media) will likely be associated with a shift in network structure. Thus far, I did not find evidence of a relationship between fragmented networks and particular networking strategies. There is probably fragmentation on a per-media basis, with some alters being most accessible by cell phone, others by email and so forth, but individuals still consider their network in terms of cohesive groups, roles, reciprocal relations and so forth. Moreover, there is probably a threshold to how fragmented a network can get or will get. Only in the most abstract and dyadic world could one envision a population whose members have network connections that are totally sparse. Triadic closure is not a medium or historically specific phenomenon but a general aspect of how individuals conceive of their ties. The same can be said for many of the cognitive biases inherent in network recall. What has perhaps changed about network structure as a consequence is the polarization of network size and responsibility for network management. As I indicated in chapter 5, one small group with much media use had by far the largest networks, and significantly so. For them,

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the rest there was little evidence that networks varied by networking.

Perhaps a more parsimonious way to talk about this shift is to couch it in terms of access, rather than networks. In such a case, it is a shift from access based on spatiotemporal regularities towards media-specific access. If one is not persuaded by the data thus far, perhaps a final personal anecdote will suffice.



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