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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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tion that can be given to the individual and the actual representation of the information as given. To act on an informational affordance is to act on the representation that is given in a way that conforms to one’s expectation of what that information means. In social terms, a wall calendar affords information to whomever is in the room. The objective information may be terse (like someone writing “Fido 2:30” on a calendar, meaning the veterinary appointment at that time), but it provides a cue as to when events are taking place. Furthermore, this example highlights how a single act (writing on a calendar) exists at a nexus of affordances—it shows a relation, a place, a time and the purpose. But the example also shows how the volume of information can vary. If that calendar was online it might have additional features that provide additional information. For example, clicking on “Fido 2:30” might take the user to the vet’s homepage or to a larger “event” page with directions, notes (such as a description of the trip’s purpose, or a note to also pick up dog food). Hence the online calendar gives more information, that is, more perceptual cues for action. Is the online calendar therefore better? No. Some may perceive it as overkill, others will find it too complicated and others still will prefer to have this information in a shared location like a kitchen rather than in a private location like a personal computer. The goal here is not primarily normative (as if I were a salesperson for online software). The goal is to suggest that different media present information differently to individuals, and therefore present differential cues for action.

2.5.2 Relational affordances Apart from the specific information that is transmitted socially, are the perceivable cues about the relationship available in any specific medium or social context. These cues may be semiotic in nature (such as cues about status, role, relationship history), or they may be structural. What distinguishes them from informational affordances is

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action or context.

If one is at a basketball game, informational affordances present cues such as who is winning and how much time is left. Relational affordances, by contrast, indicate who is the coach, the point guard or referee. Where informational affordances refer to content, relational affordances refer to specific roles. These kinds of affordances work well with the classic notion of a behavior setting from ecobehavioral science (itself a form of environmental psychology). Ecobehavioral science starts from the premise that one may learn more about a person’s behavior from the setting than from the individual’s psychological make-up. Settings are well codified contexts with a spacetime locus, and a series of roles that define functional unfolding of events. A lecture is a behavior setting, with pupils and lecturer. It does not require a specific pupil or specific lecturer, although it does require people to fill these specific roles. The same can be said for a basketball game or even a trip to the pharmacist.

Meeting someone at a party indicates a different relationship and a different interaction than meeting them at one’s house. Even if it is the very same house, for the fact that the people and the ‘behaviour setting’ have changed (Barker, 1968; Wicker, 1979). Both settings give perceptual cues, such as who is the host, who is a frequent talker or well connected. These sorts of interactions may appear obvious, but imagine if life was conducted via telephone—all these perceptions of social structure would be absent, since only dyadic connections (and the occasional three-way call) would be available to the individual, and the passive cues about who else is talking to whom would be absent. Such passive cues of relational structure may be one of the key benefits of conferences—who attends who else’s lectures, or is seen in the hall together.

By perceiving these cues about different relationships academics get to learn about potential collaborators, third parties, reviewers, etc...

Relational social affordances are undergoing significant flux in the last few years

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messenger and social software alter the user’s relationship to time and space (hence the pronouncements of the ‘death of distance’ (Cairncross, 1997), or Ling’s concept of the softening of time (Ling, 2004). Yet these media also include novel ways of perceiving relationships between individuals. These sorts of affordances are one of the cornerstones of Wellman’s Networked Individualism. Therein, he refers to a long-term societal shift from door-to-door interaction, to place-to-place interaction and finally person-to-person interaction (Wellman, 2001b). This shift not only refers to a difference in the spatial conditions, but in the relational conditions. Place-to-place refers to the fact that telephones and letter mail facilitate contact between houses and offices.

I may pick up my spouse’s mail, while my spouse may answer a phone call for me.

Thus I can perceive who is sending letters to my spouse and vice versa.

Person-to-person networking implies a different set of ways for perceiving ties between individuals, and different, personalized, ways of interacting with these individuals. For example, email offers a relational affordance of being able to send directly to specific individuals with the understanding that the email is for that particular person or set of persons. What we perceive in email addresses are either broad groups of individuals (mailing lists) or specific lists of individuals for whom a message is distinctly targeted. Email offers two modes for this sort of behaviour—carbon copy and blind carbon copy. To receive a carbon copy (cc) message is to also receive the cue that this message is not necessarily for you directly, but that the sender wanted to bring it to your attention. Blind carbon copy (bcc) means that other recipients are not aware that you have been sent a message. Bcc’d messages are rarely used, but are often considered a sensible and common strategy for inviting people to a party (ironically, this is where one seeks to undermine a relational affordance of email by intentionally inhibiting the perception of who else is, or may, attend). Since affordances are acted upon, in this case one acts upon the perception of being invited by a specific individual, not

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Instant messenger also has unique relational affordances, most notably that of the status indicator. When one signs in to an instant messenger client, this information is sent to a specially tailored list of individuals. This list is told that the person has just “come online” and is therefore available for chatting. All of the major instant messaging clients (descendants of the all-but-abandoned ICQ instant messaging client) allow individuals to have varying status, generally either stating that the individual is available or present-but-busy. However, they also vary in who gets this message. On Microsoft’s platform (the dominant one in Canada), one must be on a person’s list to see their status and whether or not they are online. On Yahoo’s platform (one of the dominant ones in the US), anyone can view a person’s online status, but they still need to be on the list in order to chat. Finally, an emerging client, Google’s “GTalk”, allows anyone to view anyone else’s status as long as they were specifically added or the two had an email conversation. This latter strategy fits between Yahoo’s “all public” and Microsoft’s “only specific friends” techniques in typical Google style (which is to say it is a smart strategy, but done by algorithms rather than humans).

Relational social affordances are so much an obvious part of participating in behaviour settings that it is easy to forget how complicated they really are, and the sort of trouble new media designers are having replicating relational affordances in the absence of settings. The fact that I can be in a room with a celebrity, but never get to walk up and talk to them, or that certain people always sit near each other in church are perceptual cues for how to act in these settings. Yet, when one moves from behaviour settings where roles are neatly prescribed and tied to context towards mediated communication outside of behaviour settings, it become clear that media only do a reasonable job. Instant messenger tells people when they are available or busy, but not who else they are talking to. Newer email systems autocomplete email addresses (thereby indicating a prior history), but they are still abysmal at providing

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is far easier to tell if someone is occupied when knocking on their door than when calling them on the telephone. The present challenge for the designers of these systems is described as “seamlessly integrated contextual awareness” (Bolchini, Curino, Quintarelli, Schreiber, and Tanca, 2007). Indeed, this is not particularly problematic in everyday life. The spatial affordances of a particular setting as one shifts from place to place offer a seamless transitional experience and also an awareness of context. Media do not yet offer the same features, and nowhere is this more apparent than in relational social affordances. I return to relational affordances again when operationalizing the core questions of this thesis, as they are probably the most significant way in which one can differentiate who is accessible from who is close (or demonstrate how poorly media do at differentiating who is accessible from who is close).

2.5.3 Temporal affordances Kant considered time one of the two transcendental constants (space being the other).

It exists outside of human affairs, uncontrollable and ever-present. We now know that time is not necessarily constant in very macro (read: interstellar) settings, but on the human scale it marches on with a reasonably consistent beat. But time is not gravity, dark matter, or electrons. It is not merely an abstract building block of existence.

It permeates everyday affairs; it is felt. Its rhythms guide social behaviour, and its measurement has facilitated global synchronization via clock time.

Time as we know it is a social artifact. It is “5:18” and “next week sometime”. It is easy to see how one can have temporal social affordances. These are the perceptual cues about temporality. And not merely through their rhythmic structure of time and date, but also through their marker of shared events and occasions (Zerubavel, 1982).

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may be the sign on a door saying when the shop is open, or simply the fact that the shop window is closed up. They may be the clock on the wall, or the national anthem at a sports game (which signifies the beginning, rather than the end, of the game).

New media provide many novel temporal affordances. Most of these come from the fact that social interaction via many media is not necessarily synchronous. The telephone, at least before answering machines, was a resolutely synchronous medium.

One would call another person, the phone would ring, and if the other person was available he could pick up the telephone and begin a conversation. Granted, this is not strictly synchronous insofar as there are norms of turn-taking in conversations (Gibson, 2000). However, in media studies it is sufficiently synchronous since the telephone conversation represents a specific event that is bounded in time with very little lag between utterances. By contrast, an email ‘conversation’ is not bounded in time. Rather, it could take place over many days, and each conversation—considered a “thread” in email parlance—can be interspersed with other conversations. Thus, email is considered “asynchronous”. This does not mean that one can spend an innitely long time between utterances, but rather that an email conversation is spread across time; one may reply later today or sometime next week. One consequence of this aspect of email is that one may deliberate on messages, as well as edit them to one’s satisfaction.10 Likewise, instant messaging has several novel relationships to time, many of which have affordances given to the user. The most novel of these is the ‘status’ indicator.

Each instant message user has a status, such as ‘busy’, ‘available’ or ‘offline’. I may not telephone someone late at night, for fear of disturbing them. However, if I notice that they are online and their status is ‘available’ I may strike up a conversation. Thus, the Unlike Boase (2006), I do not consider ‘deliberation’ as an affordance of email. Deliberation is not a perceptual cue, but rather a consequence of email’s affordances. I perceive the asynchronicity of email.

That is, I know that a message will not be sent until I complete the ‘send action’ (which is usually a button or specific set of keys), and I can therefore act in such a way to make use of this affordance.

CHAPTER 2. A 38

SOCIAL AFFORDANCES THEORY OF SOCIAL NETWORKING

status indicator affords individuals a window into “public time” and “private time” that circumvents the larger social norms of daytime as public and nighttime as private (Zerubavel, 1979). Moreover, for individuals who have friends in different time zones (as is the case with many respondents in our sample), one’s public time may be another’s private time. Consequently, markers of access may be much clearer than markers of shared time. To note, it is worth emphasizing “may be clearer”, as these markers are often used in deceptive or inconsistent ways (Quan-Hasse and Collins, 2008; Baron, 2008) whereby some individuals will leave their client on or simply not attend to a conversation despite a status that suggests the user is “available”. Instant messenger programs also tend towards synchronicity. That is, individuals assume they will begin conversations, which are events bounded in time. It does not always work this way, as some individuals may take a long time to respond, or simply ignore the conversation. Also, individuals can and do have multiple conversations going at the same time (which is known to produce a new form of faux pas, when people type in one conversation what they mean to say in the other conversation (Baron, 2008).

So to be cute, instant messaging may thus be considered “synchron-ish” rather than synchronous.



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