söndag 18 december 2011

Impact of social media on social behavior

At a seminar in my course on social media, a student talked about the experience of going to a job interview and being interviewed by someone who was a graduate from "his" educational program a few year earlier. The interviewer:
1) had checked him out in Facebook in advance (is that strange or normal nowadays?)
2) mentioned that they shared the same taste in music at the meeting (that must be strange, right?)

The fact that the interviewer knew and referred to his taste in music to him felt strange. This anecdote led to a discussion at the seminar about "Facebook etiquette" or "social media etiquette". See also this blog post about (the lack of) "social translucence" in LinkedIn.

I made the connection to Joshua Meyrowitz 1986 book "No sense of place: The impact of electronic media on social behavior". While it was possible 100 years ago to "know" some about the lives of others through literature, it was neither very easy nor very wide-spread. Meyrowitz' argument is instead that television (the "electronic media" that his book title refers to) has made it possible for vast numbers of people to "know" (or to think they know) about the lives of others through the magic of television drama. We can thus nowadays "know" what it's like to fight a war (Band of Brothers, Generation Kill) or live a life of crime (The Sopranos, Sons of anarchy), to be a policeman (The Wire, The Shield) or sit in a prison (Oz, Prison break), to live a life of glamour in New York (Sex and the City) or in suburbia (Despearate housewifes), to work for the president of the US of A (West Wing) or to be hit by the recession (Weeds, Breaking bad, Hung).

Meyrowitz' more general examples were that nowadays and through television:
- Women can know more than ever before about the lives of men (and vice versa).
- Children can know more than ever before about the lives of adults (sex, marital problems, divorce, economical problems etc.).
- Ordinary people can know more than ever before about those in power (politicians, captains of industry etc.).

Sometimes we don't have a "true" picture of those other groups, but we still feel we know a lot about other people and we still know a lot more than what was possible in former times. But the knowledge Meyrowitz refers to is general knowledge of different groups of people (women and men, policemen and criminals, rich and poor people etc.), but nowadays you can also know a lot about individual persons by searching on the Internet. Meyrowitz wrote a book about the impact of electronic media (TV) on social behavior. The question in this thesis proposal is "what is the impact of social media (Facebook etc.) on social behavior?".

- Read Meyrowitz' book carefully while all the time thinking of what "equivalent" but updated questions for today would be. What are the similarities and what are the differences when reading Meyrowitz book but thinking and applying it to the present situation (e.g. replace TV/electronic media with Internet/social media).
- Do a study based on qualitative interviews. Let your readings in the area guide you as to what questions you should ask your informants. It would probably be best to interview young social media users (e.g. high school or university students or perhaps younger professionals).


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