Giving in and getting even more social

I have already admitted my “problem” (aka obsession) with social media, especially via the Internet, and how I how decided to embrace the social aspect of the current trend in interaction. In the last 24 hours, I have taken two (one small, one big) steps to make myself even *more* social than I already am.

Yesterday, I finally caved to the combined strength of the many tech blogs I read and signed up for Plurk, the supposed “Twitter killer”/slightly different take on Twitter. It’s quite obvious that the site is still in the “we need more users!” phase, as you accumulate “karma” by posting more and especially by inviting your friends to join the site, and open up more page design options as your karma increases. So far, the jury is still out, but my immediate impression is, why do I need this when I have Twitter? Then again, I saw no use for Twitter eight months ago and now keep it open at all times in the coveted fourth tab of my browser (following two mail accounts and Facebook, in case you were wondering). As per usual, I am the first of my good friends to join the site, which dramatically decreases its use to me as a beneficial service. And, most likely, as with Twitter, it will become more useful as more friends join (if that happens — which, as Twitter has shown me, will most likely not happen, since I have less than 10 actual “friends” who use Twitter).

The much bigger step for me was finally purchasing a phone with all the fun internet goodies. As of this morning, I was officially able to upgrade to a new phone without paying retail prices. Being a very happy Verizon customer, I chose to stay with the company rather than switch to AT&T so I can get my hands on the new 3G iPhone. Instead, I chose to go with the current cream of the crop, the not-so-much “iPhone killer,” the LG Voyager. Now, I am well aware that this phone can still not compete with the iPhone and I will not try to convince myself otherwise, but the phone is a huge improvement over my two-year-old, toilet-soaked (gross, I know) Razr. The Voyager has a touch screen on front with a large clam shell screen (not touch) when you open it up. It also has a full QWERTY keyboard and navigates pretty easily. I tested it out last week in a Verizon store and found it rather intuitive, although many complain about Verizon’s wacky UI. After the discounts/rebates, I managed to snag the phone for just $100 — which is, surprisingly, the same price as the inferior Glyde — so I was very happy. My phone plan obviously had to be upgraded to support the mobile email/VZ Navigator/VCast, etc., but it’s not too big of an increase ($20).

Of course, the implications of me owning this type of phone are a little scary. If I’m the type of girl who loves being connected at all times, and is suddenly given the opportunity to do so, will my communication patterns change even further? Will I be a texting whore like some of my friends? Will I be checking my email at 3am, since I will now be able to do so without getting out of bed (yes, I sleep with my phone, and no, I see nothing wrong with that)? It will be interesting to see how much I get sucked into the phone, but I really think it will be more of a benefit than a detriment, especially with school beginning in the fall, and me being chained to desks and subject to the whims of my professors.

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My master’s thesis is online, free for all to read!

I spent nearly eight months of my life researching and writing my master’s thesis on Facebook and identity, and now it has *finally* been posted online by Georgetown. Hooray! I know some of my fellow students would rather forget their theses now that they’ve graduated, but since I will be continuing this research (at least related research) for the next four to five years at Michigan State, I am happy to share my work with the world, especially since I am truly proud of the final project.

For those not familiar with my research, my thesis considered the evolving role of social networking sites in transforming users’ methods of communication with various members of their social network. I conducted a survey of 600+ Georgetown University undergraduates to try and get to the heart of why they use sites like Facebook and how social networking sites have changed the ways in which they form and maintain relationships.

The thesis can be accessed here.

And here is the full abstract to whet your appetite.

We live in an increasingly networked world. We are connected to each other through numerous types of ties, with social networking sites offering one of the most popular methods people currently employ to link themselves together. But do “old-fashioned” ways of developing and maintaining relationships suffer from the evolution of computer-mediated communication? Have we become too reliant on the instantaneous, answer-producing quality of the internet that can reveal others’ most intimate personal details before we even introduce ourselves?

This thesis examines social relationships online to see how they differ from traditional offline relationships, focusing on how people create an online identity and how that identity affects the formation and maintenance of “friendships” in the digital world. The thesis will then consider how the social networking site Facebook impacts relationships in the real world. This analysis will be based on a survey of 644 Georgetown University undergraduates regarding their uses of various technologies to interact with different members of their social networks, and especially their use of Facebook to form and maintain relationships.

I’m sorry son, but you’ve got the SNAD, and I believe it’s incurable

WTF is the SNAD, you ask? Well, according to Nicole Ferraro over at the Internet Evolution blog, Social Networking Anxiety Disorder is similar to the better-known Social Anxiety Disorder, but rather than the anxiety being brought on via social encounters, it is brought on by the inherent “pressures” associated with social networking sites like Facebook.

Photobucket

Don’t laugh too hard though. In the spring, I gave a guest lecture on social media to an undergrad computer science class at Georgetown. During a vigorous discussion with students about Facebook, several students said that they never refused friend requests because they didn’t “want to be mean” to those making the requests, even if the requests were coming from people they didn’t know. I also came across this trend in my thesis research: in the survey I conducted on Georgetown undergraduates, I asked respondents questions related to how they initially met online-only friends, and a noteworthy number (I believe several dozen) replied that the other person had “randomly” friended them.

Another potential cause for anxiety comes from something as simple as the “Relationship Status” field in a person’s profile, and the News Feed’s annoying little habit of telling everyone in the whole world when that status changes (with a very sad broken heart icon for breakups…damn, Facebook is cruel). I know from my own friends and interactions with Facebook users that men are significantly less likely to change their status once they begin dating a new person, and if they do change it, it’s more likely to be to remove the status completely rather than add “In a Relationship.” Women, however, want to broadcast to the world that they are no longer that poor single girl, and the lack of reciprocation by their new man can be the source of many arguments. Another interesting finding from my thesis research showed that of those respondents who said their offline relationships had suffered negative consequences because of the content in their Facebook profile, nearly half (n=39) said that a boyfriend or girlfriend had ended a relationship. Admittedly, teenage relationships are much more fickle and fleeting than more adult relationships, but such concerns could certainly be anxiety-inducing in an 18-year-old.

Now, as a social media researcher, I find this to be a silly — and potentially dangerous — practice, most obviously because of the risks these users are opening themselves up to in terms of their privacy. After all, some Facebook users are dumb enough to include their addresses and phone numbers in their profiles for everyone to see. As someone who is 10 years older than most of these respondents, however, I can understand the desire to be part of the social media phenomenon and the belief that quantity exceeds quality (in terms of the number of friends). Recent Pew Internet research has also found that teens do take online privacy seriously, and are more educated about privacy and security on SNSs than their adult counterparts.

Personally, I see SNAD to be only slightly more ridiculous than the recently revitalized hype over Internet addiction. Sure, some people probably do get too involved in their social networking accounts and spend an unhealthy amount of time on these sites, just as there will always be gamers who spend too much time playing online games or kids who drink too much milk or jump off one too many ledges with their skateboards. These people will all experience negative consequences, whether it is the development of an aversion to sunlight, the loss of friends, a bad bout of nausea (I can tell you from personal experience that drinking too much milk, i.e., 3/4 of a gallon in five minutes, will make you mighty nauseous), or a broken arm. That’s why everything should be done in moderation! Don’t let Facebook take over your life, because that is a pretty boring life. The least you could do is move from the basement to the living room and play some Super Smash Bros. Brawl with some friends.

Quantify your Twitter addiction! (aka yet another to waste time when you probably should be doing real work)

While I’ve been on Twitter for the last six months or so, I’ve only really come around in the past six weeks and realized that I actually do love this quirky little service. Last week I blogged about my coming to terms with the fact that I am addicted to Twitter — I leave a tab open nearly all day. I hit refresh every few minutes. It’s not like I have a lot of followers (12) or even follow a lot of people (18), but I am a complete sucker for the instantaneous information updates the site provides (assuming it is actually up and working).

Well now there’s a way to check out your addiction across time of day and day of the week. The Twitter Chart from Xefer asks for your Twitter user id and voila, charts generate showing you your posting history across month, day and hour. Pretty sweet, eh? Apparently I’ve had a few 3am tweets going on — that’s not a good sign! But since I’m becoming a drunk-blogging/drunk-tweeting aficionado as of late, I’m not too concerned.

Here’s a chart of my meager 109 tweets: the x-axis is time, the y-axis is day of the week.

Vitak\'s Tweet Map

[Thanks for the tip, Somewhat Frank!]

Take that, master’s thesis, I totally kicked your ass

I have received the official Grad School signoff on my master’s thesis, which can mean only one thing: I am done! Done done DONE! Well, at least I’m done until August, when I begin my PhD studies at Michigan State.

Six long months of research; checking and rechecking out books from the library; creating, disseminating, collecting and coding 600+ surveys; and writing up a 140-page document all by my lonesome are OVER. Yay!

As soon as the Grad School posts a link to my thesis online, I will post it to the blog. However, if you are curious about my topic, here is the title and abstract:

Facebook “Friends”: How Online Identities Impact Offline Relationships

Abstract: We live in an increasingly networked world. We are connected to each other through numerous types of ties, with social networking sites offering one of the most popular methods people currently employ to link themselves together. But do “old-fashioned” ways of developing and maintaining relationships suffer from the evolution of computer-mediated communication? Have we become too reliant on the instantaneous, answer-producing quality of the internet that can reveal others’ most intimate personal details before we even introduce ourselves?

This thesis examines social relationships online to see how they differ from traditional offline relationships, focusing on how people create an online identity and how that identity affects the formation and maintenance of “friendships” in the digital world. The thesis will then consider how the social networking site Facebook impacts relationships in the real world. This analysis will be based on a survey of 644 Georgetown University undergraduates regarding their uses of various technologies to interact with different members of their social networks, and especially their use of Facebook to form and maintain relationships.

This summer, I’ll be repackaging the thesis to submit to journals, and hopefully getting some mileage out of my research on the tech blogs.

Damn you Twitter, now I’m hooked … You’re like crack. Maybe we can call it twack?

Back in November, I blogged about Twitter with a heavy degree of trepidation about the site. I almost gave up on it as utterly pointless, but decided to renew my tweeting in March and give the site a second chance. Well, now I can say that without a doubt, I am hooked on the sweet, sweet crack that is this most succinct of social networking sites.

I should have expected this. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Facebook status updates and change my GChat status all the time. I find that I often use these two services to either express my current emotion (e.g., Vitak is screaming expletives from the rooftops) or to share funny links (e.g., my favorite lolcats). With Twitter, however, I find myself feeling the need to share my daily activities with the world, and it’s often not information I would consider posting in my GChat or Facebook. These daily ruminations do contain the occasional gem (my personal favorite thus far is “I played too much Nintendo as a kid…The rain kept changing direction on my walk, and all I could think of was board 2.3 in Ninja Gaiden 2″), but they’re usually the dull and boring comments on my thesis and the like. Maybe this is because so few of my friends and/or colleagues are on the site. I only have 10 followers and I only follow 15 people.

So then the question becomes: if I become more popular, will I change the content of my postings on Twitter? Will I become one of those people who tweets every time I post a new blog and use the site as a way to promote myself? Or will the site turn into a sort of time-delayed instant messenger, where I’m interacting with a number of friends at the same time? A public IM? Sounds like a strange concept, wouldn’t you think?

We’ll see how the summer affects my tweeting. After all, in three days, I’ll be officially done with my master’s program and will have a bit more time on my hands. Maybe I can develop a massive following and just tweet all day long, constantly.

Wow, that would be totally lame.

You can follow me on twitter here.

Like Facebook? In NYC this weekend? Well, come and hear me speak!

My academic checklist for this spring:

Write thesis? check

Speak at PCA/ACA conference in San Fran? check

Speak at Science & Technology conference in DC? check

Guest lecture for GU comp sci class? check

Speak at Critical Themes conference in NYC? damnit, still have something left to do.

So this Saturday, I will — for all intents and purposes — wrap up my master’s career with a final presentation on Facebook at the Critical Themes in Digital Media conference at the New School in New York. As per usual, I’ll be discussing my master’s thesis research, which included a survey of 644 Georgetown University undergraduates and considers the impact of online identities/online relationships on offline relationships. So if you’re going to be in NYC this weekend and have nothing to do Saturday around, say, 1:30pm, and you’re interested in seeing a dynamic presentation on social networking sites, feel free to stop on by! I’m sure it will be fun and exciting for the whole family.