This week we have been looking at a range of journal articles that examine social media. Here is my review of Catherine Dwyer’s paper, “Digital Relationships in the ‘MySpace’ Generation: Results from a Qualitative Study”
The paper considers how social networking and instant messaging are used to manage relationships as well as the ways in which communication technology arbitrate behaviours in the management of those relationships.
It is a qualitative study that makes use of semi-structured interviews and aims to explore concepts of self-presentation and impression management; which aspects of the technologies work and which don’t; how prevalent the systems are with users; and whether users actually find the technologies helpful in forming new relationships particularly in light of attitudes towards privacy
In total, 19 respondents took part in the study, all similarly aged (average 22.2 years), which was conducted by 6 undergraduate students trained in semi-structured interview techniques. Results were analysed for common themes using qualitative research software (QSR NVivo).
The study concludes that there is substantial use within the respondents of communication technologies. This occurs through multiple channels based upon convenience, ease of access, low-cost and enjoyment.
It suggests that online profiles are carefully managed with authenticity playing a key role in that process although accepts that constructing an online identity was generally considered to be an enjoyable entertainment activity.
In terms of privacy, respondents articulated broad indifference to the way this affects their activity within these sites, citing it as a natural and acceptable trade-off for access to such free sites.
Whilst it may be said that the research is somewhat flawed both in terms of the number of respondents that participated and their similar demographic profile (80% male and 50% white all within a similar age bracket) it does raise some interesting points.
Goffman (1959) depicts identity generally as a continual performance whereby individuals present a ‘frontstage’, where their social role, behaviours and audience expectations are brought together with the aim of a ‘controlled performance’; and a ‘backstage’ where deviant or atypical values and actions are hidden and only presented in public to legitimise the individual’s social role and confirm faith with the embracing social framework.
The research within this study would appear to bear this out in terms of a) carefully managing the information exchanged in a social interaction conducted online and b) the huge importance of our social networks, the information that they present to us and how this reaffirms or affects our own identity.
The author accepts that there may be limitations in terms of generalising findings due to the sample size not being significant but offers a preliminary examination of ‘the attitudes and technology features that influence interpersonal relationship management’, indicating that further study is warranted.
My own view is that online behaviours around impression management and identity formation are closely linked to the same behaviours offline. It is not digital tools that drive us to carefully present a version of ourselves to the world but a psychological drive for social acceptance within a chosen group.
As Carl Rogers (1980) wrote:
When a person realises he has been deeply heard, his eyes moisten. I think in some real sense, he is weeping for joy. It is as though he were saying, “Thank God somebody heard me. Someone knows what it’s like to be me.”
Dwyer, C. (2007) ‘Digital Relationships in the “MySpace” Generation: Results from a Qualitative Study’ Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences VOL 1, pages 317-326
Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday
Rogers, C. (1980). A Way of Being, Boston: Houghton Mifflin