Welcome to the New (Social) World
In my classes at Youngstown State, we have a lot of really talented non-traditional aged students.
What is the non-traditional age you might ask? For most universities it’s around 25. But most non-traditional aged students will tell you, there is a big difference between being a 25-year-old college student and one who carries an AARP card.
Even with this wide-ranging definition of age, some of non-traditional students come into a social media class and are immediately intimidated by the thought of using newer social media platforms.
When this happens, I ask: is social media and new technology for young people, or is it for everyone?
One way to understand this intimidation is to appreciate the age gap with new technology.
Marc Prensky’s publication, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, introduced us to the term digital natives, used to describe a new group of students who are attending college. These are the D-geners, the digital babies who have never known a world without the Internet.
I am not a digital baby. At 42, I am a digital immigrant.
My first Internet experiences came during my undergraduate years in college. But I didn’t grow up completely unaware of technology. At best, I probably straddle the line somewhere between immigrant and native. After all, I was born into a world with video games. From pong, to Atari, to Nintendo 64, the Game Cube, and the Wii, I’ve never known a world without video games.
But with all other new technologies, I am an immigrant.
So, my fellow digital immigrants, welcome to the new world. It seems odd to be considered an “immigrant” to anything. My family has been well-established in the United States for centuries. I’ve never known the true immigrant experience.
However, when we think about it in “new citizen” terms, Prensky’s term offers a great deal of insight. We are, in fact, people who came to the “new world” of digital media. And like many successful digital immigrants, initiative leads to the creation of opportunities.
In 1996, I worked in a college admission office. My boss came to me and said, “see if these kids look at this Internet thing for college,” and “make a web site for our office.” I jumped at the opportunity to master the web. My early career as a webmaster took off because I was fearless about new technologies.
Just as many early immigrants to America took advantage of this early opportunity, I took advantage of my place in this brave new digital media world.
So then, how do we deal with, connect with, and speak to the digital natives? Much as our forefathers were frightened that we would lose the traditions of our mother countries, digital immigrants fear that digital natives will forget about the ways of the “old world.”
But digital natives don’t speak our language, and we don’t speak theirs. So why would we expect them to care about the old world?
Of course, some have chosen to remain in the old country – with very little interest in the new digital frontier. They have no interest in learning or using this new digital language. And this has exacerbated the connection, or disconnection between the natives and immigrants.
Have no fear. Digital natives are not becoming disconnected from the real world. In fact, they may be more connected than the rest of us – it’s just a different connection, with a new language, new customs and cultures. As immigrants, we should try to learn these new customs and cultures, to assimilate.
We can teach the natives about our world. Digital immigrants must create the connections that draw the natives in, that create opportunities for learning, and that build routes in the online world to meaningful, long-lasting relationships.
~ A version of this story appeared in the Sunday, July 27, 2014 "Connected" section of The Vindicator.
"It's Complicated" in Vegas Social Test
In 2011, my wife and I traveled to Las Vegas. While we were there, we decided to renew our vows.
A few hours before the ceremony, I thought it would be an interesting social experiment to change our marital status on Facebook. I was curious to see how our Facebook friends would react.
I changed my status to "single" and my wife’s to "it's complicated."
Of course, I would immediately change it back to "married" once we renewed, but it felt fun and slightly liberating to change this part of our social media identity.
For the record, my wife protested this experiment from the moment I suggested it.
Unlike many of you, I joined Facebook as a married man. With the exception of changing my status to "single" or "it's complicated" (whatever that means), I’m happy to be "married."
The white, stretch limo whisked us away to the Little White Chapel. The ceremony was quick and cheesy. More importantly, it was sweet and it capped off the whole Vegas experience (note: if you’re planning a Vegas wedding, and you’re in a hurry, they actually have a drive-thru wedding option).
After we renewed our vows, we ended up back at the hotel where had a few drinks. We completely forgot about Facebook, which is shocking considering my fascination with social media and a need to feel connected to others.
After a bottle of champagne, I went to Facebook to find a mini revolt taking place on our pages. It seems my little status update experiment didn’t sit well with some of our friends.
Some were in on the joke right away. Others were not quite sure. Posts ranged from the curious "what are you crazy kids up to?" to the angry "if you guys get divorced, I'll never forgive you."
Some were just confused: "okay, this isn’t funny anymore, please change your status back" and "wait, where are you guys again? Aren’t you in Vegas?"
While most of our family and close friends knew we were in Vegas, and had a guesses as to our plans, it didn’t stop some from sending us private messages, just to make sure everything was kosher.
To be safe, we posted a few wedding pictures outside the chapel (the photos were part of our Vegas wedding package).
I've always known that our family and friends, however distant they may be, have instantaneous access to the parts of our lives we share on social media. Over the years (in my case, since 2005, when I joined Facebook), my wife and I chose to share the good things about our lives on Facebook.
So when Facebook friends see something negative (like a marital status change) it only makes sense that some would react negatively (even if it was in jest).
In the years since the Vegas trip, I'm a little more careful with the way I treat my status updates and personal information. The photos and names of friends seem distant on the page, but there are real people out there who care about my happiness and I want them to celebrate with me.
The little status change experiment confirmed something what the research says and what our gut tells us. We are more connected. We maintain closer relationships It’s up to us to protect the integrity of those connections and those relationships.
Our lives are an open (Face)book, but really – it's only the pages of the story we choose to share. Deviating from the story at times is fun, but can also come with some risk, and some angry readers.
~ A version of this story appeared in the Sunday, July 20, 2014 "Connected" section of The Vindicator.
Embrace the Selfie
Selfies - those slightly blurred, vaguely narcissistic, self-portrait photos we take with front-facing cameras on our mobile devices - are here to stay.
The song #SELFIE (yes, hashtag included) was a hit on YouTube last year (warning: if you search for this video, it’s not kid-appropriate). Although the video is highly suggestive and glamorizes a club-going, binge-drinking, self-absorbed, 20-something lifestyle, it offers a glimpse into the fascination with selfies.
Once thought to be an activity exclusively for the “Me” generation, it seems people of all ages are interested in snapping selfies.
People take selfies to connect with friends and family on social networking sites. It’s the photo version of a status update.
Some people take selfies to commemorate important life events. After all, if you go to a concert and don’t post a selfie, how do you prove you were really there?
Other people take selfies simply because they can. Put a camera in everyone’s hand and this is the result.
Good selfies are easy to capture. A quick search for “how to take a selfie” on Google generates thousands of hits with tips for taking the best shots.
Companies are catering to the selfie crowd. Popular app Snapchat was created almost exclusively for selfie enthusiasts. To feed the selfie need, and to help us take better pictures, Sony will soon release the new Xperia C3 phone which includes 5-megapixel, front-facing camera with flash.
Celebrities have embraced the selfie and use it to promote their brands (and to have some fun). At Ellen Degeneres’ request, Bradley Cooper famously snapped a selfie during the Oscars with a few friends, including Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. Degeneres tweeted the celeb-loaded photo and generated over 2 million retweets in 2 hours.
This week, however, the selfie is getting a bad wrap, at least in the sports world.
During the Tour de France, fans were attempting to snap selfies with cyclists. The only problem is that the cyclists were still on their bikes, in a race, going 40 to 60 mph. Some race fans got a little too close and created dangerous situations for both the fans and the cyclists.
Love them or hate them (or somewhere in between), it’s time to accept the selfie and to set establish some new norms for their use.
Of course, some norms for the selfie have already been established:
1. Don’t take naked selfies and send them to people (especially if you hold political office);
2. When taking a selfie, make sure you’re in a safe place (avoid cliffs and busy intersections);
3. Avoid the sexy pose. Most selfies poses are now considered out-of-style, including the wide-eyed, puckered lip shots made famous by Jersey Shore crew (also out-of-style).
But the sports-related selfies may now require new norms, and possibly some rules. For example, requiring fans to keep safe distances from athletes and celebrities has always been a rule. But resetting those boundaries for the selfie fan may be in order.
Conversely, there are new opportunities for sports teams, public relations specialists, and those who manage athletes and celebrities to create better connections for fans.
Constructing better connections means letting the fans get closer to favorite athletes and celebrities - one selfie at a time.
~ A version of this post appeared in The Vindicator, Sunday, July 13, 2014.
Facebook's Emotional Contagion
This week, Facebook found itself in ethical hot water (again) for messing around with user News Feeds. Technology experts were the first to cry foul, but secretly many of them were probably salivating over the results.
The Facebook News Feed is the most popular way for users to share information. Login to Facebook and you’ll find the most recent posts from friends, pages you like and groups you follow.
In other words, the News Feed is the heart of Facebook’s body.
Forget for the moment that the study was probably illegal. Forget for a second that researchers from Facebook, Cornell University and the University of California at San Francisco manipulated the moods of nearly 700,000 users. Instead, let’s focus on what they discovered.
Want to read the study? Go to http://www.pnas.org/content/111/24/8788.full.pdf
What the researchers uncovered about the emotional states of users on social media was pretty amazing. Aside from lab experiments, there hasn’t been research reported that tapped into these feelings until now.
What did they find? Many things, but the most interesting result was the discovery that using social media does, in fact, alter our emotional state. By manipulating users’ Facebook News Feeds, the researchers found support for something called an “emotional contagion.”
Emotional contagion is the transfer of an emotional state from one person to another. Much like a cold is contagious and transferred to others, we can pass along emotions from one person to the next.
People transfer positive and negative emotions to others every day, and in a variety of settings – work, school, home – usually without the other person even knowing it’s happening. If my wife’s in a bad mood, I’ll probably end up in a bad mood.
But now we know that, the transfer of emotions can happen without direct interaction with others, and without nonverbal cues (seeing someone smile, for example).
How did the researchers know they found Facebook’s emotional contagion? It’s really quite simple. When Facebook reduced the number of positive News Feed posts that appeared on a user’s Feed, the number of positive status updates made by the user decreased while negative updates increased. But when Facebook reduced negative News Feed posts, the number of negative status updates decreased and the number of positive updates increased.
Most status updates in our News Feeds contain content not necessarily “directed” at other users. Most of the time, those status updates are just about us. We’re letting the world know what we’re up to, and what we’re thinking.
Say someone posts a negative rant about U.S. politics. That post might lead other users to post negative status updates. Or, we might click the “thumbs up” button to signal a like, but really we’re saying “yes, this makes me angry, too!”
But some posts put us in a good mood. Take Father’s Day for example. Every other status update on that Sunday included pictures of kids with their dads, some grainy photos fishing on the banks of Lake Glacier or sitting at a Scrappers game on a Sunday afternoon.
These posts were equally contagious. Sure, some people probably felt the urge to celebrate their fathers. Still, I can’t help but wonder how many users posted good things about dad, in part, because of Facebook’s emotional contagion.
So, the next time you post that feel-good update about a run-in with an old friend, a funny cat picture, or your kid’s dance recital, remember that your message might be putting other people in a better mood.
It is highly unlikely this study will ever be replicated because, after all, it’s unethical to manipulate unwilling participants. Still, it would be fascinating to see similar studies of Twitter, YouTube, and other major social media platforms to see if our posts and videos are as emotionally contagious as our Facebook posts.
~ Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and Facebook at www.facebook.com/adamearn
~ A version of this post appeared in The Vindicator, Sunday, July 6, 2014 in a section entitled "Connected." My thanks to Todd Franko and The Vindicator staff for publishing my thoughts.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is special assistant to the provost and professor of communication in the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes on a variety of topics including communication technologies, relationships, and sports (with an emphasis on fandom). His work has appeared in Mahoning Matters as well as The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers.