Social Networks

Entries related to social networks, group psychology, anthropology, and really any of the social sciences.

Digital Competency

Recently, I’ve been getting into various discussions about the article, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? by Jean M Twenge. Below is an email that I wrote to some of my coworkers about this subject.

As some of you may know, I’ve been published in the Journal of Group Analytics, and spoken at the American Group Psychotherapy Association, the Association of Internet Researchers, and at NACHC conferences about social media. I also speak each year with the Psych Post Docs about social media.

I have a very different view of the effects of digital communications and find the Atlantic article highly flawed.

I would start off by referring people to the article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants By Marc Prensky.

The article was written back in 2001 and has some significant flaws, particularly in too closely equating age with digital orientation, but it presents a key idea. We are at a unique time in human history where many of us, particularly older folks, have been brought up in a pre-digital or analog world. Many of us have learned to get by in a digital world, but we still keep many of our old analog ways. We are, in a sense digital immigrants. Others have been brought up in a digital world and are digital natives. Personally, I identify as a digital aborigine, but that’s a different topic.

It is worth noting this unique time is not without parallels. A good parallel was the years after the Guttenberg printing press. Back then, there was concern expressed about people who spent too much time reading. A famous novel from 1605 talks about a person who read too much, Don Quixote:

You must know, then, that the above-named gentleman whenever he was at leisure (which was mostly all the year round) gave himself up to reading books of chivalry with such ardour and avidity that he almost entirely neglected the pursuit of his field-sports, and even the management of his property; and to such a pitch did his eagerness and infatuation go that he sold many an acre of tillageland to buy books of chivalry to read, and brought home as many of them as he could get.

It was part of the writing of the era when people talked about those who spend too much time reading, much like how people talk about those who spend too much time online today.

In health care, we are called to be culturally competent. I would suggest that the Twenge article is an example of cultural incompetence by a digital immigrant talking negatively about a culture not her own and that her conclusions are based on her biases.

Is it a good thing, a bad thing, or a neutral thing that teens today tend to communicate more via computer mediated communications than face to face? Some of this may reflect our biases. Personally, for many reasons, I’m glad to see our culture become less of an automobile dominated culture and teens being less eager to learn to drive. I’m also not sure that delayed sexual activity is such a bad thing.

The concern about depression and loneliness is a much more important issue, but I would ask if the author is confusing causes and effects. Are the people that are online most often lonely because they are online, or are they online because they are lonely? If it is the later, then perhaps online interaction is actually beneficial. There is a lot of research on how online interaction can be a gateway to help isolated people become less isolated, to help people develop social skills online that they can then use in face to face interaction. As an aside, some of my favorite work on this has related to people on the autism spectrum manage their communications more effectively and as a result develop better face to face skills.

I do find it interesting to note that the previous article by Ms Twenge in Atlantic is
Young People Are Happier Than They Used to Be: But mature adults aren’t faring as well.
Perhaps Smartphones haven’t destroyed a generation, perhaps they are helping save it.

Perhaps related to this, recently, the New York Time re-ran an article from 2012 about loneliness:
Friends of a Certain Age: Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30?

It seems as if there are some other more important issues to be addressed. Cyberbullying is an important issue that doesn’t really get proper consideration in the article. More importantly is the issue that teens today, as they are forming their identities, need to form identities in both the physical analog world and in the virtual digital world. It is much more difficult. At the same time, they do not have as many people to go to help them with their digital identities, because their elders are digital immigrants. We all need to become better at helping people whose lives are increasingly digital, without being judgmental about how much better things were when we were younger.

I hope you read the article in the Atlantic. I hope you read Prensky’s article, as well as the two articles about happiness and loneliness. Once you have read then, I hope you’ll go back and re-read Twenge’s article and ask yourself where the causes are, where the effects are, and how your biases about digital communications might be shaping you reactions.

I particularly encourage this for any behavioral health providers that are interested in what it might me to be digitally culturally competent.

Thankful Ignatian Poetry Online

Last March, I attended a workshop on pastoral care at Fordham University. It was the beginning of Lent and I spent a little time praying in the chapel before the workshop started. I picked up some literature about the Ignatian Daily Examen and thought about how I might work aspects of it into my prayer life.

In May, I went to a poetry conference at Yale Divinity School, where there was additional discussions about Ignatian spirituality, including references to the Daily Examen. It struck me. I should write my reflections from a Daily Examen as poems.

So I started two months ago. My goal was to put up a new post every evening. Over time, the poems have become shorter fragments. I haven’t always managed to polish and post them in the evening and at times, I’ve posted several at once after the fact.

I’ve also thought of this practice as part of other goals. Bringing poetry and gratitude into the daily discourse online. At times friends of mine have participated in gratitude challenges. Some post regularly about Thankful Thursdays. Others post wonderful poems about the stuff of their daily lives. It seems like these sort of posts are especially important in these current days.

I’m not sure what I will do with the Daily Examen posts I have put up. Some I may further polish into better, more complete poems. Some might be combined with others for some sort of longer poem.

I’m not sure yet. However, I invite all of you to join me in a poetic Daily Examen. A good card that is helpful in thinking about the Daily Examen can be found on the Ignatian Spirituality website.

Random Thoughts about Social Media and the Reterritorialization of the Culture Industry.

Recently, I’ve been reading Exploring Videogames with Deleuze and Guittari and thinking about things like the culture industry, reterritorialization, and how it relates to social media and other stuff. I do not claim to have a firm or accurate grasp on these ideas.

With regards to culture industry, I’m talking about those who create, distribute, or benefit from the creation or distribution of cultural norms and artifacts. I’m taking this idea from Exploring Videogames with Deleuze and Guittari where the author talks about the videogame industry as part of the culture industry, along with other forms of art like film or painting. However, I’m wondering if we should really think a bit more broadly to include entertainment, news media, social media, religion, education, and politics, all of which are shaping our culture in new or different ways as a result of digital media. How must artists, journalists, priests, politicians, and teachers adapt to digital media?

The idea of reterritorialization is even more interesting to me. What as the borders of the culture industry shift, as people get left behind, get left in some sort of liminal space, and as others, once liminal find themselves in the center of things.

Prior to writing this, I had put down a few thoughts about things going on in Facebook. It seems somehow related.

I am starting the New Year with just over 3,100 friends on Facebook. Generally, I’ve been pretty lenient about adding friends. If I get a friend request from someone that has shared interests and shared friends, I’m fairly likely to accept the request. Yet Facebook limits the number of friends you can have to five thousand, and various people I know are hitting up against that barrier and starting to trim their friend lists. Different people are approaching this in different ways.

Just as I am fairly lenient about which friend requests I accept, I am loath to unfriend people because of what they write. I hold on to the idea that I can listen to others and learn from them. Perhaps they can learn from me as well. Perhaps we can have a dialog.

Yet over the past few days, I’ve unfriended a couple people. One person said if you are going to post about politics, religion, or sports, he would unfollow. I post regularly about politics and religion, so I saved him the bother and unfriended him. He didn’t have a lot of interest to say anyway. Another person, a devout evangelical atheist, filled his news feed with atheist tracts. He gloated about his unwillingness to consider other opinions and the fact that people who disagreed with him were unfollowing him. So, I unfollowed him as well.

Also, I’ve been seeing a bunch of people saying they are leaving social media, at least for the time being. I can understand the desire or even need to do that. Yet at the same time, it seems important for those who can stick around to remain as a positive influence.

What Next in Social Media?

Today, I received invitations to two new social media networks. Treem and Crowdify. They aren’t necessarily all that new, but they are new to me.

Tream’s pitch claims that “a majority of Americans (51.9%) are thinking about dropping out from social media this year”. The top two reasons they list are people wanting to avoid fake news and arguments about Trump. While the reasons sound legit, the assertion about a majority of Americans thinking about dropping out of social media doesn’t sound quite right. It’s interesting how ‘legit’ gets used in conversation these days.

Both Tream and Crowdify appear to be offering ways that people can earn money for their posts. I will spend a little time looking at them to see if they really add value.

As I think of what’s going on in social media, a few other things come to mind. Dan Edwards, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese in Nevada posted on Facebook a few examples of times when he’s posted things aimed at starting conversations and helping people reconnect, only to receive lots of comments that shut down discussions. He concludes, “We have a lot of work to do”.

So yes, there are issues of trust and community online. There are issues of who gets what money out of social networks. Yet from my perspective, there are some other bigger usability issue that need to be considered, especially as we get more and more information coming at us.

I hope to explore some of these issues in some coming blog posts.

Coping with Trauma and Grief in the Digital World.

I understand that when people are grieving telling them to get over it isn’t usually very productive, but I’ve been seeing a lot of #Fuck2016 posts recently about different celebrities that have died this year and I’m starting to see people responding with “get over it”. I must admit, I’m feeling a little bit more in line with the “get over it” crew.

Celebrities die every year; important ones, ones that have shaped our lives. It is sad. We grieve. We remember how they entertained us, how they brought meaning to our lives. A standard response this year, has been to add #fuck2016. Have a substantially higher number of celebrities died this year? I don’t know. Is it that the celebrities are now childhood favorites of people on social media? In 2003, instead of posting #fuck2003 online when Bob Hope died, did people express their grief over a beer at the American Legion? “Remember his Christmas Show in Saigon?”

Other people die every year too. Important to those who loved them. Children in Chicago killed by gun violence. Christopher Brandon-Luckett, Diego Alvarado, Jovan Wilson, and many others.

To put things all into perspective, today is the Feast of Holy Innocents, when we remember the children killed by King Herod in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus.

So, why is #Fuck2016 so popular right now? Is it that it has simply become the acceptable way to express grief over the death of celebrities? A new behavior normalized through its use in social media?

Or, is there perhaps something else going on, like Collective Trauma? Perhaps it is a combination of the two, since newly normalized behaviors may be a cause or result of collective trauma.

Perhaps most importantly, how do we respond? I posted links to stories of kids killed by gun violence in Chicago on Facebook. I wrote this blog post, and I’m exploring other ways of coping with trauma and grief in the digital world. What are your thoughts?

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