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A presentation put together at short notice for an ESRC funded discussion - see http://drbexl.co.uk/event/are-you-really-my-friend-exploring-digital-relationships/ for details of the event re friendship in a digital age. Drawing on my book 'Raising Children in a Digital Age'
Chapter 8 = focuses on Relationships (online – note is hybrid rather than exclusively online), including friendships online – and when friendships go bad = bullying – topic frequently asked to talk on at youth events, etc.
Re digital culture rather than about parenting … as ‘raising children’ refers also to those of us with no kids – we all shape the environment, and the responses that people have to it…
This kind of picture irritates me = assumes we all lived in some kind of rose-tinted/nostalgic past .. I grew up with my nose buried in a book (pretty anti-social), and in the second picture they could be composing music or comparing research … don’t assume that screen = anti-social!
So, if we accept that using digital technology is important and can be beneficial to all of us, what else do we need to realize? One vital point is that we’re talking about online/offline relationships rather than virtual/real relationships, as though they were completely different. In fact, relationships online may have a different nature, but they are as valid and real as offline relationships. Simply put, most people relate to each other in a variety of ways – face to face, by phone, via email, via Facebook, via text, and even on paper. Our relationships are not usually split into online and virtual relationships, and offline and “real” relationships – and even those that are solely online are no less real than those conducted face to face.
Friendships, however, are based around similar interests, rather than accidents of geography!
One of my favourite quotes…
(from book) Now Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research, danah boyd3 studied MySpace when it was the social networking site to be on. Teenagers joined because that was where their pre-existing friendship group was, and then just “hung out”.4 Once online, many children have had to learn the etiquette for the new space, and it’s perfectly acceptable to “lurk” for a while and see what others are doing. Most join because someone invites them, and then they have to decide whom to “friend”. Some friends are added because it would be socially awkward to say no, because it makes the teenager look cool, or because the befriender thinks it would be interesting to read their posts. Ito Mizuko, a cultural anthropologist at the University of California, identified that because it’s awkward to say no to those who are already known, the convention is to accept all those who are known, regardless of the quality of the relationship.
Dunbar’s Number = 150, adults worried that 1,000s = ‘Meaningless’, but not that ‘friends’ is a fairly loosely defined term, Teenagers say = ok to have many connections, but people who ‘collect’ friends = whores! Difficult to negotiate leaving ‘friendships’ behind = people have different criteria for who they will keep as ‘a friend’ – especially at school age = problematic and seen as spiteful if blocked/defriended.
Elements of offline friendship continue online – including gossip, jockeying for status – and bullying – continue online, but are significantly shaped by the always on nature of communication. Significant energies are put into ‘hanging out’, taking time to ‘play’ = all important parts of development and building relationships, but which those who are not truly experienced in digital living find problematic.
Note that those with ££ can afford to be ‘always on’ – which can privilege their interactions as FOMO/quick responses are key parts of building friendships.
Ito Mizuko (when researching MySpace) reports that “teens often use social media to make or develop friendships, but they do so almost exclusively with acquaintances or friends of friends” (rather than the oft-feared ‘strangers’ featured in the media – although that has become more acceptable as becomes more common to make all kinds of friends through online means).
Partly related to where people are on the introversion/extroversion scale … I’m super-extrovert – everyone I connect with is a possible friend! Need care – same as people ever had with blind dates – e.g. public place … difficult to sustain a persona online over the long term (possible, but difficult) – and definitely made a lot of friendships with people who are ‘just like’ their digital personas!
Importance of the visual online… Savvy re monitoring their own/others photographs online.. But also a lot of pressure to collect a lot of ‘likes’ around a photo!
Has been research re ‘Facebook depression’ – but most are also savvy enough to understand the difference between ‘representations online’ and that it’s not people’s whole lives – that people (as they often do in face-to-face conversations when not with close friends) will tend to share ‘only the best’. Typically, in fact, actually demonstrated more positive wellbeing because of positive engagements (probably similar to phone calls in the past).
Are a number of examples of where the digital has allowed those – particularly those with social disabilities – to connect in new & different ways – without dealing with the over-riding stimulation of face-to-face …
3 important aspects … the bullied (not the victim), the bully – all covered in more detail in the slideshare listed here … but particularly key with digital – where things happen SO fast … the bystander – encourage people to step in and say ‘hey, this is not OK’ – particularly for kids (digital pile-on), but also for adult friendships – keeping an eye out for online bullies!
Original Questions: What impact do these digital environments have on how we construct and maintain friendships? Is it possible to trust someone if you have never met face-to-face? How authentic are online friendships? Is authenticity being redefined by the digital environment?
Looked at authenticity & anonymity in a number of conversations(anon = partial formal research, other = not) – remember that we edit all parts of our lives – we dress certain ways – online we do the same … if we are wise! To finish with another quote from the book:
P100 Raising Children “Media Studies lecturer Marcus Leaning refers to the huge amount of early research that concentrated on online identity, which was heavily focused on the loss of face-to-face clues, and on deceit. These academic attitudes have filtered down into everyday thinking and continue to feature in the press, and help us understand why online identity remains such a huge concern to parents.”
Friendship in a Digital Age (@drbexl for @MMUBS)
November 12 2015 1Bex Lewis @drbexl
Friendship in a Digital Age
Are you really my friend? Exploring
Dr Bex Lewis
Bex Lewis @drbexl 2
• Lion Hudson,
• 3,500+ sold
• Translated into
• Strongly featured in
“If we want resilient kids we need
to understand what young people’s
experiences are online, listen to
their concerns, and intervene with
their best interests in mind.”
Jane Tallim, Co-Executive Director, MediaSmarts,
Canada, January 2015
Bex Lewis @drbexlImage Source: Purple Clover, Facebook
• Children interviewed felt ... the online world is
no more dangerous or exposed than the real
world, and some believe that the virtual world is
actually more secure and private, because there
is more control over what they choose to put
onto the Internet.
• CHILDWISE ‘Digital Lives’ Report (2010)
Bex Lewis @drbexl 4Image Source: Stockfresh
Even though in practice, face-to-face
communication can, of course, be angry,
negligent, resistant, deceitful and
inflexible, somehow it remains the ideal
against which mediated communication is
judged as flawed.
Prof Sonia Livingstone, Children and the Internet: Great
Expectations and Challenging Realities. 2009, p26
Bex Lewis @drbexl 5Image Source: LSE Website
• Larger numbers than in the past
• Across diverse and widespread networks
– Whose friend requests should be accepted?
– How many friends is ‘too many’?
– What are the offline impacts of refusing
– Does everyone have to be given the same level
Image Source: RGBStock Bex Lewis @drbexl 6
“Social media can be used more as an
address book, with privacy settings
allowing access to different levels of
information, while the public parade
of connections offers social identity
(Raising Children, p.106)
Image Source: Stockfresh Bex Lewis @drbexl 7
Parents must teach their children to safely
negotiate a modern world where many
people meet and interact online before
meeting in person. A blanket “never
meet” rule is just astoundingly silly in an
age where the parents of these children
themselves may well have met online.
‘Sanya2135’, Comment, Washington Post
Image Source: Stockfresh Bex Lewis @drbexl 8
“They monitored friends’ pages to ensure
that they were being represented fairly, and
trusted each other not to expose silly or
embarrassing pictures. Those that were on
the phone were considered to be private and
not for sharing without agreement, although
children should still consider what might
happen to those photos if the friendship
were to fall apart.”
(Raising Children, p.108)
Image Source: RGBStock Bex Lewis @drbexl 9
• I’m a sufferer of Asperger’s syndrome, and video games
may have realistically saved my life. I’ve always had
problems talking to people face to face, and was never
able to make friends at school. If it weren’t for the
relationships I formed online through my first games, I
honestly can’t be sure that I would be here today [...]
they’re obviously a great pastime, which helps me nurture
the better side of my syndrome, thinking and responding
logically. As with video gaming, the Internet helped me
form relationships that I couldn’t in real life.
• Children’s Call for Evidence, 2008 Byron Review
Image Source: RGBStock Bex Lewis @drbexl 10