“We are natural villagers. For most of mankind’s history we have lived in very small communities in which we knew everybody and everybody knew us. But gradually there grew to be far too many of us, and our communities became too large and disparate for us to be able to feel a part of them, and our technologies were unequal to the task of drawing us together. But that is changing. Interactivity. Many-to-many communications. Pervasive networking. These are cumbersome new terms for elements in our lives so fundamental that, before we lost them, we didn’t even know to have names for them.”
We are social beings
Porter rightly says, “people use software to do all the same things they used to do without it: talk to each other, form groups, gain respect, manage their lives, have fun.” Things that humans have always done. It’s just that years ago our friends and family were walking, driving or a short flight away. It was easy to keep in touch, as they were not far away. These days the situation is different.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I use the Internet to keep in touch with my family and most of my best friends, as they don’t live near me. I feel a need to keep in touch with these people. No! I need to feel connected.
Humans are innately social and must be surrounded by other people. Those who are not stimulated socially can go insane. For example, the other day was watching Sean Penn’s 2007 movie “Into the Wild” **. It was inspired by the true story of Christopher McCandless who thought that freedom was about being at one, alone, with nature. As he painfully found out, you really need other people around you.
The graph below shows that psychological distress is correlated with social support.
Dalgard OS. Association between social support and psychological distress. In: EUPHIX, EUphact. Bilthoven: RIVM, <http://www.euphix.org> EUphact\ Determinants of health\ Environment\ Social support, 26 May 2008.
MySpace has been shown to have similar effects. A short article titled Blogging as a Social Tool: A Psychosocial Examination of the Effects of Blogging by James R. Baker, Susan M. Moore, December 2008 suggested that blogging helps people feel like they have a stronger social support network, possibly because blogging helps a person gain some insight, feedback or perspective on their life and‘take the results with a grain of salt, however, as 57% of the original participants at the initial time of the first set of measures did not complete the measures two months later” (possibly skewing the results of the data) (John Grohol). The researchers also did not differentiate successful, frequent bloggers from those who may have started a blog and posted only one entry.’ He even writes about that fact blogging might even make you happier! It certainly makes me happy, as I mentioned in a post last year!
Social software is a forced move. It had to happen, we have to be able to deal with the fact that, in some parts of Western culture, the family is no longer a ‘unit’. In fact, Stephen Andersen suggests that the best social media features/sites are rooted in natural human behavior.
“is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible. Flickr lets me see what friends are eating for lunch, how they’ve redecorated their bedroom, their latest haircut. Twitter tells me when they’re hungry, what technology is currently frustrating them, who they’re having drinks with tonight.”
True but it is actual intimacy for some. They have only a few social networks (friends) where they live; perhaps they work too hard or they are socially inept and don’t like seeing people face-to-face. In that context social networks provide actual intimacy. There is nothing ambient about it!
I was like for the first 6 months after I signed up, did nothing. Then I realised it was a way to keep track of my thoughts and interesting blog topics,without having to write an entire blog post or write in a diary, which I hate. So now I get it…
A psychologist, Elisha Goldstein, links Twitter to the practise of mindfulness. If you have something on your mind that distracts you from your daily chores, you can use Twitter ‘to be reminded to pop out of the routine or auto-pilot [you] may be in and become more present to everyday life.’ That makes sense to me, I have written a thesis on mindfulness in mediation.
PLEASE, do this for me for a week. Tweet about things you like, things do are doing, things that frustrate you about 5 times a day. You are essentially writing a diary. That’s useful and plenty of people have researched the value of writing a diary. Galina Pembroke discussed the value of Journalling here. Twitter is not quite as ‘deep’ as writing your own diary, but it works for me! Once you do this for yourself, you will see how the social effects can kick in.
Once you are interacting use ‘Groups’ in Tweetdeck to manage where your attention is placed. You can put your mates in one column and your colleagues in another and people who you think are smart and worth spending the time on in another. However, follow as many similar people as you can, so you have more opportunities to get the interactions you need. If somebody responded to a tweet you should put them in a group too, you know they care about you so care about them back.
Also, remember when you are online and ready to tweet, read what is there in the stream of Tweets at that time and forget about all the rest. If you worry about the tweets you’ve missed it will become a chore and you won’t do it.
Do you think that LinkedIn is some social network that is only relevant if you are looking for a job? No!
Think about it as a place to store your resume. I could never find the latest one of my PC! It was also a place to store my contacts for work, that wasn’t on the server at work Now it is a place to keep testimonials from clients! Once I used it personally, then the social side kicked in. I now participate in group discussion, find recruits (one contacted me today), market my business and much much more.
Facebook pissing you off? Do you think that it should be banned and that people should be sacked if you use it when you are sick? You need to experience it first. Use it to organise an event or think of it as an online photo album or use it to find out about what your old friends are doing. Help yourself first. Then you might just start interacting with people.
Social Networking really is valuable - Some stories
I’ve found a few examples to demonstrate that the personal value of a network must exceed the network value for you to get over the initial hump and actually start using one of these new tools. Also, by making it about YOU then your readers will view your efforts as real and they’ll actually take the time to interact with you.
This blogger shows how Twitter was helpful to her daughter when a family member passed away. She was offered support, that was short and to the point, from 4 friends that were distributed across the US.
I did a little experiment with Twitter and Facebook. I asked my followers how Twitter had helped their social lives! Here’s some answers:
“It compliments it, fortifies it and adds to it. Facebook is your online answer to Crown St living: you have a view into the buzz of life but you can choose to interact with it as little or as much as you like. The people who use it as a total substitute for reality are Bad Boy Bubby internet geeks. They give online communities a bad name. Or do they? Maybe these people would absolutely have no friends otherwise?” Ilona
“When you’re parenting small babies and toddlers and find your life morphed from a flurry of work and activity to home alone (well, with the l’il ones) a great deal of the time - Facebook becomes a godsend. Yes it makes up for missing social interaction it provides you with a sense of community and continuity when all else in your life has changed so drastically…” Andrea
“It’s fabulous for those of us who live away from our home.” Dee
Of course, Twitter is in the News right now, with the Iranian elections. This speaks volumes about the value of social networking to certain groups over there.
I am so sick of people saying that social networking (particularly Twitter) is a waste of time. It provides people with all sorts of benefits.
Answers - I ask questions and they get answered
Relaxation - Other people help me sort through the plethora of information available, filtering through the crap and offering me interesting things to read
Social Connectedness - I can easily feel a sense of belonging with friends and family spread around the Globe. I can share photos and see what people are up to
Objectivity and reflection - When I type my thoughts on my blog, or in Twitter, I can be objective about then and reflect on my actions. It’s a diary and I can revisit it whenever I want, where ever I am
Creativity - I think about things lots more these days. When I put those ideas out there, no-one may listen, but I move one step further closer to self actualization
Sense of self worth - When people thank me for my posts, add their thoughts, sign up to my RSS feed or Tweet stream. I feel like I have made a difference to people’s lives.
And it is much more fun and a better way to spend my time than being forced fed bullshit on TV.
I was the top sales person at an Adelaide outdoor store that I worked in when I was at university doing Science. I only worked Thursday night, Saturday and 4 hours on Sunday. Granted, they were the busiest times, anyway…
I put my success down to my customer service mantra:
"I must talk to E V E R Y O N E who comes in the shop, no matter what I’m doing."
Many times I would be fitting a backpack, at the checkout, fiddling with someone’s shoes, but I always popped my head up, smiled and spoke to my customers.
I get really peeved with most customer service people, particularly in Sydney. I often get ignored in a restaurant, the child care centre (when I drop off my son), corporate businesses, bars, retail outlets! Cafes are particularly irksome, you know, you don’t know whether to sit down or order at the counter??
Customer service starts with ‘How can I help you’ or ‘I won’t be a second’. We must acknowledge our customers, whether they have a problem, a question or not.
If I walk into a surf shop and am not acknowledged, my business will likely walk away with me, right out the door. With the retail climate, poor as it is, there is no excuse for shitty service. And staff don’t need any training for this. They need to be told, talk to every customer you see or get another job.
In designing the chat application for MyPsych.com (not live) we researched different online emotional communication tools. With the goal of giving people the ability to communicate enough emotion, synchronously without cluttering up the screen.
People will always find ways to communicate emotion given the tools available to them. Just think, a deaf and blind person is completely capable of emotional communication, it’s just a bit differently to what an able bodied person is used to. In this context, human creativity is key.
I recently saw a tweet from someone saying that they thought their emails are becoming considerably shorter they have been twittering a lot. I agree, I am learning how to communicate meaning very well with this constrained medium that only has 140 characters available per ‘tweet’. I think that is a pretty easy thing to learn, particularly as I have been Texting for ages and am also using Skype more and can’t be bothered typing so much. However emotional communication is a little more complex.
My son was born with some basic emotional communication tools
Facial expressions (Screwing up his mouth when he’s hungry)
Physical expressions (Clenching his fists when he is tired)
The list goes on.
As a child he is building on these basic emotional expressions as he learns that he has a body and can interact with the world. He will also learn how to talk and, more importantly, learn what reaction particular emotional expressions get him in social situations he is involved in or saw on TV or in books (his culture). This emotional stir fry becomes quite complex as he gets older and he experience more interactions with more and more people. Remember, psychologists make lots of money by helping people to break down the ingredients of theirs and others emotional soup(s).
With the evolution of the Internet this process of learning about emotional communication has started over again! Being emotional online
Complex emotions are easily communicated online. But do you really know all the tricks? Can you believe emoticons have been around since 1912? Ambrose Bierce proposed a new punctuation device for typewriter called a “snigger point,” a smiling face represented by \__/!, to connote jocularity. This is discussed in this great New York Times article from July 2007? A 2007 study of 40000 Yahoo Messenger users showed that 82% of users used emoticons in their conversations! Emotional expression online is just as complex as face-to-face. If we are talking about text based communication we need to think about Prosody - the rhythmic and intonational aspect of language. To my mind, online emotional expression skill development has two stages:
Habitual - When I started using text communications like chat, I habitually used expressive techniques that felt right. I learned them from writing, reading, watching and interacting offline, for example:
I change my typing speed as I am more interested or concerned with the other person or people I’m talking to
I turn off Skype when I get pissed with someone
I use emotional language relevant to the context of my communication
Content, plus I consider what I am writing so that it has the impact I want
Learned - During my early web conversations I used things that I knew from Word processing and I noticed in the interface to enhance my emotional communications. As I have become more involved in online comms these have developed. As follows:
Emoticons. We should know most of the standard ones I even found a list of complex text base emoticons here.
Complex keyboard use - S P A C E S - dOn’T you GGGEEETTT it!?
Emotional insertions like my Twitter friend @silkcharm. Here’s an excerpt:
i’d buy a vibrating paddle *saucy wink*
Picture based emoticons
I’m sure there are others that I don’t know about, but they are useless unless I have the time to search for them or see someone else using them. It is critical that when designers create new tools that they use techniques of making it blatantly clear what they are offering.
With the emoticons in this blogging software I can’t immediately find the smiley one! There are so many to choose fun. Really irritating!
Skype is pretty overloaded too! They do have a little tip at the bottom of the popup window to suggest what the emoticon might mean.
GetSatisfaction have solved this overload problem with a great instructional design technique that encourages people to use text to describe a smiley, like:
They even make suggestions of what the smiley might mean!
This approach can certainly work but it does take up a lot of space and people are generally not engaged in synchronous communication.
With MyPsych.com we decided that we must keep the interface simple as possible and on one screen. So as not to distract from the therapy session. This meant that we have only 4 emoticons - a square - that everyone is completely clear on what they mean. We also added simple text formatting to allow prosody.