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Social Media : Texting & Social Networking

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“In 2005, more than 500 billion text messages were sent and received worldwide. In 2010, it was estimated to be more than 2.3 trillion.” Angster, Frank, & Lester(2010).
“47% of online adults use social networking sites, and 73% of teens and young adults are a member of at least one social network.” Angster, Frank, & Lester (2010). Electronic means of communication, such as emails, text messaging, and social networking websites, have become a worldwide social phenomenon. Do the stressors in our complicated lives or busy schedules leave us with little time to make a phone call or drop by for a visit? Do such technological advances in our society discourage face to face communication? Are individuals today feeling the pressures more than ever to fit in with their peers? Perhaps low self esteem issues, anxiety, or loneliness contribute to the need to feel loved or popular, such as chatting to a stranger on a dating website, or adding as many “friends” as you can on face book even though you don’t really know them. Or maybe these types of communication really have become a convenient and efficient way of communicating? In this paper I will examine the possible explanations for such a huge reliance on electronic communication, the potential advantages and disadvantages of such communication; including the effects of this communication on behaviour and relationships, as well as how electronic communication compares to face to face communication. The global cellular phone market is a multibillion dollar industry, where approximately half of all human beings on the planet own and use a cell phone (Reid, & Red, 2007). Choosing to text rather than talk is clearly a significant decision point when using a cell phone to connect with another person. Which method of contact is chosen will depend on the expectations and goals of the user, and the way these goals interact with the affordances of texting and talking. Compared with a voice call, a text message can be comparatively inexpensive, sent and received unobtrusively, used when other forms of contact are not possible, and can fill odd moments of unoccupied time. However, frequent cell phone users; particularly teenagers and young adults, many of whom now prefer texting to talking on their cell phones for most forms of peer contact, develop a deeper appreciation of the social functionality of text messaging, and this may be reflected in their generalized patterns of cell phone use. Some prefer to text because it gives them time to think about the wording of their messages, allowing them to be more informal and candid, even with close friends (Reid, & Reid, 2007). Another interesting find from Reid, & Reid; is that individuals that are more lonely prefer making voice calls and rated texting as a less intimate method of contact to be used only as a last resort. On the other hand, anxious individuals make fewer voice calls and prefer to text, achieving expressive and intimate contact. So perhaps anxiety and loneliness play a role in one’s method of communication. According to Kennedy (2010), there are many explanations for why texting has become so popular among adults and their children. Basically is it a very private, convenient, and fast way of keeping in touch with someone. “Let’s face it; the vast majority of us do not have the time or the opportunity for long-winded personal calls during the day. Text messaging is ideal for just “checking in” to see how someone is doing, to confirm meet-up plans, or to let loved ones know you are thinking about them” ( Kennedy, 2010, p.17). Kennedy also goes on to explain how it is quite possible that social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have made us more comfortable with communicating in short bursts of thought. Some extreme social media devotees have even configured these sites to send them a text message every time someone posts something directed at them.
Given the emergence of innovative social networking services, such as Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, and Cyworld, understanding why there are so many users is quite straight forward. Through social networking services, people can keep in touch with friends and family, reconnect with old friends, and create friendships through similar interests at virtually no cost. Wilson, Fornasier, & White (2010) explain that neuroticism is associated with increased social networking sites. Low self esteem also has an influence on social networking use, as these individuals seemed to prefer online social interaction over face to face exchanges. However, Wilson, Fonasier, & White also conclude that; self esteem can either increase or decrease depending on the tone of feedback received on people’s virtual profiles. Therefore, it is possible that both people with high levels and people with low levels of self esteem seek to use Social networking sites to confirm or as a means of increasing their feelings of self worth in the hope of positive feedback from other users. Mehdizadeh (2010) also confirms that individuals higher in narcissism and lower in self esteem are related to greater online activity.
The current research suggests that text messaging and certain social networking sites are very convenient, easy to use, private, and affordable ways of keeping in touch with family and friends. This may be very true. However, could there be possible drawbacks or negative effects associated with these technical advances in communication? How does electronic communication affect relationships?
New research suggests that for teens, the excessive use of texting and online social networking sites such as Facebook can be associated with other dangerous behaviours (Johnson, 2011). So called hyper texting; or sending more than 120 text messages a day, and hyper networking; spending more than 3 hours a day on social networking sites, is associated with a range of poor health outcomes, including substance use, sexual activity, absenteeism, fighting, and metal health problems. According to Johnson, hyper-networkers are at an especially high risk for stress, depression, suicide, substance use, fighting, poor sleep, poor academic performance, high television viewing, and parental permissiveness. Also, according to Kennedy (2010), text messaging is just not the same as a face to face or a phone conversation. There are no visual or verbal cues (facial expression or tone of voice), so sarcasm is usually a bad idea because it is likely to get misinterpreted. Text messages are so short as well, so there is not enough bandwidth for an extended explanation. Kennedy further explains, “And yet we’ve all heard stories about someone breaking up with a significant other, firing an employee via text, and other rude interpersonal behaviour, including bullying via SMS. (It seems as though technology in general has turned middle schools into even more of a living hell than they were years ago.) Even more so than email, texting has become a popular way of avoiding unpleasant conversions” (pg. 17). It seems that texting’s rise over conversation is changing the way we interact, and that we default to text to relay difficult information. The effect of internet use on social relationships is still a matter of intense debate. Pollet, Roberts, & Dunbar (2011), examine the relationships between the use of social media; such as instant messaging and social network sites, network size, and emotional closeness in a sample of 117 individuals aged 18-63 years old. Time spent using social media was associated with a larger number of online social network ‘‘friends.’’ However, time spent using social media was not associated with larger offline networks, or feeling emotionally closer to offline network members. Further, those that used social media, as compared to non-users of social media, did not have larger offline networks, and were not emotionally closer to offline network members. These results contrast with previous findings, which suggested a positive impact of social media use on social relationships. One possible reason for this difference is that the effects of social media use may be age specific, and the enhanced self-disclosure on social media may apply specifically to adolescents who are particularly prone to shyness and self-consciousness. (Pollet, Roberts, & Dunbar, 2011). Further, previous research in this area has tended to rely on general measures of social wellbeing (social support, social capital, overall closeness to friends). Asking participants to list explicitly and rate their closeness to each offline network member may give a more accurate assessment of the composition of offline networks.
Another reason behind these results may be that social media use does not relax the time and cognitive constraints on offline network size sufficiently to allow for either larger networks or closer relationships with each network member. Also, it could be that time is inelastic and there is a limited amount of leisure time in any given day. Time is a crucial constraint shaping sociality, and recent studies with adolescents have shown that time spent using a computer does negatively affect time spent interacting with parents, though not time spent with friends (Pollet, Roberts, & Dunbar).
Social networking sites provide the ideal infrastructure for the maintenance of existing relationships and the development of new contacts. Although these web based technologies supplement offline relationships, several of their characteristics have the potential to provoke negative experiences. According to Tokunaga (2011), functions relevant to participation on social networking sites including friend negotiation and the exchange of messages, formed the basis for the most commonly experienced negative events. Given that these activities represent functions necessary for participation, the high frequency of negative encounters during these activities may be a consequence of the need for users to interact with them. Requesting friends, for instance, is a fundamental part of involvement; the absence of contacts defeats the purpose of joining social networking sites. Authoring messages on friends’ message boards is also representative of one’s contributions. Performing these routine activities may jeopardize the relationship between friends by introducing interpersonal strain.
The three activities implicated by the most common negative event types (friend negotiation process, message construction, and ranking disparities) correspond with the structural and function characteristics that make social networking sites a favourable infrastructure for initiating problems in relationships. All three activities are tied to context specific social norms that are neither intuitive nor exist in offline contexts. There is no analog of deleting public messages, explicitly articulating friend rankings, or formally responding to friend requests in-person interactions. Therefore, people using social networking sites are unable to apply their own knowledge of social norms in offline settings to the online domain. The deficient negotiation between offline social norms and the indistinct set of norms on social networking sites foster the negative events (Tokunaga, 2011).
The confusion surrounding the definition of friends on social networking sites complicates matters further in the friend negotiation and ranking processes. Because the equivocal term ‘‘friend’’ is used on these sites, there are assumptions carried with the label, which may escape some users. Individuals diverge in how they interpret the meaning of friends; some use it to mean mere contacts, others only use friends to refer to people they have met offline, and there are those who apply the term to only close friends. The way in which people construe the notion of friends determines their actions in friend negotiations and rankings. Interpersonal strain may result when two people use and act on discrepant meanings of friends. For example, if Person A thinks all people should be accepted as friends, while Person B thinks that friends should only apply to closest friends, interpersonal strain is expected when Person B declines a friend request from Person A because he or she is not considered a close offline friend (Tokunaga). According to a curriculum review (2008), text messaging and the internet are destroying the way kids read, think, and write. Only one out of four high school seniors is a proficient writer, and only two thirds of employees are capable writers. “These kids aren't learning to spell. They're learning acronyms and short hand. Text messaging is destroying the written word. The students aren't writing letters, they're typing into their cell phones one line at a time. Feelings aren't communicated with words when you're texting; emotions are sideways smiley faces. Kids are typing shorthand jargon that isn't even a complete thought” (Curriculum Review, pg.1). This generation of children are encouraged to read as much as possible, and to organize their thoughts on paper, which is suggested to help with their writing skills. Schachter (2011) examines the social media dilemma, and reason’s school districts in the U.S are providing in support of and against using aspects of social media in their curriculum. While some district leaders have banned the use of social networking sites altogether because of fears over inappropriate use and/or goofing off among students, others are puzzling over what to do about the brave new world of social media, and weighing its potential use by students and teachers inside and outside of the classroom (Schachter, 2011).
Schachter notes how teachers can now get approval to use such sites as Facebook as educational tools at the high school and middle school levels. To get that approval, teachers need to explain the educational value of using a social media site and to take appropriate security measures for managing content and protecting private student information. Schachter continues to explain how there is an increasing amount of U.S public schools that are incorporating social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter into lectures and classroom activities, teachers and administrative staff are even using these websites to communicate with parents and students on a regular basis. Even text messaging has now made it into high school classrooms. For example, Tahquitz High School, part of the Hemet Unified School District in California’s San Jacinto Valley, has incorporated texting into one of the school’s history classes. Connecting through polleveryone.com, the class uses overhead projectors to present multiple choice questions, while students use their own cell phones to text the numerical code of the answer. Students without cell phones collaborate with others who have them. The school principle states, “It’s an anonymous way for students to engage and contribute, the teacher can immediately assess how well students are picking up on class content and identify which information needs to be retaught. And it’s all at no charge. That’s the key thing” (Schachter, p.30). Despite the growing enthusiasm in educational settings for social networks, many other districts prohibit such sites. One reason is that superintendents don’t want to give parents and community members any more access to school business than they already have. There’s also concern in the administrative ranks about the misuse of social media by sexual predators and student bullies, online relationships between teachers and students, and inappropriate postings. As explained by Schachter, in Chicago of March 2010, one elementary school teacher made headlines, and faced disciplinary action by the district, for using her personal Facebook page to ridicule the hairstyle, and post a picture, of one of her 7-year-old students. Shortly before that, a male gym teacher resigned from an Atlanta school after a criminal probe was launched into his sending inappropriate personal messages via his own Facebook account to a 15-year-old female student. With the controversy of this social media dilemma, school boards around the state of Connecticut range from completely banning social media sites, to progressively allowing them. The policy has to include what the board considers unacceptable, which may include prohibiting the use of social media for buying and selling online, releasing identifiable information about students, harassing other students or teachers, and for many districts teachers and students “friending” each other on Facebook, which can allow them to have a private, online correspondence(Schachter,2011). What follows are clear guidelines for teachers seeking to use social media in the classroom. They include getting a principal or supervisor’s approval, how to manage security, and identifying what standards social networking will address and how it enhances what’s being taught. According to Timmons, director of technology and information services, Weld Re-4 School District, Windsor, Colo; “the right kind of social networking belongs in the required curriculum. If we let students get all the way through high school without responsibly being able to use these tools, we’re doing them a disservice” (Schachter, 2011, p.32). Overall, this growth of new devices of communication raises the question of whether relationships using the new modes of communication are as satisfying as face to face social interactions. Angster, Frank, &Lester (2010) reported that the time spent on the internet was positively associated with a decline in meaningful communication with household family members, fewer people in immediate social circles, and an increase in experiences of depression and loneliness. It was also found that college students use their cell phones for texting and calling frequently; however, the more they used their cell phones for these purposes, the less fulfilling they found the experience. On the other hand, texting family members was viewed as having a positive effect on their family relationships. Coyle & Vaughn (2008) suggest that the main purpose of social networking is to keep in touch with friends. Their findings also indicate that social networking sites are used for unimportant message content with friends, both close and nonclose, and that they are used to maintain friendships, but as a noncentral form of socializing. Social networking may be convenient for retaining contact when time and distance are issues, but it does not replace voice calls and face-to face communication. Not a single respondent of the 68 people surveyed in Coyle & Vaughn’s study answered that he or she used social networking sites to meet new people. A Web survey conducted in South Korea, one of the most technologically “mature” countries in the world, even found that instant messaging is used to maintain a small communication network with other instant messaging users, but not for communicating with people outside one’s existing social network. These findings are in agreement with findings about social networking sites. People are using technology to communicate with people they already know. They are not using it to find new people (Coyle & Vaughn, 2008).
Conclusion & Future Directions: Although technology is evolving rapidly, people as societal beings are not necessarily changing in their basic social motivations. Social networking and text messaging may be a relatively simple and convenient way of communicating, but it has not appeared to have revolutionized communication; rather, it appears that social networking and text messaging are simply another form of communication that are evolving over time with the aid of technology. While it may seem that information technology based social communication is superficial and that social networking sites are used to retain existing networks, the ability to harness the more intimate aspects of social relationships by including voice communication, presence, and location information on sites could further change social networking and perhaps provide the something extra needed for a communication revolution. Finally, it may seem that social networking sites are exploding around individuals’ abilities to be creative and expressive. One can play with presentations of self and share rich content such as video and art, bridging a gap through which a phone or an instant message is too narrow a channel. It takes little skill using social networking sites to publish one’s own life. It is unlikely that social networking sites will easily predict compatibility when meeting new people. Being social is a multisensory event, and not one that technology based communication has been able to fully satisfy. Face to face introductions and time spent in physical company will continue to dictate change and growth for a person’s family and friend social networks.

References
Angster, A., Frank, M., & Lester, D. (2010). AN EXPLORATORY STUDY OF STUDENTS' USE OF CELL PHONES, TEXTING, AND SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES¹. Psychological Reports, 107(2), 402-404.
Coyle, C. L., & Vaughn, H. (2008). Social networking: Communication revolution or evolution?. Bell Labs Technical Journal, 13(2), 13-17.
Is Texting Destroying Kids' Writing Style?. (2008). Curriculum Review, 48(1), 4-5.
Johnson, T. (2011). Excessive texting, social networking linked to health risks for teenagers. Nation's Health, 40(10), 11.
KENNEDY, S. (2010). Internet Waves. More Text, Less Talk. Information Today, 27(11), 15-17.
Mehdizadeh, S. (2010). Self-Presentation 2.0: Narcissism and Self-Esteem on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 13(4), 357-364.
Pollet, T. V., Roberts, S. B., & Dunbar, R. M. (2011). Use of Social Network Sites and Instant Messaging Does Not Lead to Increased Offline Social Network Size, or to Emotionally Closer Relationships with Offline Network Members. Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 14(4), 253-258.
Reid, D. J., & Reid, F. M. (2007). Text or Talk? Social Anxiety, Loneliness, and Divergent Preferences for Cell Phone Use. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 10(3), 424-435.
SCHACHTER, R. (2011). THE SOCIAL MEDIA Dilemma. District Administration, 47(7), 27-33.
Tokunaga, R. S. (2011). Friend Me or You'll Strain Us: Understanding Negative Events That Occur over Social Networking Sites. Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 14(7/8), 425-432.
Wilson, K., Fornasier, S., & White, K. M. (2010). Psychological Predictors of Young Adults' Use of Social Networking Sites. Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 13(2), 173-177.

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The Negative Impact of Hand-Held Technology on Teens

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