29 March 2009

Natives and Immigrants

When I began thinking about what to post to the blog (my first blog post ever!), I started to think about how different things are for me than they are for my parents, and how different things are for my nieces and nephews than they are for me, and so on. Ultimately, I pondered social networking sites and their users. I have considered the whys, hows and wherefores of social networking for individuals who are digital immigrants as well as for digital natives. While I know that many of the same services are utilized by both groups, the reasons for and the manners in which they are used are probably quite different. I decided to explore those differences in the context of Twitter.

What, you might ask, is Twitter? Well, you can check out the Twitter site to get started, but basically Twitter is another social networking tool. Users can post interesting information (like hyperlinks to articles on the web). Their 'friends' are notified (via text message or through the web) that the user has posted something, and can follow the information. The only issue is, there is a limit of 140 characters (that's right- characters, not words) when you post something. That seems pretty limiting to me, so I decided to find out what the big hairy deal was.

So, why have I been hearing about Twitter all over the place- from Ellen Degeneres to news anchors? Why does it seem that I can't turn around without hearing the words 'twitter', 'tweet', or other nonsense? It seems that Twitter is a technology that has been quickly adopted by those digital immigrants who are testing the waters of social networking tools and user-created media. It is simple enough to use, with very little needed to do so-- just about any connection to the internet or text messaging will do- no fancy 'out of the ordinary' equipment, no knowledge of HTML or anything. Just a thought and an ability to articulate that thought in 140 characters or less. And it makes you feel connected, just like that- prest-o, change-o. Oh, wait, there's more to it than that...

After creating my own account to investigate, I perused through the content that other user's had shared. I immediately realized how difficult my task could get if I didn't define my variables like a good social scientist. To that end, I decided that those users over the age of 40 were 'immigrants' and those under 40 were 'natives'. While I am quite well-aware that those numbers aren't exact, I had to define my variables within the perameters of what was available, and I selected approximations. When I used those age criteria to analyze postings, I noticed a difference in the postings of the two groups. It seemed that most 'natives' posted just little snippits to keep friends up-to-date on what was going on in their personal lives- where they were traveling, what they were doing at the moment, and the like. Updates for them tended to be simple and straight-forward. Immigrants, on the other hand, tended to put up more of a variety of posts. While some still involved personal updates, many of the posts were links to sites with information about upcoming events, or social/political causes. There also seemed to be a lot more back and forth discussion about the economy and other issues amongst the 'immigrants' than the 'natives'. Threads that went back and forth multiple times between users were much more apparent for the 'immigrants' than the 'natives'. In some ways, it seemed to me as though the 'immigrants' were more fully utilizing the interactive nature of the service than the 'natives' were. Granted, the sample size I used was small and I found most of the subjects by following links from one users Twitter to another, but overall the trend holds.

How can it be possible? Every text that I have read seems to indicate that the rise in social networking sites has come about because of the current generation of young people. Many have argued that the very nature of social interaction has changed as a result of the differences between the current group and past generations. Is that possible? My results seemed to indicate that the possibility might exist. Or is it possible that the 'immigrants' I chose were not 'immigrants' at all? Are my results inherintely limited because users of Twitter are probably not the average digital 'immigrant'? Or was my sample too small? How could it be possible that the immigrants were using the service in a more particpatory way than the natives? Does it indicate some underlying difference in the way natives and immigrants interact overall and not just within social networking sites? Are those theorists correct- has the manner in which we interact with one another been altered?

As I struggle to make the connections and understand what's really going on, I wonder if my results would be similar in Facebook or on MySpace. I will have to continue my search and report back...

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post! I often think that there is a stronger sense of political and cultural involvement in countries outside of the United States, and I have often wondered why. Why does my cousin's husband from Ukraine spend so much time investigating political and social structures of his country and others? Why do so many global networking teen sites seem to be dominated by youth in Europe? At least, these are things that I have witnessed...obviously without scientific evidence.

    What I've come to think is that although we, as Americans, view ourselves as politically involved and knowledgeable, the truth is that we take a lot for granted. We haven't lived through political upheavel like my cousin in law did in Ukraine. We have had tough times, certainly, but we have never faced severe political prosecution. In addition, we as a society function on spending money, idolizing the rich and famous and paying our professional athletes millions of dollars. As a whole, I think our society is concerned merely with themselves. We like to update people on what WE are doing. We like them to know what WE have. Or what fantastic trip WE are going on. That view is not as common in other countries or cultures. It is often more about society and less about the individual.

    In that sense, I think your study makes some sense.