One more piece of the puzzle connecting online and offline use and behaviors

As a person who does not have any children, I stand amazed at how many things parents have to worry about, and how impactful the behaviors that parents enact within the family can transfer to their children in a plethora of ways.

In a survey of 417 college students, Ledbdetter looked at the interrelationships between four main concepts:

  • conversation orientation–how open the climate of communication is, and how encouraged the family members feel to talk about a large range of topics
  • conformity orientation– how homogeneous the attitudes, values, and beliefs that the family maintains in its communication)
  • relationship maintenance behaviors-the actions the family members engage in to keep the relationship in existence, which he then parsed into online and offline behaviors
  • Friendship closeness

Using theories that describe how behavior modeling constitutes a primary factor in the socialization of how people communicate with others, his results provide further support for these notions. Strong conversation orientation predicted the use of both online and offline relational maintenance behaviors. Further, the use off offline relationship maintenance behaviors served as a mediating behavior between conversation orientation and friendship closeness (but interestingly online maintenance behaviors did not).

So, if interested in helping their children establish close friendships outside of the family, parents should strive to maintain a climate of open discussions with their children. Likewise, research has indicated that children in families with a high conformity orientation have trouble adjusting to major life changes such as college. Children developing and learning some intellectual flexibility is key, both in listening to information, but also in forming tactful messages to others.

Obviously, parents interested in never having their children leave their house should practice the conformity orientation.

On the technology front these findings provide support for research that myself and others have conducted that look at the impact of the medium, though my hunch is that over the next thirty or so years these effects will dissipate somewhat. Online relationships perform similarly to offline relationships if the online relationships have time to develop, and this could also explain why conformity relationships were found to be related to online maintenance behaviors but not offline behaviors; perhaps this lack flexibility is masked when one has a tighter control over the interaction. Online maintenance in concert with offline maintenance is strongly related to friendship closeness.

Ledbetter, A. M. (2009). Family communication patterns and relational maintenance behavior: Direct and mediated associations with friendship closeness. Human Communication Research, 35, 130-147.

What to study when the Internet disappears

I have long taken the view that the most effective and timeless perspective to studying technology is to look the human aspects of it, and think that I can make the claim that my research on the Internet has stood the test of time as a result of this philosophy.

Malcolm Parks ponders how we will study the Internet when it “disappears,” when its ubiquity is pervasive to the point that we can no longer parse out any direct effects. Today, the Internet is no longer this separate “thing” that people go to, but rather exists all around us in multiple forms (SMS, i-phones, e-mails, Twitters, etc…). Freshmen entering college accept this pervasive technology as part of their lives; it has always been there. But in the meantime, it exists, and people today are dealing with unique communication experiences. We do not know much about the effects of simultaneous media usage, nor how people manage it.

Parks proposes focusing on the underlying communication processes, as opposed to studying the “surface” technologies. Here is perhaps the biggest contribution that academics can make, delving deeply into theories of how people connect, and where the technologies intersect. To wit, “As Walther (in press) recently observed, CMC [computer-mediated communication] research has not yet adequately addressed underlying assumptions, has failed to develop typologies that would allow meaningful comparison of technologies, failed to articulate boundary conditions for theoretic perspectives, and, in too many cases, has devoted inadequate attention to underlying explanatory mechanisms.” Another opportunity is to track how people’s behavior has evolved as a result of technology over time.

Although these things do not receive much play from non-academic research, a growing number of Internet watchers emphasize that when looking at “social media,” it is the “social” that should stay at the forefront. And here is one place to start that investigation.

Parks, M. (2009). What Will We Study When the Internet Disappears? Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 14, 724-729.