Saturday, January 05, 2008

Personal insights, goodgrief & the social and psychological effects of SMS and Text messaging

Goodgrief, it took me a few days to decide to reread this series of articles on the psychological effects of txting; after all some rational critique was warranted.
Its based on early research (McKenna et al 2002) that people utilising the Internet and email for social engagement did so to overcome social ineptitude.
OK reader, you are here, and by implication you too could be socially inept.
I'm here, so we are in good company.
I confess i sometimes/often use email instead of a phone call, that i send an email even when i could have walked 50 meters...My reaction to the article confirms my social ineptitude, I am annoyed.
And I start to look at myself and confirm it further:
I prefer to use an ATM when the transaction is simple, I prefer to use my computer to check my balance. I emailed my bank instead of making a phone call. I often send emails to people at my work that are within easy access of a stroll.I reread the findings and see them couched in terms of how for 'some people' it overcomes social difficulties, improves their lives...those who are socially anxious and/or lonely or have marginal identities. And that many others use it too.
I guess, I think, that i am one of many others. I might not be, I'm now perturbed, does this mean I am socially anxious. I did't think i was before I read this, but there we are...
Then on the basis of such wisdom the article by Reid and Reid have a go at texters vs talkers, and they show the same thing.
Ok, maybe i shouldnt go there, but again some reflection on my own practice: I texted back my brother when he described getting dusted by Dads ashes.
(Woops some family members didnt know I had kept them and sent them to Shagpoint (there really is a place called this, bottom of the Sth Island, just north of Dunedin) And its where Dad grew up. Their property included a coalmine extending out under the sea, which i understand was an unwelcome career choice for Dad who left school at 12 years and left home rather than work in the coalmine...
It's now DOC land with a Hoiho (yellow eyed penguin) colony, and I am sure Dad would be pleased with this.

But this may also further prove their point; I must be socially inept because here i am blogging about it....

Compared to Talkers, Texters were found to be more lonely and
socially anxious, and more likely to disclose their ‘real-self’ through text than via face-to- face or voice call exchanges

Despite this, and because I am rereading Annemarie Mol, I attempt to relate to parts of this literature.
...there is something special about texting that allows some people to translate their loneliness and/or social anxiety into productive relationships whilst for others the mobile does not afford the same effect

I wish the authors had not pathologised the practices of 'some people', me included? I can now personally identify with Bruno Latour's advice to stay with the actors; assume people are right...put yourself at the peak of enthusiasm, the apex, the point where things were irresistible...there's reason for people doing what they do, it is the best option they have available to them at the time. A very humanistic approach, Carl Rogers could like this.
back to the article. There is something special.
Texting permits visual anonymity and its asynchronous nature allows for editing and self- reflection. Texters may feel at greater ease being their ‘real-self’ through a text message reducing the potential repercussions that may otherwise take place in a traditional face-to-face or telephone encounter. Texting may offer Texters more control over their interactions with others by affording them visual anonymity and asynchronous communication. As such the mobile may become more a matter of identity than a simple communication tool. Further research needs to be carried out to delve into these ideas further.

Ahuh, we have an area of agreement, at least with the last sentence. For the rest I would rather ask the texters themselves, I have serious doubts about the other conclusions reached.
Yet the same type of research gets repeated, and cited. Again and again. Same authors 2003, and again 2004- Text appeal and the psychology of sms texting and its designs for mobile phone interface.... Here at least they ask about the resilience of texting and that it would be unwise to overlook the 'simple user benefits'. The paradox of detachment with intimacy is described.
The spontaneous sociability of the chat room coupled with the artful editability of e-mail – that lends texting a special, but paradoxical, appeal to key user groups. Put simply, text messaging seems to provide an opportunity for intimate personal contact while at the same time offering the detachment necessary to manage self-presentation and involvement.... sufficient time to exchange carefully crafted messages without the expectation of an immediate reply.

And they note that its more of a girl thing.
I'm getting cross now, is it that 'girls' are more socially dependent, need more attachment but in a form where they can scan more, be careful, review, revise...I can feel a Carol Gilligan moment coming on with outrage that what it is to be male is 'normal' and others are dysfunctional, or at least less socially ept.
The articles come across as arrogant.
They presume to speak for the actors. But the voices of these actors is missing.

Today Stephen Downes OLWeekly points to Danah Boyd who identifies that the myths remain despite the evidence.
Using the American Pew stats she notes:
# Email continues to lose its luster among teens as texting, instant messaging, and social networking sites facilitate more frequent contact with friends.
# More older girls than boys create and contribute to websites.
# Girls have fueled the growth of the teen blogosphere.
# Teens from lower-income and single-parent households are more likely to blog.
# Teens who are most active online, including bloggers, are also highly active offline.
# Most teens restrict access to their posted photos - at least some of the time. Girls are more restrictive photo posters.
# Content creators are not devoting their lives exclusively to virtual participation. They are just as likely as other teens to engage in most offline activities and more likely to have jobs.

Just when I was in danger of thinking my eptness quotient was lacking.


  1. I wanted to think about this some more before responding - but then came across this link to txt on Helmintholog's Godly Snippets post and thought you'd enjoy trying to connect it to your critique

  2. Thanks for the link Arti.
    "He kept asking for Joe and eventually they had to tell him what had happened. The first thing he did was to ask for his mobile phone so he could text him goodbye." Guardian Jan 3

    Some people write letters, some continue to have conversations with those who have died, and some people text.
    An apparent oddity But i will stay with assuming its right for the person concerned.

    Others ask that there cell phone be buried with them , doesn't matter that the battery will expire, its just for the first few days ...