Weekly Reading Insights-Week 10

The reading material compiled for this week’s topic of Social Media Uses and Gratifications was by far the most compelling and interesting reading to me for the semester.  Perhaps I might’ve considered a career in media psychology, because attempting to understand how and why people use their preferred types of media is quite intriguing to me.  Add to this innate curiosity the reality that I have lived through the decades where contemporary forms of media did not exist and have had to evolve through my own sensibilities about my personal media uses and gratifications in both a pre-Internet and post-Internet reality.  I’ve been a college student on both sides of that Internet fence as well.  It all adds up to compelling ways of thinking.

Where new media forms are concerned, I’m truly enjoying being somewhat observant to the proverbial ground floor of uses and gratifications study.  Indeed, reading through some of the selections (especially the Hargittai and Hsieh study), it’s likely the same experience as  other students had when television first surfaced as a medium and academic study attempted to define its realities and how it would be used and/or its effect on society.  This is historical research happening before our eyes, as it were. And if I live long enough, I’m confident I’ll look back on ideas and terminology like “dabblers” and “omnivores” and remember when they were first applied to social media–and that I was there when it all emerged.

Beyond the engaging aspect of the research and observation, though, what do scholars and industry professionals say about how social media is being used and for what purposes?

Repeatedly in this week’s selections and in other academic uses and grats studies, we consider the behavior of young people.  Typically falling into the category of ‘early adopters‘ per Rogers’ diffusion of innovation theory, young person behavior with social media provides abundant insight–especially considering, as Boyd pointed out in her paper, some sites like MySpace and FaceBook were directly targeted to high school and college-aged users.  As Boyd suggested, the Myspace/Facebook dynamic highlighted more than increased use by young people, but a larger demonstration that online activity reflects cultural tendencies even in social class-oriented-behavior.  Appropriately pointing out that sometimes the media itself can set a tone for certain media by the way it characterizes them, Boyd’s contentions are that social media use is borne out of the social and cultural capital, attitudes, social network, geography, race and religion aspects in everyday life that identify us with our own social classes.  Because of factors even as simple as visual appeal (where one site’s “blingy” appeal for some classes comes off as “gaudy” to others), she concludes that “in a society where we can’t talk about class, we can see [class struggle] play out online.”

This phenomenon is reified by Manjoo’s observation of ethnic use of Twitter.  This piece was just a specific example of cultural/class-oriented social media use, but it’s compelling for me to read about this because it demonstrates a far different reality than my own use of Twitter and that of any of the dozens I have interacted with–as a white, gay man.  Ethnic use of Twitter in the “oral-dissing” tradition of the black community and in the “call-and-response” tradition using what Manjoo dubbed “blacktags” is something I have only randomly witnessed among classmates and some coworkers but have never really acknowledged as such. Yet this is a perfect example of cultural social media proclivity, just as when Boyd suggests that latinos might have been more predominant on MySpace because of the vivid visual (aka “blingy”) nature of its online presentation. The use of Twitter in the black community as a means to talk to each other directly rather than broadcasting messages is a tendency that I also found interesting and that I can remember seeing before I understood it as a trend.  This whole observation makes me curious if there can be enough discernible Twitter evidence to study trends of usage within the gay community.  That seems like a great idea for a study. 😉

Considering, then, that certain groups of the population or maybe even underrepresented segments of the population have identifiable uses for certain types of social media, a piece by Brown aptly suggests the “civic value” for journalists to pay attention to this habits and behaviors. Essentially, targeting these previously or typically underrepresented groups in the new media realms where they interact most and knowing those ways of interaction can help bring about a sooner demolition that state of being underrepresented–in both coverage and reach.

Finally, as Hargittai and Hsieh pointed out, understanding not only the frequency and nature of social media use but also the diversity of it is imperative. As previously stated, I really appreciated this article because of its innovation and insight. While basic, it provides new semantics for uses and gratifications theory where social media are concerned.  Whether on the “dabbler” end of the spectrum of use, where mainly one social networking site (SNS) is used and only randomly, or on the “omnivore” end where at many SNS’s are used and at least one to an extensive level, this article adds depth to prior considerations of age, race and cultural considerations that have been pushed to the forefront once again in the context of social media use.  This depth reflects that sex even sex (with women being more intense users of social media than men) and even technical skill can play a role.

Indeed, this was a fascinating week to read for J7330. 😉

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