In a classic example of communication breakdown, a new study reports that over half (58%) of those surveyed do not know what “social networking” is. The international study did note that 70% of Americans did recognize the term. However, that means that close to 1 in 3 persons in this country have somehow not been exposed to the phrase, or simply don’t remember what it means. Implications? We need to be careful about the terms we use when talking about the phenomenon of interacting with others in these types of online spaces. I know I am guilty of talking about “social networking,” as I do not want to call out certain sites and brands when talking about the concept as a whole. Too often, MySpace is scapegoated because people talk about the dangers associated with social networking in general, but end up picking on the best-known of the bunch (too bad that survey didn’t ask the percentage of persons who have heard of MySpace specifically). But if using the term “social networking” alienates too many people, then we fail to get our message across. While I have no answers, I do believe this issue is important; much like my last post on cyberbulling vs. electronic aggression, I want to stress the need to come to some semblance of consensus on terms so that we educate the public, not confuse them. And given the Ivory Tower’s bad reputation for trying to claim expertise at the expense of being useful or collaborative, there is ample reason to prioritize clear communication about issues without using all those fancy and/or new words.
The Center for Disease Control released a report, Electronic Media and Youth Violence, on September 8th. According to the emailed press release, “Electronic aggression is an emerging public health issue,” and therefore should be acknowledged by educators, caregivers, and researchers.
I find it interesting that the feds feel the need to rename cyberbullying “electronic aggression.” Isn’t one term enough? Is it possible that people might confuse the two and think they are really separate things? I hope not. As an academic, I am often annoyed by the jargon that separates different camps. The last thing we need is to begin divisive investigations on this topic, based on a public health vs. a psychological/educational approach.
And, not surprisingly, the brief mentions nothing about how many times this sort of aggression has sexual themes. In fact, while searching the brief, I found no mention of “boyfriend/girlfriend,” “sex” (except for one parenthetical comment about how what they were referring to was NOT sexual), or “stalking.” While I am happy to see that the CDC is addressing this issue directly, there’s still a long way to go before adults see that the sexual nature of so many of these instances of electronic aggression cannot be ignored.
This is an announcement I am passing along. This research is being conducted by a good friend of mine who can be trusted. She is a therapist who understands the need for confidentiality. She teaches a class on Sex and the Internet, and takes this issue very seriously (but has fun with it).
—Pasted Text Below—
I am conducting a study for my doctoral dissertation at Widener University, looking at characteristics of individuals who are involved in online romantic relationships with people they have never met face-to-face. I will be comparing people for whom these relationships are their primary romantic involvement, with people for whom these relationships are an addition to an off-line committed relationship.
This is a completely anonymous survey, and no data can be traced to any particular individual.
I appreciate any help you can give me in acquiring participants for this research!
Assistant Professor, Psychology
St. Davids, Pa., 19087
An “interesting” article in the Washington Post takes issue with academics who study social networking. I know a lot of people who begrudge the Ivory Tower, but never had I seen it so blatantly attacked and mocked. To quote: “The culture of academia is like a land rush: professors poised around the edges of each new intellectual territory, waving flags emblazoned with theoretical frameworks, making frenzied dashes to stake claim on new topics, ready to shoot trespassers.” Or how about ” The lingo makes you want to give everyone with a PhD an atomic wedgie.” I mean, really.
I’ll admit: academe is a very competitive career choice, especially if you desire the all-coveted tenure-track position (note: I have opted not to go this route, placing me somewhat on the outside of this article’s target range). And it is important in academe to publish, be noticed, and get the grant money flowing your way. But, is that why some are choosing to study social networking? Possibly, but I am not sure how likely that is.
Why do I study the internet? Because it’s cool. It’s fun and interesting. It’s literally changed the entire way we communicate with each other. It’s changed the process of learning. That’s heavy stuff. Sure, MySpace is usually seen as a time waster, but a lot of living goes on in there, other SN sites, and virtual worlds like Second Life. Why shouldn’t the intellectually curious be fascinated by it all?
Maybe I’m being defensive. It’s a natural reaction. Or maybe articles like these make me realize it’s important for people who study certain topics (usually those related to human interactions and phenomena) to be more transparent about their motivations for doing so. We don’t pick topics out of mid-air to study. Sure, sometimes an advisor or mentor steers us in a certain direction, but those of us who decide to enter the 21st grade as it were, choose to be in school that long because something interests us to the point of obsession or passion. Or we have some internal itch to scratch. As my college boyfriend would say “Us Psychology majors are all here for a reason.”
Rarely are we motivated to do what we do just to see our name in the newspaper. And if we are, then we are misguided — there are much easier ways to do that.
Note: Chuck Tryon, an assistant professor of film and media studies at Fayetteville State University blogs about this attack on academics much more eloquently than I.