UCL Social Networking Sites & Social Science Research Project
  • fb_1.pngtwitter_1.pnggoogle_plus.pngflickr.png
  • A A A

    The prejudice of shallowness

    By Razvan Nicolescu, on 4 April 2014

    Photo by Stefanie Maria (Creative Commons)

    Photo by Stefanie Maria (Creative Commons)

    Isabella has 28 years old and is engaged (fidanzata) for eight years with a man from a nearby town. In this part of Italy these long engagements are quite common. Actually, Isabella has the most recent engagement in her close circle of friends, who are all engaged for 10 or 12 years. The marriage is thought of as something that should be build on solid grounds, typically a stable workplace and a house. Customarily, the man first builds a house, furnishes it at least partially and then the couple organize the wedding ceremony. In the context of difficult economic circumstances and high social uncertainty these conditions for even thinking of a marriage are quite difficult to be attained.

    Isabella is happy that she works full-time as a shop assistant and has time to also study for her undergraduate degree. She is proud she will most probably graduate this year. She started to study Letters at the University of Salento eight years ago. All along this time, her fidanzato supported her determination to complete her studies even against the will of her family. However, the couple was not able to save money for the marriage. He always worked on a temporary basis as a builder and her current job as shop assistant is the first stable job any of them ever had. They estimate that the wedding ceremony alone would cost them at least 10,000 EURO. They come from modest families who could not raise even a small part of this sum. The plan is that Isabella should graduate first and then they could start saving money for the wedding. This means the two could get married in at least two or three years.

    Until then, and as most of the fidanzati in the town, the two live separately each with their own families. They also work in the same towns where they live. As the two towns are situated about ten miles away one from the other, they currently do not manage to see each other too often during work days – which here are Monday to Saturday. The two compensate this by spendings the weekends together, living alternatively at one of their parents’ house This arrangement also allows them spending more time with their friends.

    Isabella’s closest friends are six female ex-colleagues from her secondary school in Grano who happen to be all engaged with six men from the town of her fidanzato. He is actually a cousin of her best colleague from her secondary school class. She remembers that this was her favourite group of friends since she was a teenager. She always enjoyed the fact that they had the same tastes and very similar passions on a gendered basis. I will not detail this here, but is important to mention that the group itself and this shared intimacy within its strict confines is what makes Isabella feel safe and comfortable.

    Whatsapp is important in keeping this sense on intimacy. The group of friends use three main Whatsapp groups: ‘the group of girls,’ ‘the group of boys’ and the group for all of them which is also the least used. Girls use their group most intensively by far: they may start the day with a simple buona giornata (‘good morning’), a question, or a video clip. At least two hours until work starts, roughly at 10:00, there is an energetic exchange of messages and updates inside this group. The boys use their group rather irregularly, with typical peaks such as the ones around the dates when Juventus Torino is playing. What is important for this discussion is that Isabella senses that her fidanzamento depends on the unity of the group of her female friends and this unity currently knows a substantive support because of Whatsapp. Isabella sees that many women of her age become less attached to their peers when they start to work or move closer to their marriage, and therefore, she is extremely happy that Whatsapp allows her reinforce what she senses she needs most.

    At the same time, these people who could have a noisy aperitivo in large groups of twelve-fifteen people in late summer evenings could easily be accused of a certain shallowness. A typical criticism is that they ‘stay too much on’ their Smartphones when they are supposed to be together. This blog post goes against these prejudices and social condemnations by suggesting a few reasons why these could simply not be true. Beautiful well-dressed women and jovial men could cheerfully manipulate their Smartphones not because they are more distant one from another but because they really want to be much more closer.

    Love is… sending 400 texts to your girlfriend everyday

    By Elisabetta Costa, on 19 September 2013

    Photo by Knight 725 (Creative Commons)

    Photo by Knight 725 (Creative Commons)

    One of the most surprising pieces of data emerging from the 100 questionnaires I’ve submitted to my informants in our Turkish fielsite regarding their use of communication technologies is the number of text messages (SMS) that teenagers and young people send to their lovers. Indeed some mobile phone companies in Turkey sell SMS bundles for very cheap prices: for example, 12,000 texts for only 10 TL (around £3 GBP) a month. SMS is the most affordable communication channel for young people.

    Sending 300-400 SMS a day to the same person is not an extraordinary practice among teenagers and youth who want to communicate with a lover and have to do it far from the gaze and ears of their family members. They write messages during every single moment of the day, while on the toilet, eating lunch, at school, before going to bed and as soon as they wake up in the morning. It seems that SMS is the most suitable communicative channel to have a secret love relationship in a society where premarital relationships are not allowed.

    Below is part of a conversation I had with a 23 year-old hairdresser who confessed to me that he sends his girlfriend around 12,000 text messages a month:

    Hairdresser: “We communicate all day long and all night long by SMS. I do not sleep so that I can speak with her! I love her too much.”
    Me: “What do you write in 400 SMS in a day? Can you give me some example? It’s so difficult for me to imagine it.”
    Hairdresser: “We write to each other about what we are doing and with whom we are spending our time. We write our feelings. We write everything. And if we do not have time during the day we send messages to each other during the night. This is love! Yes, this is love!”

    There are specific local cultural reasons, beyond the growing romanticism, that explain why young lovers send each other so many messages: until few years ago, women were not allowed to go out, there were no internet and not mobile phones, and men could control women much more easily. Now women are more free, and are more often secretly engaging in romantic relationships with men. The point is that those same technologies  allow men to have intimate relationships with women, at the same time depriving them of the control they had in the past. The main fear of a young man having an illegitimate relationship with a woman is to be betrayed. As many young men told me, they are obsessively jealous. They want to control their girl-friends; they want to know where they are and what they do in every-single moment of the day, and SMS texting is the best way to do it. SMS texting is shaping new ideas of love where romanticism is entangled with new ways of performing masculinity.

    Facebook and prohibited communication

    By Elisabetta Costa, on 17 April 2013

    4424095083_c14d7f521f_z

    Photo by gypsy in moda (creative commons)

    I arrived in my fieldsite in south-east Turkey two weeks ago and I am in the process of settling into the town. As I am really at the early stage of the research, whenever I go shopping, to the hairdresser, to the internet café or to the Locanda for lunch, I aim to get in touch with the locals.

    I have been casually asking around what people think about social media, whether they use it or not, and for which reasons.

    One middle-aged Kurdish man tolf me that he doesn’t have a Facebook Page because he doesn’t want to upset his wife. “My wife is going to kill me if I start using Facebook”.

    Then young women do not say that they use the social media openly in front of their relatives. They just confess it to me privately.

    Again the head of an Arab family with whom I am spending most of my time once told me: “Facebook is used only to communicate with people of other sex! We do not like it and we do not use it!”

    It would seem that here Facebook is used mainly as a channel to look for prohibited friendships, partners and mistresses.

    One of the initial hypothesis of my research was that the overall consequences of SNS on family was profoundly contradictory: Facebook is used by subordinate subjects – women and young people – to challenge old hierarchies, to promote a greater role of the individual against “traditional” forms of authority (Hofheinz 2011 , Salvatore 2011) and to question gendered habitus. But at the same time Facebook is used as a way to keep alive “traditional” family relations in the face of dispersed family and of the failure of welfare state projects. Indeed transformations produced by forces such as the state, economy, migration and cultural flows overlap with the idea of the family as a primary resource of identity and self-security that is rarely questioned (Joseph 2010).

    After the first ten days of fieldwork it seems even more worth investigating how Facebook is challenging traditional family and traditional relationships by creating new space of actions and new freedom, and consequently new constraints and restrictions.

    References

    Hofehinz, A. 2011. “Nextopia? Beyond Revolution 2.0” International Journal of Communication. 5 (2011).

    Salvatore, A. 2011. “Before (and After) the ‘Arab Spring’: From Connectedness to Mobilization in the Public Sphere” Oriente Moderno, 1 (2011).

    Joseph, S. 2010. “Framings: Rethinking Arab Family Projects” Rethinking Arab Family Projects.

    Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all? Social media as framed mirrors

    By Xin Yuan Wang, on 2 February 2013

    Photo by Sukanto Debnath (Creative Commons)

    The other day, my previous informant X showed me her latest Facebook status update with a broad smile. The status looked like a quote out of nowhere, which confused me, and the only comment which came from her boyfriend made me even more confused. Even though I could understand each individual word; however the conversation between the post and the comment didn’t make any sense to me at all, there was a clear disconnect. Then X took 5 minutes to explain the whole story, which turned out to be the first time ‘Facebook official claim’ of their relationship which still remained a secret to most of their friends. I was amazed.

    Why would people utter tender words of endearment to their lovers on Facebook which otherwise could be done by more private communicative channels? Why should people add confusing posts/comments, which can be only understood by a few intimate friends on Facebook to a huge number of other people? Many studies are concerned about the social media’s potential to destroy privacy, which I would definitely not disagree with. However, in other cases, it seems that those people who are fully aware of the context of social media, intentionally play around with the ‘transparent/private’ features of Facebook to express the most subtle emotions–is this just for fun?

    Linguists have long noticed that the existence of ‘indexical signs’ the meaning of which highly depends on the context of social interaction. For example, smoke would be related with many things, but in certain spatio-temporal contexts smoke is an index of fire, however smoke does not ‘stand for’ the fire the way in which the word ‘fire’ refers to fire–here exists a causal rather than symbolic relationship, which ‘points back’ from the index to the referent (Boellstorff 2012:51). Similarly, the indexicality of those wordplays on Facebook, points back to the relationship itself. And the conversation acquires meanings from the ‘Facebook context’, rather than the ‘face value’ of the content. So why bother to post a ‘Facebook official claim’? Partly because the meaning of intimacy comes from the distinction, which suggests the uniqueness of the particular relationship exclusively against other aggregated public/private social relationships on Facebook – that is ‘among all the others, only we can understand what we are talking about’, which gives rise to the establishment of the relationship. In other words, that making things visible is, in itself, constituting relationship. To take this a stage further, Facebook to some extent has become a mirror to make a relationship visible–just like you can’t see yourself without a mirror.

    The sociologist Goffman (1975) used the word ‘frame’ to explain how people’s behavior is cued by the frames which constitute the context of action. The Facebook ‘frame’ tells us how to interpret others’ behaviour as well as our own, but mostly, such framed activities are unconsciously embedded in the social expectations and understanding of what is or is not appropriate. The ‘public’ represented by Facebook is more often than not the people one knows privately (at least the anonymity of ‘real-name’ social media is limited compared to the other online communities), and there are consequences of addressing such a large body of social connections through ‘one-to-many’ texts or photos on Facebook rather than other personal communicative channels with particular individuals. Just as Miller argues “we have reached the point where Facebook may be regarded as providing a crucial medium of visibility and public witnessing” (2011:180). In such a frame, as long as people get used to the ‘public gaze’ or ‘participatory surveillance’, they start to develop a strategy to address the ‘public’. As X said “He knows only I know and others don’t know”, also in a way the invisible confused ‘public’ has contributed to the perception of the distinction which has added meaningful significance to their intimate relationship.

    So, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” does the fairy tale ring a bell when you look into the framed mirror of Facebook every day? The question why do people ask the mirror matters as much as the mirror’s answer in the eyes of digital anthropologists.

    References

    Goffman, E. 1975. Frame Analysis. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

    Miller, D. 2011. Tales from Facebook. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Boellstorff, T. 2012. “Rethinking Digital Anthropology”, in Heather A. Horst & Daniel Miller (eds.) 2012. Digital Anthropology. London: Berg.