Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Social Affordances of Email aren't so simple

Over on the Complexity and Social Networks Blog, Jeff Boase deconstructs what he means by the Social Affordances of Email ("the social opportunities and constraints provided by technology"), by recognising that his research is limited to North American email use/affordances, and to the technology with which users apply:
After [a presentation in Tokyo in which he] listed a number of email’s social affordances, one of the audience members pointed out that those affordances only apply to PC based email. By contrast, there exists a substantially different set of affordances for mobile phone based email. Given that my research is only about the use of email in America, my lack of attention to mobile phone email was intentional. There are not enough Americans using this technology for it to be relevant to my current research. Nevertheless, this comment got me thinking about the difficultly of making cross-national generalizations about the social uses of particular technologies. For example, even though the use of PC email is almost as common in Japan as it is in America, the wide-spread use of mobile phone email in Japan may change how the Japanese use PC email.

My recent co-authored report for the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that American’s use PC email for contacting both strong and weak(er) ties. By contrast, in another paper I find that the Japanese tend to use mobile phone email for contacting their strong ties, and PC email for contacting their weak ties (the paper published in Ito et. al 2005). This suggests that the existence of mobile phone email in Japan alters the use of PC email, even though PC email has the same set of affordances in both countries. I’m now thinking about how the unique combinations of communication technologies available to people in different countries effects their use of PC based email.

Boase's "The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism" is inthe Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 8, 3.

As an addendum to this, Erik Nisbet has written a paper on the current prevalent models of opinion leadership, which have emerged primarily from North America (The Engagement Model of Opinion Leadership: Testing Validity within a European Context). I haven't read the full text yet, but the relevant bit comes from the abstract thus:
This paper examines the ecological and constructive validity of the engagement model of the opinion leadership developed within the USA. Employing the European Social Survey, I apply this model to fifteen European nations to assess its validity and explore how media information-seeking behaviors of opinion leaders may vary across national contexts. The findings suggest that the model may be most valid in Western European nations. Furthermore, the media use and behaviors of opinion leaders vary greatly across nations in Europe, though levels of interpersonal political discussion and specific individual socio-psychological traits do not.


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