Saturday, December 27, 2014

Social media

Sometimes after a long and difficult class it takes me a while to get its blogs in order, because I'm so burnt out and rushed by the Christmas holiday that I put everything aside, and then it takes enormous effort to reopen the situation. But this time, I had seven very good papers, and had a lot of fun putting together the class blog for my writing class, ESL 5301. These seven students all took different approaches to studying social media, and together we collected data and they wrote the papers you see in the blog.

Sure, there were some ways in which the study wasn't perfect. In an attempt to put the whole survey on a single piece of paper, both sides, I put the demographic info in one line, thus causing us to lose a few people who simply didn't fill out the whole line. We had a limited number of responses anyway, so it wasn't a truly representative study. But it gave us some insight into people's use of social media and their attitudes toward it. Here are some of the things we found:

YouTube, which was studied in the first paper, is really one of the more interesting social media, in the sense that people use it for a wide variety of things besides purely entertainment. In language learning alone it has become an enormous library of speech samples, studied vigorously by almost all internationals here in the US and used for a variety of purposes including supplementing their class lectures, learning how to fix things, etc. Since our population, including ESL teachers by and large, is mostly oral, but the world population is generally more oral than visual, we tend to overlook language resources that aren't little read-along visual things that assume people learn the language by knowing how things are spelled. YouTube puts the language in their laps. Read that first paper.

Facebook is still king of the social media; people may be more enthusiastic about SnapChat or Instagram, but everyone has FB much like everyone has a phone. Twitter is not dominant, but rather occupies a small but vocal piece of the picture. Read the facts, not that our 158 people accurately represent them.

Hashtags - I was really interested in what I could find out about hashtags. Really there should be a separate study of hashtag linguistics, because people use them for different purposes. On Twitter, it was once said that using a hashtag was shouting out your topic so that, in a crowded room, people could know that you, over in this corner, were talking about that topic. On FB though, there is no point attracting the world's attention; you have only your friends, and don't generally use it to get more. A second use of hashtags is to represent your out-of-the-side-of-your-mouth attitudes, as in #whyshouldIcare or #fml; these would be more common on FB, since you are talking to your friends, and obviously not using them to attract a wider community. But a third use comes from Instagram, or at least is better represented on Instagram, which I don't use heavily, so it took me a while to get onto this. On Instagram you put your main subject under the photo, and you do try to attract random visitors, so you can put up to thirty hashtags under a photo. And, you separate them from the message itself; that is important. Why? I don't know.

Ice bucket challenge - It's surprising how many people knew about it, but didn't participate. One got the impression that everyone did it, since it was all over the place on FB. But not everyone did it. And, a surprising number of people thought it was "pointless" or "ridiculous". It brought up a point about how a dramatic event (throwing ice on one's head) can make a strong impression, way beyond the fact that it's an isolated experience.

Backlash in general - A lot of people are upset by social media's takeover of our social experience. One person said to me, "Facebook is the devil." Others said things like "I use it only to message people who I can't reach any other way," or some such comment. People know that they are limiting their own use of the media, but see it overall as a time-sink anyway, and so don't mind knowing that there are a lot of clever things they can do, but just don't do.  Most are like me - amazed at the range of possibilities, but only beginning to scratch at the surface of actually using them.

People don't always report exactly what happens - Sometimes you can measure it, as in, are women more likely than men to post pictures? But you can't trap a man into saying that women are different from men. They seem to be well conditioned to deny differences between men and women unless they are quite obvious, and even then, don't say it unless you have to. The computer can measure such differences, and measure whether things happen the same way people say they do. People are a little off the mark, I think.

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