This paper provided a unique opportunity to say a lot of things that otherwise would never have found the right forum. It is a rare opportunity to publish something this long and deep. What other venue let’s you get away with having 175 citations! Enjoyed writing about and reliving the history of qualitative and quantitative digital research, engaging with the work of so many scholars that I respect (including those I don’t always agree with). You can find an open access copy here.
The methodological tool chest available to those who study digital technologies ranges from those that are uniquely digital methods to approaches that are well established in the social sciences. This domain of work includes the application of methods to answer questions about the relationship between digital technologies and the social world, as well as the use of digital methods to answer questions about the offline world. New or old, quantitative or qualitative, the methods used to study the digital have strengths and weaknesses unique to this area of research. These issues include questions about the scope of cyberethnography, the validity of trace data, and the analytical division between on- and offline interaction. This review focuses on an overview of different methods, their history, and their strengths and weaknesses as applied to the study of digital technologies, including ethnographic approaches, interviews, surveys, time and media diaries, trace data, and online experiments.
I am particularly pleased to see this paper in print, it took fifteen years and the help of over 50 research assistants to collect the data for this study. This paper started as a pet project the year my wife and I moved to Boston. That year, there was an article in the Boston Globe about a woman in Montreal who was attacked on a street and left unaided by passerbys. The Globe suggested that despite Canadians reputations, maybe Americans were now more altruistic. A hypothesis ripe for testing! Replicating an approach often associated with the famed social psychologist Stanley Milgram, with much assistance, I set out to “lose” nearly 4,000 letters in 62 urban areas in the US and Canada. The return rate served as a measure of helping/altruistic behavior. In 2001, the data confirmed a statistical tie. But, the end of data collection in 2001 also marked the horrible events of 9/11. It was immediately clear that this was an opportunity to measure how one of the most tragic events in American history might change community helping behavior. I sat on the data for ten years, returning to the field in 2011 and replicating the study in the same 63 urban areas. I expected to find a spike in helping behavior in the United States. Surprisingly, there had been a 10% decline in altruistic behavior in the United States relative to Canada. And, the decline was especially strong in those communities where the proportion of non-citizens had increased. Even more surprisingly, the trend was in the opposite direction in Canada. Since 2001, areas of Canada where the proportion of non-citizens increased experienced an increase in altruistic/helping behavior. What changed over that decade? One of the most obvious is the divergence in Canadian and US attitudes and policy towards immigrants. Canadian public opinion and the political rhetoric towards immigrants and diversity in general is much more positive than in the US. While Canada has institutionalize policies aimed at inclusion, valuing diversity, and a relatively speedy path towards citizenship, the US has not. Unintended evidence of how intolerance can hurt us all, while policies of inclusion and respect for diversity can lift us up. I discuss the implications of this trend a little further in an op-ed on why we should Stop blaming Facebook for Trump’s election win that was published in The Hill.
A new paper with two of my PhD students, Weixu Lu and Inyoung Shin, is now in print. This paper on the relationship between use of digital technologies (i.e., social media, internet use, Facebook, mobile phones) and social and psychological stress expands on a report we released with the Pew Research Center.
This research explores the relationship between the use of digital media and stress. Based on the findings of a national, probability sample of adults in the United States, the use of digital media was not directly associated with higher levels of psychological stress. Some uses of digital media were associated with lower levels of perceived stress for women but not for men. However, the evidence suggests that, for men and women, digital media provides heightened awareness of network life events (AoNLE) in the lives of both close and more distant acquaintances. An
awareness of undesirable, major life events in the lives of others can be a source of psychological stress; this is the cost of caring. Thus, the link between digital media and stress is indirect. We argue that the growth of digital media is related to changes in the structure of peoples’ personal communities that contribute to this trend. There has been a shift toward networks that offer persistent contact and pervasive awareness. Findings suggest that different mobile technologies, Internet technologies, and social media afford AoNLE for men and women, but women tend to report greater psychological stress than men, and they experience psychological stress from a wider range of AoNLE. We discuss explanations for the negative relationship between technology
use and stress for women, as well as the implications of our findings for research on the use of digital media and psychological well-being, such as the relationship to social support, narcissism and empathy.
Inyoung Shin and I are now expanding on this work, creating a more expansive and parsimonious measure for awareness of network life events, and we are exploring other outcome measures.