I’m a little behind on sharing recent publications. In collaboration with my colleagues at the Quello Center, we recently published a paper on digital inequality in Detroit, and a report on digital inequality in rural Michigan schools.

“Mobile Phones Will Not Eliminate Digital and Social Divides: How Variation in Internet Activities Mediates the Relationship Between Type of Internet Access and Local Social Capital in Detroit,” was published in Social Science Computer Review. This paper is the result of a study of four Detroit neighborhoods. We explored the relationship between type of Internet access, the variety of online activities that people participate in, and the relationship to local social capital. We found that breadth of access predicts participation in a larger variety of online activities, which is associated with higher levels of local social capital. Neither public Internet access, home broadband, nor Internet access through a mobile phone data plan alone affords participation in a full range of social capital-enhancing activities. The findings highlight the potential problems of initiatives that assume equivalent social outcomes through nonequivalent modes of access, such as providing Internet access through mobile phones in place of home broadband.

Broadband and Student Performance Gaps” was published as a report of the Quello Center in collaboration with our partners at Merit Networks. You can find a summary of the report here. The goal was to better understand the costs associated with poor or no home Internet access on rural student performance in grades 8-11. Based on surveys, home speed-test data, and student SAT scores, we looked at how differences in the type and quality of home connectivity (e.g., broadband vs. cell phone) and digital skills related to educational outcomes. We found that students who do not have access to the Internet from home or are dependent on a cell phone alone for access perform lower on a range of metrics, including digital skills, homework completion, and grade point average. They are also less likely to intend on completing a college or university degree. A deficit in digital skills compounds many of the inequalities in access and contributes to students performing lower on standardized test scores, such as the SAT, and being less interested in careers related to science, technology, engineering, and math. The timing of this report helped us contribute to the early policy response as schools moved online in response to COVID-19. Here is a link to our Checklist for K12 Schools Considering Online Teaching in Response to COVID-19.

I am excited to share my new paper on “Social Media and Change in Psychological Distress Over Time“.

Based on data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), the longest-running, longitudinal, household, panel survey in the world, I find that home internet and social media use are associated with reduced psychological distress, such as depression and anxiety, over time. From one year to the next, social media users are 63% more likely to avoid the serious psychological distress associated with major depression and anxiety disorders. But… psychological distress is contagious on social media. The data includes surveys with siblings, parents, grandparents, aunt, uncles, grandparents, etc., and if their mental health declines over time, so does yours, but only if you are both on social media. Works in the other direction too. Best case, social media use reduces the risk of serious psychological distress, worst case, it has a trivial relationship.

Abstract:

This article tests the relationship between information and communication technologies (ICT), such as the Internet, cell phones, and social media, and change over time in psychological distress (PD) and risk of serious psychological distress (SPD) associated with depression and anxiety disorders. Using a longitudinal panel design, survey data from a representative sample of American adults, findings revealed that home Internet and social network site (SNS) use are associated with decreased PD over time. Having extended family who are also Internet users further decreases PD. PD increased or decreased in relation to change in the PD of extended family who also use SNSs. For most people, ICT substantively reduce PD; in rare cases, an extreme spike in PD of extended family also on SNSs, there was a trivial increase to the risk of SPD. PD did not change when extended family not on social media experienced a change in their PD.

And a nice overview article by my College on “Depression Is Contagious: How Social Media Really Affects Your Mental Health

New paper released today with my long time friend and collaborator Alexandra Marin. Network Instability in Times of Stability, the alternative title might have been, “All Your Networks be Unstable: Studying Instability Has Given us a False Sense of Stability”. Perhaps predictable, but notable insights, personal characteristics (of you and your close friends) do not predict tie dormancy, or frequency or medium of communication, it’s all about the network (geographic and emotionally closeness, role, highly supportive, homophily, and embeddedness).

Personal networks undergo change in response to major life course events. Individual, relational, and network characteristics that influence network instability in the absence of a significant life transition/crisis are less understood. We focus on those ties that transition from active to dormant. Because the shift to dormancy is often interpreted as a reduction in support or social capital, it is considered problematic. This study is based on longitudinal survey data of middle‚Äźclass adults who did not undergo life changes. Even in this context of relative stability, support networks experience rates of dormancy similar to those observed during periods of major upheaval. Tie dormancy is unrelated to individual characteristics, network size and density, or homophily along dimensions other than sex. Frequency and medium of communication are particularly notable as factors that were not related to tie dormancy. Ties were less likely to become dormant if they were geographically or emotionally close, immediate kin or neighbors, highly supportive, the same sex, or more embedded in the network. These findings provide context for how support networks operate when not buffeted by exogenous forces. They provide a baseline for understanding the impact on networks of transitions, trauma, new media, and difficult life circumstances.