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.

You can download the final version of the paper here, or access a draft version of the paper on my website.

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.

The special issue of American Behavioral Scientist edited by myself and Vikki Katz is now in print. Vikki and I put together this issue based on a workshop we organized during the 2014 meeting of the National Communication Association. We bring together a great set of authors who intersect in the areas of community, digital media, and urban studies. The issue is relevant for anyone studying new media, virtual community, social networks, urban sociology, urban planning, or community and urban informatics. In our introduction to the issue we argue that:

The split between sociology and communication has had consequences for scholars in both fields. As these traditions moved further from each other, sociologists concerned with local ecologies, place, and “neighborhood effects” have generally neglected the role of media and variation in access to communication technology. Researchers who have focused on media, information, and communication processes have neglected the role of place and have decoupled communication technologies from the contexts in which people use them. This schism has inhibited the advancement of a common interest to understand the factors that influence social integration. This special issue of American Behavioral Scientist intends to bridge the gap between research by scholars in sociology and those in communication, information, and media studies about the role of new technologies in everyday life.

Contributions include:

Karin Wahl-Jorgensen
The Chicago School and Ecology: A Reappraisal for the Digital Era

Lewis A. Friedland
Networks in Place

Jeffrey Lane
The Digital Street: An Ethnographic Study of Networked Street Life in Harlem

Vikki S. Katz and Carmen Gonzalez
Community Variations in Low-Income Latino Families’ Technology Adoption and Integration

Yong-Chan Kim and Eui-Kyung Shin
Localized Use of Information and Communication Technologies in Seoul’s Urban Neighborhoods

Keith N. Hampton
Persistent and Pervasive Community: New Communication Technologies and the Future of Community

You can find the full issue here.

This paper lays out a theory that I have been developing about changes to the structure of community related to new technologies, particularly social media. I contend that the study of community has always been closely tied to understanding the social implications of communication technology. Our understanding of how these technologies have influenced community is based largely on what I have called the mobility narrative. The mobility narrative is the argument that communication and transportation technologies have made it progressively easier for people to overcome constraints of time and space. I argue that two characteristics of recent communication technologies – persistent contact and pervasive awareness – have the potential to break from this historic narrative and fundamentally change how social relations are organized.

Whereas previous communication technologies allowed people to communicate across distance with reduced time and cost, they generally lacked affordances for relational persistence and sustained awareness. That is, as a result of mobility, social ties were often lost at key life course events and as people moved over distances. New communication technologies often described as social media and including platforms such as Facebook provide for persistence by allowing people to articulate relationships and to maintain them over time. Social ties that previously would have been abandoned over the life course as we left high school, changed jobs, and moved from one neighborhood to another now persist online. Maintained through the ambient nature of social media, people have a new, pervasive awareness of the activities, interests, location, opinions, and resources of their social ties.

Visions of modern community often imagine a maximization of mobility to the point where people are nearly free from the constraints of time, space, and social bonds. In contrast, I have argue that persistent-pervasive community renews constraints and opportunities of traditional community structure. As a result of persistence — a counterforce to mobility — relationships and the social contexts where they are formed are less transitory than at any time in modern history. Through the ambient, lean, asynchronous nature of social media, awareness supplements surveillance with the informal watchfulness typified in preindustrial community. It provides for closeness and information exchange unlike what can be communicated through other channels. Social media and the algorithms behind them generate not only context collapse but an audience problem that, when managed through a dynamic balance between broadcasting and monitoring content, enhances indicators of awareness and availability of social ties. Persistent–pervasive community represents a period of metamodernity. It is a hybrid of preindustrial and urban-industrial community structures that will affect the availability of social capital, the success of collective action, the cost of caring, deliberation around important issues, and how lives are linked over the life course and across generations.

You can download the final version of the paper here, or access a draft version of the paper on my website.