Whose Mobile Space?

In 2008, a study published by Eszter Hargittai called, “Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-User of Social Network sites” concludes that people’s online communities on Social Network Sites (SNS) mirror their real life social networks. Specifically, gender, race, ethnicity and parental education background reflect one’s online behavior and the extent of interactions with individuals unlike themselves. The purpose of the study was to address the differences in SNS adoption and disaggregate site usage to determine the uses of SNS services based on user characteristics, context use and medium experience. Ultimately, the study seeks to find the predictive power of one SNS service over another based on the user. The SNS focus was on Facebook, MySpace, Xanga and Friendster. The results were collected from 85 first-year students enrolled in the University of Illinois, Chicago. Hargittai shows the digital inequality in society and her findings remain useful today. However, I believe the study needs a mobile update with current trending SNS platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram ect). For example, Twitter’s affordances encourage cross-cultural engagement. I believe the findings and analysis would change because of the increased SNS usage and wide mobile access to SNS from smart devices and tablets. Different ethnicities now have access to SNS through their smartphones, use the sites differently and have an expanded network. I believe that “offline identities very much carry over to online behavior” but individuals offline behaviors are now influenced by mobile access, which again translates into online identities (Hargittai 277). This article will summarize Hargittai’s findings and bring in other articles to support why an update is necessary to support the usefulness of her analysis.

Hargittai’s results illustrate that gender only plays a small role within SNS interactions.  Additionally, Hispanic students were least likely to use Facebook and most likely to use MySpace. Opposing, Asian students were least likely to use MySpace and most likely to use Xanga or Friendster. Moreover, students with college-educated parents were most likely to use Facebook and those students with parents that did not earn a college degree were more likely to use MySpace. Also, students living with their parents were less likely to interact with Facebook. Lastly, the study examined the hours a week spent on the Internet and it showed a positive correlation with usage of Facebook, MySpace and Xanga. Hargittai’s study is important because it suggests that offline social contexts play into SNS usage. Students with more resources spend more time on SNS and benefit more. Less privileged students face the same roadblocks online that they do in their everyday lives. Notably, it is important to not generalize SNS. For example, Facebook was originally exclusive to college students which probably aggregated the higher education circumstances. Hargittai’s research provides more detail about specific users compared to previous research. Her findings further support, “that people often use these services to connect with those in their existing networks, rather than to seek out new friends and acquaintances (Ellison et al., 2007).

Research following Hargittai continues to explore online and offline contexts. For instance, one study entitled, “Online and Offline Social Networks: Investigating Culturally-Specific Behavior and Satisfaction” explores the cultural tenancy of individualistic cultures. The study found that users who engage in more individualistic cultures engage in personal self-promotion through large friend networks as well as promiscuous finding (Rosen, Stefanone and Lackaff). Conversely, those with less individualistic cultures (valuing family and in-group ties) are less likely to sacrifice their private information to extend their online network. These findings support Hagarittai’s studies but also lack today’s technological context: mobile access.

Today, people access their SNS via smart device or tablet and behavior changes may occur from using SNS in any location mixed with diverse groups. In Samantha Murphy’s article, “Mobile Entertainment Consumption Soared 82% in One Year,” there was a 55% increase of smart phone ownership within the same period. Specifically, Hispanic consumers were 39% more likely to view mobile entertainment compared to the overall smartphone audience (Murphy). The study also shows that African Americans are 10% more likely. Similar to her findings, Neilson reports almost three in five Hispanic mobile subscribers use smartphones and a majority of African Americans own smartphones. Interestingly, a study conducted by MobiThinking about consumers favorite mobile activities reveals that 76% of respondents engage in social networking. Since people have the mobility of SNS their offline social context and behaviors change. Moreover, Facebook has become a part of the banal activities in our lives. Viewing Facebook’s domestication (fabric of our lives) may show that people are more likely to diversify their online networks. It would be very interesting if Hargittai conducted her study again focusing on mobile usage of the popular SNS platforms such as Facebook and Twitter’s mobile applications. Social media strategist, Gaurva Mishra says,

“Human beings have a strong tendency to prefer the familiar, so we pay attention to people with a shared context and treat the rich Twitter public stream as background noise … in practice, Twitter’s ability to promote cross-cultural communication is limited by our own willingness to engage in it” (Expatblog).

Further studies of mobile use effecting offline traits predicting online usage of SNS would bring Hargittai’s study up to date.



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