The PEW Research Center just released new findings based on a representative sample of Americans on “Social networking sites and our lives.” Let’s focus on a conclusion that speaks directly to the foundation of this blog: that our social media networks are dominated by physical-world connections and our face-to-face socialization is increasingly influenced by what happens on social media.
Movies like The Social Network, books like Turkle’s Alone Together and television shows like South Park (especially this episode) just love the supposed irony of social media being at once about accumulating lots of “friends” while at the same time creating a loss of “real”, deep, human connection. They, and so many others, suffer from the fallacy I like to call “digital dualism.” There are too many posts on this blog combating the digital dualism propagated by these people who don’t use/understand social media to even link to all of them all here.
Further, our physical-world networks are increasignly being infiltrated by Facebook. The report states that,
we find that the average user has friended 48% of his/her total network on Facebook.
This is just more evidence towards what social media users already know: that the digital and physical are increasingly enmeshed into an augmented reality. The report goes further to illuistrate that not only are digital and physical networks enmeshed, social media tends to increase connections, even close friendships, both on and offline. Connection is not a zero-sum game where time spent on Facebook is time not spent socializing face-to-face.
Controlling for other factors we found that someone who uses Facebook several times per day averages 9% more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other internet users.
Internet users in general score 3 points higher in total support, 6 points higher in companionship, and 4 points higher in instrumental support. A Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day tends to score an additional 5 points higher in total support, 5 points higher in emotional support, and 5 points higher in companionship, than internet users of similar demographic characteristics. For Facebook users, the additional boost is equivalent to about half the total support that the average American receives as a result of being married or cohabitating with a partner.
These findings are not unexpected and have been found before. But given its persistence in spite of data, how can we better use data to put digital dualism to bed?
Bernard — June 18, 2011
I'd like to share some lengthy thoughts about the question of putting digital dualism to bed. I've read a few posts on this blog and it has sparked my interest, albeit one from beyond this research area.
I'm not sure you can put digital dualism to bed - at least, not without significant cost to the explanatory value of your theory. I agree with the sketches I have read here about your concept of augmented reality, but elements of dualism will always creep in through the back door.
Why? Let me explore this by taking up one possible thread of what the concept of augmented reality seems to already imply: the contradictory, yet co-determining relationship between compartmentalisation and de-compartmentalisation.
Starting with Weber's classic formulation, compartmentalisation has had a long life in social theory expanding into different areas of social analysis like identity and relationships, but still retaining its analytical value by referring to distinct social logics that are validated against people's experiences. However, as a lot of social research into technology (especially) has shown, the compartmentalisation of social life is increasingly and/or changing. Moreover, as a concept like augmented reality reminds us, the material and symbolic boundaries that have sustained these compartments are disappearing or becoming increasingly porous. The enmeshment of previously distinct social logics this implies does not, however, mean that they are subsumed, assimilated, integrated, etc. to the point of identity under one overarching logic or dispersed into chaos. Hence, why I refer to de-compartmentalisation as the contradictory yet co-determined parallel to compartmentalisation. The point is that, empirically speaking, compartmentalisation continues but is becoming more plural and diffuse because of the forms of de-compartmentalisation occurring through, for example, technology.
The PEW data you cite here, bears this out: the compartmentalisation of relationships (either online or offline) "contradictorily" coexists with de-compartmentalisation (both online and offline). I put "contradictorily" in quotes because I wanted to question the reference point of this in the conceptual notion of augmented reality. I put it to you that the conceptual notion of augmented reality partly depends on a version of digital dualism (e.g. as captured by my brief discussion of compartmentalisation/de-compartmentalisation), otherwise there would be no need to speak of a dialectical or contradictory coexistence of different phenomena.
I imagine a number of people who accept what I'm saying may also use this to be critical of the concept of augmented reality - how can you build a theory that relies on the very thing it seeks to refute? If compartmentalisation is the empirical and normative point of reference for the fallacy of digital dualism, doesn't this expose the concept of augmented reality (as I have adopted it here) to the same fallacy? Not if we take up the other meaning of dialectical, put simply on the following formula: thesis + anti-thesis = synthesis. The concept of augmented reality realises that two seemingly opposed logics can be the basis of new experiences, relationships and phenomena as much as they can be the basis of tensions and conflicts over existing ones. Following my example, the concept of augmented reality asks us to realise that neither compartmentalisation or de-compartmentalisation alone offer persuasive theoretical accounts of the range of phenomena and experience in question. But, a dialectical approach asks us to loosen the totalising, absolute and monopolistic reach of the concepts in question. Not only does the modernist formulation of compartmentalisation lose this character by introducing its opposing logic, but we prevent the opposing logic from taking on a totalising, absolute and monopolistic character of its own by defining it against and with its opposite. Hence, the concept of augmented reality asks us to reach for something like de-compartmentalisation, rather than, say, integration or assimilation.
What are the benefits here? I see, for one, that the conceptual notion of augmented reality is leading us away from the type of theoretical overreach that actually tends to obscure reality instead of making it more perceptible. It also avoids the type of conflations between the empirical and the normative that usually accompany claims of digital dualisms - i.e. real friends are the one's we have in real life. It avoids the sometimes comforting and other times oppressive certainty of over-simplification.
At the same time, I'm not sure I agree with everything that this concept, as it stands, currently represents. I don't have the time or the knowledge to adequately comment on it now, but I'm sure other readers and possibly the author of this post will pick up my own position through my theoretical analysis. There is a dearth of criticisms of dialectical approaches to theory building that I agree with some opponents of this type of theorising that it may not have obvious practical purposes. But, then, I'm not of the belief that all theory must have practical intents and purposes. Good theory offers us a vocabulary for those things in our world that currently lack one. I'm hopeful of what the concept of augmented reality has to offer.
But, to come back to my original point. I don't believe the answer to battling the fallacy of digital dualism lies in finding the evidence to prove the theory. Firstly, the evidence is likely to be ambivalent enough to offer ammunition to your opponents. Hence, you need to distinguish between the empirical evidence partly validating digital dualism, whilst refuting its theoretical manoeuvres to thoroughly assimilate or deny that which it can't explain. In other words, I think it's worthwhile distinguishing between digital dualism and the fallacy of digital dualism. Thus, I believe the argument against the fallacy of digital dualism has to be carried out on theoretical terms by making more explicit the assumptions involved in and by refining key aspects of the internal logic of the concept of augmented reality. Exposing the theoretical weaknesses of the fallacy of digital dualism should be used as the basis for adding theoretical strength to the concept of augmented reality, not by rejecting it in toto but acknowledging and incorporating those elements it refers to that are empirically valid and theoretically sound. I think this is already implied, it just needs more work.
P.S. Forgive me if I've misunderstood any work being published here - this is not my research area, but social theory is and I do have a personal interest in technology. Plus, I'm not a regular reader.
bernardleckning.com / Notes on the concept of augemented reality — June 18, 2011
[...] they published a post about some recent findings from PEW about social networking in the lives of Americans. In [...]
replqwtil — June 18, 2011
I don't think there are many surprises here... Interesting to see the Data support what seems obvious though.
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