The ubiquity of social media in our lives

My research topic is fairly broad at the moment, but one thing is for certain – social media, and its impact upon the off-line networking processes of the Scottish labour force, will lay at its core. Accordingly, I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the last few months pondering our connectedness to online environments. I’ve also been reading a fair number of social media-related stats, such as the recent one that 24% of American teens go online “almost constantly”.

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That’s quite incredible when you think about it. Not so much because it is actually happening – people, and especially young people, are visibly connected to the web whilst in public spaces, seemingly continuously. The next time you are on the bus, take a look around at all of the people gazing pointedly into their mobile handsets. Or consider your own behaviours – is there anywhere besides the shower where you don’t take your I-phone/I-pad/Tablet? (For the avoidance of doubt, that is a rhetorical question).

To me, what is incredible about our current situation is how quickly this culture of connectedness has permeated our lives. I am 28 years old, and because of my age I feel like I have quite an interesting take on these proceedings – I am part of a generation of kids who was on the precipice of this phenomenon whilst traversing into adulthood.

When I went to high school at the age of 11 I didn’t have a mobile phone, because nobody did. I had no concept of what the Internet or the Web was either. By the time I left school at 17, I would say the majority of my school-leaving cohorts had a mobile phone, but not one with which you could go online. At this time, the internet something you accessed via a desktop to play penalty-shoot-out games, read emails and download illicit mp3s. Chat rooms were fairly common (remember them??), but I would say we were still largely at the Web 1.0 stage. Oh, and dial-up modems were still all the rage (they actually induced rage by being chronically slow).

That was just over a decade ago, and since then we have been on an inexorable march into the era of the “networked individual”. As argued by the esteemed sociologist Barry Wellman, people may bewail the loss of community and fear our collective advance into isolation and loneliness – but really, their fears are misplaced. People aren’t addicted to their gadgets, they are actually addicted to each other. The difference is that now their interpersonal relationships transcend physical and institutional boundaries, such as traditional neighbourhoods and communities. Relationships can be created, built and/or maintained online. User generated content can be immediately created, uploaded, and shared with friends/the world, from anywhere, and at any time.

From my point of view as a student of information science, what is equally as interesting about our networked selves in addition to our actual online network of contacts, is the constant access we now have to information. And in my PhD project, I want to find out how these two overlap i.e. how do we use our online contacts, via social media platforms, to gain access to information? What role does social media play in supporting the efforts of job seekers, and their networking habits?

For those involved in, or gaining entry to the labour market, networking is something that used to happen in the real-world, and in real-time. I’d like to know how this has changed – particularly for those teenagers leaving high school, and with no recollection of dial-up connections!

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Conference acceptance

Well, it was a bit of a windy road, but I finally got accpeted to present two of my papers at this year’s Information, Interactions and Impact (i3) conference in Aberdeen.

In the first instance I submitted abstracts for full length papers, which would have required a presentation of 30 minutes for each, followed by a round of questions from the conference delegates. However, the paper based on my PhD thesis was only provisionally accpeted subject to alterations. On top of this, I had to submit an entirely new 1000 word abstract for the paper based on my Masters thesis due to ‘substantial concerns’ raised by a member of the review panel with regards to the methods used.

This was fine – there are obviously quality control measures in place, which reflects well on the standard of the conference. And so, back to the drawing board I went.

With assistance from my supervisor Hazel I spent some time altering the abstracts to meet the new requirements laid out by the reviewers (actually, in both instances I had a happy reviewer and a concerned reviewer – so the specific concerns of those concerned reviewers).

So, having sent away the updated abstracts, I was soon greeted with another reply asking me to resubmit again – this time with short paper entries. Whilst they could see the merits of my work, and the relevance of each paper to the conference themes, they felt as though the studies were at an early stage and so didn’t justify full paper submissions.In reality, these comments were entirely justified, and a fair representation of my situation. My work IS at an early stage. But I have to say, at this point I was wondering if I was now on a long road to an outright rejection.

Nevertheless, I took the new comments on board and re-jigged my abstratcs to meet the requirements of short paper entires (between 3-500 words), and sent them a way in good faith. Mercifully, the short papers were accepted, and I will be presenting at the conference. For those of you who are interested, below are copies of the final short abstracts, which unfortunately aren’t quite as flowing and erudite as the original long ones (cutting down on word length and keeping a coherent and comprehensive narrative is surprisingly difficult):

Could social networking online help NEET young people gain employment?

The impact of grassroots community campaigns on library closures in the UK

So overall, it was an interesting process and learning experience. I’ve experienced my first rejection (of sorts) as a PhD researcher, and I’m sure there will be many more to come (apparently it is quite common). Fortunately for me, I am a Scot and therefore naturally quite pessimistic and cynical. Trust me, once you have spent years following the Scottish national football team, disappointment is like water off a ducks back.