Last night’s class discussed the importance of social capital in SNS. The vast majority of the class (outside of the Radian 6 demo) was spent discussing the development of bonds and bridges, and how different populations seek to build social capital, as reviewed from the articles on the TECH621 website.
The discussion began with a very brief discussion of what social capital was itself, which is where I will start.
On a basic level, social capital is a collection of available values and resources. For example, content we find on the web, things we use in every day scenario, information on events around the world, these are all some type of value or resource. Social capital is a function of everyone’s life, as it is what helps mold us as individuals-our interests, our passions, our likes/dislikes, etc. It is also the governing force that leads us towards the connections we make with others.
The way that social capital can be broken down into a simple, traceable format is through the use of ties. Ties are the connections that we make with others, be it in face to face communication, similar extra-curricular activities, or through use of SNS. The ties we focused on pertained to SNS usage, and how populations build them. The description and research of ties is attributed to Granoveter, who conducted a study on the things that contribute to social capital and a secondary review article re-analyzing the same data set. He found there are two main types of ties; strong ties and weak ties. Strong ties are what we share with those closest to us, or those who share a strong emotional bond. Good examples of strong ties are parents, long terms/best friends, or someone you feel you can generally depend on through thick or thin. A common attribute associated with strong ties is that those who have a strong tie with you are typically similar to you in more ways than one. Put simply, strong ties are found within tight friend circles, or families. A weak tie is just the opposite-a few classmates agreed the easiest way to explain a weak tie is someone one would consider an associate: co-workers, a friend you see every now and again, or a superior. This is not to say that having a weak tie with someone implies that they are disliked or generally shunned-it’s what they represent to you. Weak ties, while they carry a slightly negative connotation, are responsible for branching out/expanding social networks. With that said, there are three levels of weak ties: individual, group, and society. Individual ties are the ones we uphold personally-again, associates. A good example we used last night was a friend of Dr. V’s that salsa dances. As a result, Dr. V ‘knows’ the salsa dancers, and she would not have known them if not for her friend. However, it is still completely up to Dr. V if she wants to take that bond further. Group ties are the things that are shared amongst a community of people, such as news. Societal ties pertain to branching outside of communities, states, countries, etc. Weak ties link us to everything outside of our comfort zone. Putman calls these bridging ties when they link us to resources we otherwise wouldn’t pursue. However, it should be noted that not all weak ties are bridging ties. A weak tie is still what we make of it at the end of the conversation.
The second half of the discussion delved into how different cultures consume social capital. The three groups in the study we reviewed were Koreans, Chinese, and Americans. The studies were conducted collecting survey data on the specific things that each population would do to obtain social capital. The main findings of this study were that each population valued different ways of consuming information, based on several cultural dimensions that they defined:
• Power distance: distribution of power amongst members of society
• Individualism v. Collectivism: prioritizing the self over the group, and vice versa
• Femininity v. Masculinity: human relationship v. material need
• Uncertainty Avoidance: the extend in which one is scared by and wants to avoid specific scenarios
• Long-term orientation v. short term: defining how far the future is for an individual
With these guidelines as a basis of what shapes the three societies, the study then defines the motivators for using SNS: expert search, communication, connection, content sharing, and identity. With these attributes funneling the level of information that the researchers obtained, it was then easier to define what bridging social capital and bonding social capital was for each group. The end results found that groups across different regions utilized significantly different means of obtaining social capital. For instance, the US was much more inclined to share content and search to retrieve information, while China was much more open to communication aspects of social capital along with content sharing and searching, while Korea excelled in sharing. It was also noted that overall, China was using SNS for a more connective means-keeping in touch with people. This was only from the aspect of SNS usage. The study delves much deeper into how the values changed once the variables were adjusted-that is, when it came to bridging and bonding social capital totals, the data shifted in favor of a business model usage for China and Korea, but more of a bonding ‘agent’ for the US.
I found the conversation for the evening overall to be extremely interesting, although the weak/bridging ties discussion left me with a variety of questions: is there a more concrete way to define what contributes, or is associated with a bridging tie to make it a bridging tie? What becomes of a weak tie that, over time becomes a more important part of your life-do they remain a weak tie indefinitely, do they become a strong tie as time passes, and if so, does that mean by becoming a strong tie you no longer have anything to contribute to expanding social capital for that person? I tried to come up with some logical answers, but it just became a round of circular reasoning or a loopholeof some sort…