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« An Interview with Susan Citro and Evan Parker about Nature Conservancy's Flickr Group | Main | How do you consider the intangible benefits of social media? »


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For what it's worth, I'm a junior undergrad engineering major and I went to a sci/tech high school, and only a handful of folks in my extended social network use Twitter (and they're mostly a few years older than I am). I only use it regularly because it pushes to Facebook and it's marginally easier to update from my phone, though I'm starting to enjoy the conversations it enables. RSS is hardly pervasive either.

Marina Martin

I would vehemently disagree that different communication tools are divided (or should be divided) by age groups. Rather, certain tools are better suited for certain tasks. I use email and Twitter exclusively, but for two very different kinds of communications. My ~800 friends on Twitter range from teenagers to grandmothers, but are not concentrated in middle-age.

I also think lots of people throw statistics about social media around that actually don't exist. For example, that New York Times article says that most Twitter users are mobile-only, while available statistics show the web interface to be overwhelmingly preferred over all other input methods. You'll forgive me if I don't trust that a college professor is the source to turn to for social media usage stats.

Twitter continues to struggle with being able to effectively communicate its value. It is an extremely valuable resource, but as different things to different people. When I talk to techies, I point out that they can get immediate feedback on coding platforms, strategies, and even specific snippets/errors using Twitter. With a non-profit, I bring up the Frozen Pea Fund. For people who travel, I point out how convenient it is to have trusted opinions on places to visit/eat/stay no matter what corner of the Earth they're headed.

Sue Waters

Marina makes an excellent point about how we use twitter -- definitely most I know use twitter mainly on a computer except for occasions where they want to stay connect and use their mobile phone.

More importantly I believe, as do many, that the whole digital natives and digital immigrants leads to misconceptions of the digital literacy levels of younger generations. What I find is those that have grown up with technology are more comfortable with it, more likely to trouble shoot (instead of worrying if the World will blow up if they press the wrong button) and very good at using their preferred technology how they like to use it.

Most are really good at using it for limited applications e.g. SMSing or fantastic at online gaming or using Facebook and they tend to use it very differently compared to someone like myself. Social networking is mostly limited to people who they know face to face. When I showed my students twitter it freaked them out. Most don't know how to use technology in an educational context to their benefit.

Beth Kanter

@tim: thanks for comment and sharing about your usage of Twitter. I think that we come to appreciate the networking and conversations on Twitter, even though we may not at the beginning of our experience

@Marina: Thanks for your insights here and I agree with you that we should look at tools linked to tasks. Also, I tend to use Twitter both on the web (with Snitter) and the mobile edition on my phone when I'm up and about. Also, nice to discover your blog about Twitter - what a great resource.

@suewaters I did a follow up interview with student about they were using Facebook and Causes and it was very interesting. Said they only friend people they know, they promote causes, but don't like to donate online and hate the fact that a parent wants to be their friend!
Working on the edit and will share.

Audrie Schaller

I think Marina's on target with looking as tasks rather than age. Thinking even more broadly, I believe we need to look at lifestyle issues here, not age, when examining usage of social media.

As an aside, I too have had the experience of teaching college and finding the "traditional students" (late teens, early 20s) are SMSing & are on Facebook as their predominant social media. The adult students--all armed with laptops in class--stick to email, barely use YouTube. Neither group uses Twitter (which as a professor, might be a good thing. As it is, I sometimes have to have them turn off electronic devices...a frustration since the curriculum can be made so much better with the interactivity of the web. But I've had people shop online for shoes, view risque sites, SMS, and update Facebook profiles all while holding class). As with all communications, there are etiquette issues, but that's for another post!

Beth Kanter

@audrie Thanks for your observations. How would you unpack or map lifestyle issues to choice of social media tool?

And, of course, how did you know they were looking at risque web sites while you were holding your class? :-)

Audrie Schaller

Promise to spend some time this weekend, wrapping my brain around the lifestyle issue (which, now I ponder more, also has to do with consumer behavior issues and who we use as our "reference group" directly or indirectly). I know that my late adoption of Facebook (or MySpace) was indirectly influenced by who I saw using it: teens in my classes and how they were using it for (hooking up).

Really, we're talking consumer behavior, and the myriad of reference groups that influence behavior. Friendship groups, work groups, virtual communities, advocacy groups---they all influence behavior.

Watching your video (and knowing my own daughter's behavior), I see teens craving the friendship groups, adopting similar behaviors. Even though maintaining friends is a fundamental drive for teens, they may still feel more grounded in the face-to-face aspects for those times when they want validation (although there is also a role for anonymity in expressing yourself). And, there may be an avoidance to Twitter, given the "watchdog" aspect (given the proliferation of "helicopter parents," how do you say "no" to a parent who wants to "follow" you?).

P.S. I walk around the classroom, which is how I know what my students are doing! I try to ignore most of it unless it gets out of hand.

Sue Waters

I think Audrie has spotted it well, it's not age, not necessarily lifestyles issues but influence behaviour.

The issue my students have with twitter relates back to the fact that social networking mostly is limited to their face to face contacts, remember they have spend years being informed of the dangers of networking with strangers -- they thought it was totally freaky that I network with people I haven't meet and am unlikely to meet.

Like Audrie, I know what my students are doing because I watch them, and spend time discussing how they use technology compared to me. I was using Facebook way ahead of my students. Adoption of tools like Facebook has been a result of them seeing each other physically starting to use it. I'm sure if they could see a value in twitter they would use it -- but it will probably take a few of them using it and others watching for them to start using.

The physically seeing aspect is probably the key with many -- while people like ourselves listen to our networks and adopt tools based on us valuing the opinions of people we respect online. Majority probably need to be shown the value in a f2f situation, with people they value the opinion of, to consider using it themselves.

PS its early and I'm still forming my thoughts so sorry if it sounds confusing.

Amy Sample Ward

Great post, Beth and terrific comments from everyone. I started to comment but it got long, so it's a post of its own:


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