Tis the season

I hope you are all having a relaxing and warm spot of downtime. Here’s a winter picture I took in Norway last week. Back to real blogging one of these days…

Light through the frosted trees

… in the meantime, here’s to peace inside and out in the new year.

Interpersonal media use and relational quality

It took way too long, but an article I wrote with several colleagues has just been published in the new issue of New Media & Society. This is a followup to the piece I published there in 2004 with Zhang and Lin (who are co-authors on this new one, along with Andrew Ledbetter and Adrianne Kunkel). In the time between its acceptance and publication quite a lot of new work has come along that I would have cited were I writing it today, but it still fits nicely into the growing body of work that shows that using the internet to socialize is not inherently bad (or good) for personal relationships.

What we did was to survey about 500 students. I asked them to recall the most recent voluntary social interaction they’d had and (among other things), to assess the quality of that relationship and also to estimate what percentage of their total interaction with this person took place via face-to-face communication, via phone, and via internet.

In contrast to some other studies looking at internet’s impact on relationships, we controlled for several other factors known to affect relational quality (gender, relationship type — like acquaintance vs family etc, same vs cross sex relationship, etc.). This allowed us to see clearly how much impact on relational quality media use has.

We found that relationship type affected which media were used: our respondents (mostly students at a residential university) were less likely to communicate face-to-face with family and more likely to use the phone with them. Other than that, we didn’t find differences in media use amongst friends, family, romantic partners and acquaintances.

And on the big question: do people who use the internet for more of their communication report lower relational quality? NO. As we say in the article “participants’ estimated proportion of face-to-face, phone and internet communication with their partners did not affect relational quality.”

Another nail in the internet-is-relationally-inferior coffin.

To be clear, I do not believe that the internet is adequate as a SOLE means of maintaining meaningful relationships over the long haul. In fact, research (including the last.fm friends data I’m working with now) suggests that what’s important in developing and maintaining close relationships is using more media to communicate, regardless of which specific media one combines. Using more internet vs more phone or more face-to-face conversation to maintain the relationship does not seem to do any relational harm. What’s more, it’s not just that more internet wasn’t bad, it’s that more face-to-face was not good. Media choice just didn’t matter. Another nail in the coffin of face-to-face-communication-is-unconditionally-best coffin?

Article citation:

Baym, N.K., Zhang, Y.B., Lin, M.-C., Kunkel, A., Lin, M. & Ledbetter, A. (2007). Relational Quality and Media Use. New Media & Society, 9(5).

Happy Thanksgiving!

For those in the US, enjoy my favorite holiday!

I’ll be back posting next week, I hope (!) — crazy busy time of year here — but in the meantime, I have to go make some stuffing and get going on that big bird.

If you were going to roast a turkey today (or for an upcoming holiday) and are looking for a recipe, I am officially a HUGE fan of this one. Yum Yum Yum. And only 2 sticks of butter. Yikes.


If you’re reading this, I’m in Chicago at the National Communication Association meeting. This (Friday) afternoon at 3:30-6:15 at the Hilton, I’m speaking in a double-session roundtable on the future of human communication and technology research with some excellent colleagues. Mostly I’m meeting with potential hires as I’m chairing a search for a new assistant prof of Interpersonal Communication.

What I’m not doing is hanging out online because I left my laptop at home! So enjoy my silence. Unless you’re in Chicago, in which case, come listen to me talk :)

Internet Inquiry Goes to Press! (and me on TV)

Yesterday my co-editor Annette Markham and I sent the final manuscript of our collection, Internet Inquiry: Conversations about Method, to our editor at Sage. The book is targeted at graduate students learning qualitative research methods (participant observation, ethnography, interviewing, discourse analysis, etc), and those who want to consider those methods vis-a-vis the internet. We hope to see it wind up in qualitative research and internet studies seminars, as well as on the bookshelves of internet and qualitative researchers.

It’s based on the premise that there is no recipe to getting it right, instead there are smart ways of thinking through key questions. So what we did was pose questions, have one accomplished researcher explain how she answers it, and then have two other accomplished researchers respond to that response and offer their own answers. Those familiar with the field of internet studies will likely recognize many of the included authors. The initial reviews have praised it for being the only one of its kind, well written, and useful. I don’t know when it will be published or go on sale. In the meantime, here is the table of contents:

Introduction: Making Smart Choices on Shifting Ground
Nancy Baym and Annette Markham

QUESTION ONE: How can qualitative internet researchers define the boundaries of their projects?
Christine Hine
Lori Kendall
danah boyd

QUESTION TWO: How can researchers make sense of the issues involved in collecting and interpreting online and offline data?
Shani Orgad
Maria Bakardjieva
Radhika Gajjala

QUESTION THREE: How do various notions of privacy influence decisions in qualitative internet research?
Malin Sveningsson Elm
Elizabeth A. Buchanan
Susannah R. Stern

QUESTION FOUR: How do issues of gender and sexuality influence the structures and processes of qualitative internet research?
Lori Kendall
Jenny Sundén
John Edward Campbell

QUESTION FIVE: How can qualitative researchers produce work that is meaningful across time, space, and culture?
Annette N. Markham
Elaine Lally
Ramesh Srinivasan

QUESTION SIX: What constitutes quality in qualitative internet research?
Nancy Baym
Annette Markham

I owe a huge thank you to Annette for how hard she’s worked this last month getting this out the door. It’s been a long process.

On another note: Canadian readers can find me on the teevee this evening as part of a panel discussing the future of sites like Facebook on The Agenda with Steve Paikin.  Video should be on their website tomorrow.