My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

Relevant links:

Archive

Intimate communities: social/emotional support, technology and the gender divide

[Cross-posted to: Misbehaving.net.]

With social networks all the rage in places like Silicon Valley and the DoD, most of the focus has been on how social networks can help you access information, find jobs, track terrorists and, all to often, abuse your connections for personal gain. I just reread Claude Fischer’s “To Dwell Among Friends” and various other social network papers.

Historically and broadly speaking, men and women have different types of social networks and use them for different purposes. For example, most men don’t have any trusted emotional confidante other than their wife. Men use their social networks to address functional needs; women are more likely to use their networks for social/emotional needs. Women were classically the group who maintained a family’s community social ties.

While tools may not being built to explicitly help people people manage their social/emotional support networks, they are obviously being used that way. From soc.support Usenet groups to LiveJournal to mailing lists and IM/SMS, people are often using technology to reach out for social/emotional support. There’s nothing more calming than logging into AIM and seeing your buddies all displayed. Often, that peripheral display provides enough social support to not necessitate certain kinds of communication. This is shared context, an opportunity for intimacy.

When we talk about production of information, we’re often focused on the kinds of content that can be assigned metadata and useful to everyone. Yet, much of the content that we share in everyday life is about maintaining intimacy. We check in with one another. We share {{hugs}}.

So, i have to ask… what kinds of social/emotional support does technology provide you? How? Is this about supporting everyday interactions or providing access to a whole new world of support?

[This entry is based loosely on Joi Ito’s discussion of “Full-Time Intimate Computing.”]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

9 comments to Intimate communities: social/emotional support, technology and the gender divide

  • john

    “For example, most men don’t have any trusted emotional confidante other than their wife.”

    I wholeheartedley disagree with that statement. How is it that you are coming to that conclusion ? Poll statistics ? Anecdotal evidence ? Gut feeling ?

  • Fischer, p. 128. Based on an extensive survey, Fischer finds married men to be a high-risk group who does not have adequate counseling support. “Men were more likely to turn only to their spouses, and they thereby more often risked having marginal support than did women, who typically had counselors besides their husbands.” Fischer did a very extensive sociological study on the various interrelated factors.

    That said, in re-reading my broad statement, i realize that there are a few mistakes there. First, the word married was obviously omitted – oops. Also, it should be noted that age and urban/rural elements are key in Fischer’s conclusion that men have far fewer social support ties than women (older, more rural magnifies the difference between men/women). Also, in re-reading the actual section from Fischer, i probably should’ve stated “Men are more likely to have no emotional confidante other than their spouse” or used many instead of most. Sorry for the impreciseness.

    There’s also some qualitative work on aging that talks about women’s vs. men’s support network post spouse-death that emphasizes how vastly different those two groups are in seeking emotional support. Sadly, i can’t remember what it was… i have a gut feeling that it was related to Myerhoff’s “Number Our Days” (although i’m not sure).

    Thanks for keeping me on my toes!

  • john

    I see. Very interesting, thanks for passing on your source for that. My initial reaction to the statement was a personal one. Being a 30something male in a committed relationship in a city (SF) I tried thinking of any of my male friends in this context.

    I find that most (actually all) of my male friends, both single and committed, have close emotional support from other male friends, or in female friends who are not their partner. Of course my group of male friends is too small to make any sort of broad statement to refute your broad statement, and I’m also not differentiating married from committed but not married male friends. So YMMV. 🙂

    I’ll also reveal that my reaction in hearing a statement about men and emotional support comes from feeling very happy that I find emotional support in my male friends as well as my girlfriend.

  • John – i definitely know a lot of people who don’t fit into the broad generalizations found by sociologists in this, but i can’t tell if that is an age/urban culture thing, if tides are shifting or if it’s wrong. All of Fischer’s findings are over 20 years old at this point, which is why i immediately framed it as historically speaking. But if i look to older people that i know, i don’t know if he’s that off even now. I remember when all of my friends’ parents were getting divorced, the mothers bonded together and the husbands went and tried to find new dates. I wonder what it looks like at a broader level. [Also, i’m convinced that there’s nothing normal about SF… this is why i love it.]

    It’s also important to note that all marked relationships are heterosexual and i wonder if there is a diff between committed and married. I mean, married implies a sort of normative culture element. And i’m definitely guessing that the longer the marriage, the more some of these patterns emerge.

  • Weird,

    The only time my padre and I ever really open up to eachother emotionaly and interact on the same level is through email/IM… Otherwise he’s an old-fashioned Mexican-American male bound to his traditional role as strong/silent family dictator. With my mother and sister, it’s the inverse – they prefer the phone.

  • Is there a gender divide in online community usage?

    disclaimer: we hereby acknowledge the inadequacy of making hypotheses based on binary gender models… that said… do men tend to…

  • Is there a gender divide in online community usage?

    disclaimer: we hereby acknowledge the inadequacy of making hypotheses based on binary gender models… that said… do men tend to…

  • Is there a gender divide in online community usage?

    disclaimer: we hereby acknowledge the inadequacy of making hypotheses based on binary gender models… that said… do men tend to…

  • Is there a gender divide in online community usage?

    disclaimer: we hereby acknowledge the inadequacy of making hypotheses based on binary gender models… that said… do men tend to…