multiple ties that contain overlapping information [ 14]. This distinction is theoretically grounded but has strong practical applications:
when measuring technical capital, is there a difference in effect
between having one tech-savvy parent or two? Does it matter if the
parents offer a diverse range of skill sets? And how do other alters like
siblings, aunts and uncles, or friends’ parents factor into the equation?
Volume, heterogeneity, and upward reach among network ties—
especially local family ties—are important indexes into technical capital in
a teen’s social network .
Parents and Local Community
Amidst the media perpetuated images of teen deviance and helicopter
parenting, much time has been spent discussing sites where teens and
parents can’t coexist, but little time has been spent investigating sites
where they can.
There is a curious dualism between teens’ social life and family life
online. Offline, they are physically grounded and geographically constrained by their home and family, but they have no such fixed space
online. There are few contexts in which parents and teens are encouraged, or even allowed, to interact online. In fact, most popular press
perpetuates and exacerbates parent-teen disparities, with headlines
like: “The Helicopter Parents Are Hovering on Facebook” (Wall Street
Journal, Sep. 8, 2009); “Teens to parents: It’s our Facebook” (USA
Today, Oct. 4, 2007); “Facebook teens try to stop parents intruding”
(Sydney Morning Herald, Aug. 8, 2009); “Worlds Colliding: My Mom’s
on Facebook!” (Business Week, Sep. 4, 2007).
Yet, parents, and other local support systems like siblings, peers,
teachers, and community members can have strong positive influences on teens.
Assumptions of normative family relationships are deeply rooted
on both local and personal levels. When I asked a group of girls in an
Oakland, California program to identify their role models, they
responded almost unanimously, “My mom.” One asked me, unceremoniously, “Do you like your momma’s boyfriend?” Yet, broader
themes characterize the non-normative family unit. My lab-mate,
Betsy DiSalvo, described the same mom-heroism in her work in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with girls from different socioeconomic,
ethnic, and family backgrounds than the Oakland-based kids.
We are interested in designing around teens’ local community for
several reasons. First, people living in close geographic proximity may
be likely to share common characteristics, like age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status [ 2]. This is particularly the case for teens living at
home and attending schools in local neighborhoods. Connecting them
online can help them form ties, access information and resources, and
build a support network [ 6, 11]. Second, connecting people who live in
the same neighborhoods, towns, and regions may foster community
❝Amidst the media perpetuated images
of teen deviance and helicopter parenting,
much time has been spent discussing sites
where teens and parents can’t coexist,
but little time has been spent investigating
sites where they can.❞
interest and participation [ 15, 16]. Last, much of Internet research in
the past two decades has focused on the potential for connecting people across long distances. We are interested in returning to the local.
Designing for Positive Social Change
This research is part of a broader agenda toward designing for social
change based on how people are influenced by one another online.
Bandura’s social learning theory describes how people learn through
observation and imitation of others’ behavior [ 1]. Social learning theory has been used to explain why people join gangs, or become alcoholics or drug addicts. In each of these situations, people are
influenced by observing external social forces around them that lead
them to do things they otherwise might not have done.
People learn from one another in school hallways, community
neighborhoods, and public parks; however, it is difficult, if not impossible, to measure and evaluate learning as a social process in these
offline contexts. The social Web offers new opportunities for measuring and designing for positive social learning online.
In one study, we are focusing on the role of parents and parenting in
teens’ lives. Parents as Partners 2016 is a social network for parents at a
local Atlanta school. The site was designed to inform and engage parents
about the kinds of things their children are doing with technology by having them actually participate in their own online social networked community centered around their 6th grade children. Our goals are to learn
about parents’ attitudes toward technology and their children’s use of
technology, and critically, to identify points where parents can influence
and encourage their children to be informed consumers on the Web.
In a second study, with Erika Shehan Poole and Jill Dimond, we
examined ways that life disruptions influence help-seeking and technological support. We analyzed posts contributed to an online technology support board to show how life disruptions fundamentally
impact technology practices and routines. We found that life disruptions usually thought of as separate from technology—such as birth,
death, or divorce—present situations in which families must take on
new roles, not only as social support providers, but also as technical
support providers. That is, people’s need for help might be better supported online by communities based on social similarity [ 17] and
shared life disruptions like death, divorce, or unemployment, rather
than around technical topics.
Future of the Social Web
During summer 2009, I worked at Microsoft Research New England,
and in 2008, I worked at HP’s Social Computing Lab. Both labs contained
a mix of social media researchers, computer scientists, and physicists.
At both of those positions, I had great conversations and debates
about how to balance the abstract nature of network models and
measurements with the richness and detail of socially-oriented
research. I believe these conversations are worthwhile. A theory of
social networks and network science has real-world applications that
can have meaningful impact in the world around us.
Some immediate and timely examples of real problems include
topics like detecting disease outbreaks through social media sites like
Twitter, connecting marginalized groups like rural communities,
homeless people, or elderly individuals with one another and with