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quarta-feira, abril 27, 2005

Mobile Phones, Ritual Interaction and Social Capital

Ling's close observations of some of the first users of the SMS medium -- Norwegian teenagers -- quickly uncovered uses of texting that can only be described as ritualistic. Ling began to wonder about what kind of social norms and values SMS rituals support and ask whether these rituals create or dissipate social capital.

Ling points to Malinowski's observations of gift rituals in the Trobriand Islands early in the twentieth century: a complex series of ritualized exchanges kept shell necklaces and armbands moving in circles around an atoll. The interactions and mutual obligations engendered by the ritual in the participants was the real value, the social capital, generated by the ritual -- not the material exchange value of the necklaces and the armbands. Ling suspects that the social utility of teenage gifting of SMS messages, which many save in their phones or in special scrapbooks, serves a similar function, and the ritualized goodnight message is a token of reciprocity that is valued for the mutual attention it mobilizes.

Ling zeroed in on the way mediated encounters might change the ways social networks interacted. Ling and other researchers for the European Union's multi-country, multi-disciplinary e-living project showed that "mobile telephony use has a relatively strong co-variance with informal social interaction. That is, the more one engaged in an active leisure life of informal social activities such as café visits, theater, etc, the more one used SMS and voice mobile telephony... This seems to point to a strengthening of at least the local social group (read: social capital) and, if indeed ritual interactions are amenable to mediated interaction, I can assert that the various interactions between the involved individuals play on, maintain and perhaps engender ritual. The broader issue here is the degree to which this type of ritual social interaction gets played out in the broader scheme of things."

Roving youth cliques who stay in touch throughout their waking hours via voice calls, SMS messages and photostreams are weaving tightly knit social networks. The problem, "in the broader scheme of things," might be the importance of the weaker and wider social ties Granovetter wrote about, which require connections between networks. While the personal and always-on nature of mobile media makes it easier for smaller groups to strengthen their social ties, that local strengthening comes at the cost of at energy and time that must be subtracted from more global weak-tie interactions.

TheFeature :: Mobile Phones, Ritual Interaction and Social Capital


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