Monday, 22 October 2012

Social Media: Why has it become the ultimate ‘Time Suck?’

Let me set the stage. It’s 9am on a Monday morning, you've just finished writing down your two page to-do list and just before you get started, you think to yourself... ‘Just a quick browse on my Facebook and Twitter page and then I’ll get started with my day.’  But, two hours later you find yourself looking at your new acquaintance’s brother’s fiances baby pictures from 1982 and you have no idea how you got there. Oh, the horror! What about the to-do list? What about all the things you were going to get accomplished today? Why does social media sites become the ultimate ‘time-suck’ (you know, the dark and confusing abyss that gets created by partaking in an activity that makes you lose track of time)? 

This may or may not have happened to me this Monday morning. And, it got me thinking....Why are these sites so enticing? Why do we get so caught up in the moment when using social media? And then a light bulb went off... For one, I study this type of thing AND most importantly, one of the items on my actual to-do list today is to write a blog post for my PhD research page (the page you are currently reading!)  So, here you go, I’m going to inform you guys on the interesting theories and findings researchers have studied on why individuals (myself included) are so engrossed by social media and why we keep coming back for more.

Ever since its inception more than a decade ago, researchers have used the scientific method to grapple with the very questions that have been plaguing me today. The uses and gratifications theory is one popular speculation that encapsulates the social media ‘time suck’. This theory has been around since the 1940’s and was first created to explain the uses and gratifications of listening to the radio (Herzog, H, 1941).  It has survived through the decades and has more recently been used to describe television viewing and now internet and social media use. The uses and gratifications theory postulates that people make choices about the media they consume by the gratifications they gain from their media experiences. It views people as active agents who determine to a large extent the media to which they are exposed (Katz, Blumer, & Gurevitch, 1974). So, to put it in laymen’s terms, here we are in control of our own time and media use and all of a sudden all this media is in one place. We can chat with our friends, watch videos, partake in online banter, play games, listen to music, look at pictures, and enjoy a multitude of other activities to our heart’s content. We have more control over our own media usage than ever. Entertainment can be at our own disposal at any time! No wonder these sites are so entrancing and as a result, many of us fall victim to their charm.

Current research tells us even more about why we so fervently use social media sites (well, a lot of us anyway). Yet, many researchers differ on the specific reasons. For example, Park et al (2009) found four needs for using Facebook; the need for socializing, entertainment, self-status seeking, and information. Lynn and White (2010) on the other hand found seven: social connection, shared identities, photo sharing, social investigation, surging, and status updates. Urista (2008) found five themes on why individuals use these sites: 1) efficient communication 2) convenient communication 3) curiosity about others 4) popularity 5) relationship formation and reinforcement (Urista et al 2008). Patrick (2010) was only interested in how students use Facebook and she found they used Facebook to 1)entertain and distract themselves 2)to integrate themselves into campus community 3)to perform relationship maintenance and 4)to aid in construction of their own identities and perceived identities of Facebook friends (Partick 2010). From the findings of these studies we can see many similarities. The social aspect pops up most (which is no surprise seeing that the word social is embedded in ‘social media’s’ title!) Connection, communication, and entertainment are others that make multiple appearances. Who doesn’t like to be entertained? Now we can choose our entertainment AND stay socially connected and communicate with others. It is like our worlds have collided to create the ultimate time suck distraction. 

But, How do we defend ourselves from this fantastic monster of a pastime? Well, that’s a question for a separate post. In the meantime, happy ‘social mediaing.’  Try not to get sucked into the abyss.

Herzog, H. (1941). On borrowed experience. Studies in Philosophy and Social Science, 11, 65-95.
Katz, E., Blumer, J.G., & Gurevitch, M. (1974). Uses and gratifications research. The Public Opinion Quarterly, 37, 509 – 523. 
Lynn, R. & White, J. (2010). Learning to like Facebook? Social categories, social network site selection and social network site users. MSS-NCSA Joint Annual Meeting, Chicago, Illinois.
Park, N., Kee, K.F., & Valenzuela, S. (2009). Being immersed in social networking environment: Facebook groups, uses and gratifications, and social outcomes. CyberPsychology & Behaviour, 12, 729-733.
Patrick, K.D. (2010).  "Finding Meaning in Facebook" (Undergraduate Honors Thesis Collection. Paper 74.
Urista, M. A., Dong, Q., & Day, K. D. (2008). Explaining why young adults use Myspace and Facebook through uses and gratifications theory. Human Communication, 12(2), 215-229.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Online Presentation and the Infamous Duckface

Self- presentation in online environments is a hot topic for researchers. Research has shown that individuals portray their most idealized self on their social media pages and have been known to ‘stretch the truth a bit’ in their online self-presentations to portray themselves in the best light. (Zhao et al 2008).  All you have to do to see a few examples of idealised self presentation online is to scroll through some friend’s posts or pictures (or even your own)!

Now, with the power of digital pictures and photo editing software individuals have the ability to ‘reinvent themselves’ through the manipulation of digital images (Strano 2008). The shooting and editing practices have changed photography from picture ‘taking’ to picture ‘making’ and with these practices individuals can shape a photograph into an idealized image representing social norms about desirable personal characteristics and socially accepted notions of family, gender romantic relationships, and parenthood (Strano 2008).  Pempek and colleagues (2009) as well as Lewis and West (2009) found that both males and females untagged photos of themselves on Facebook due to the fact that they did not like their appearance or their behaviour in the photo. This ‘untagging’ behaviour identifies the importance of ‘image’ and online presentation.
There are also many gender and age norms at work in online self presentation. For example women change their Facebook picture more often than men and are more likely to include pictures of their friends in their Facebook profile pictures (Strano 2008). Women also smile more than men in their profile pictures and include more up close photos of themselves (Strano 2008). It’s also no surprise that more women than men portray themselves in a seductive light. They make seductive poses in their photos and wear clothing that emphasizes their sexuality. Could this be the reason for the ever so popular and annoying ‘duck face’ that has infiltrated so many women’s profile pictures?  

Winter et al (2011) believe that one reason for impression management on social media is to attract romantic partners. Self presentation is one of the major motives of using these sites. 1/5 of users name flirting as a reason for using these sites. Users of online dating sites tend to lie about personal data in order to appear more attractive (Winter et al 2011).
This research made me think about my own social media pages. I can definitely spot some of my own behaviour in this research. Untagging photos of myself? Guilty. Updating  my profile picture when I have recently taken a photo of myself that I like? Guilty. Filtering my posts and trying to be witty to create a quirky and fun online presence? Guilty as charged! But maybe that’s why social media and online interaction is so popular. It provides a space where we can create, tweak, and hone our looks, personality and behaviour. In many cases it can be more fun than face to face interactions where the ‘delete,' ‘untag,' and other editing options aren’t available. With that, I’ll leave you with my personal, sarky example. I call this my ‘ironic seductive pose.’ I find this fitting as this is a past profile picture of mine (albeit from a few years ago... I am of course, much more mature nowadays ;)). 


Lewis, J. and West, A., (2009). ‘Friending’: London-based undergraduates’ experience of Facebook. New media and society, 11 (7).

Pempek, T., Yermolayeva, A.,& Calvert, S. (2009). College students’ social networking experience on Facebook. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30, 227-238.

Strano, M. M. (2008). User descriptions and interpretations of self-presentation through Facebook profile images. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 2(2). Retrieved March 10, 2008, from
Winter, S., Haferkamp, N., Stock, Y., & Kramer, N.C. (2011). The Digital Quest for Love – The Role of Relationship Status in Self-Presentation on Social Networking Sites. Cyberpsychology. Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 5(2).
Zhao, S, Grasmuck, S. & Martin, J. (2008). Identity construction on Facebook: Digital empowerment in anchored relationship. Computers in Human Behaviour, 24 (1816–1836).

Friday, 7 September 2012

PhD Plights: Time Management

    The main thing I was not prepared for when I began my PhD was being in charge of my own time. It sounds ideal. Who wouldn’t want to organise their own day and dictate when to do work and when to take a break. A nap in the middle of the day? Working in my pajamas until noon? Pick me, Pick me!

     Before my PhD, I met deadlines. I showed up to work on time. I was disciplined. In college I played three sports and did well in class. I was very busy and good at managing my own time. So, I didn’t imagine this aspect of the PhD being a problem.

     I could not have been more wrong. Time has been my nemesis; my arch enemy. Time has not been on my side. And the weird thing is, I have loads of time. Never in my life have I had so much time. There are no classes to attend. Meetings are few and far between. I have purposefully kept my extracurricular activities to a minimum so I can focus solely on my PhD. So, why is this time management thing so hard?

     I am pretty sure my success in the past had to do with deadlines and grades and tests and tangible measurements of how I was doing. I did not realise the power of motivation these somewhat trivial things provided. Now my deadlines are structured by myself and my supervisor. If I miss a deadline, there are no repercussions for my actions except my own feelings of shame and an overarching sense of doom. This three year long project has one main deadline, the dissertation to be turned in at the end. This looming cloud has plagued my days for the past two years.

      So, to try and control my time and be victorious over this plight, I have become somewhat neurotic. I set my timer for 45 minute intervals and do not allow myself to divert my attention away from my PhD for the entire duration. Once the timer beeps, I am free to make a cup of tea or take a short walk until the next 45 minutes of devoted attention. I then write down these 45 minutes segments and put a check by each one that I finish to try and make sure that I am not wasting away my days worrying about all that I have to accomplish before my looming deadline.

       By the end of this, I not only hope to have earned myself a PhD, but I hope to also learn to effectively manage my own time. What do you know, there goes my timer.  Hopefully my next 45 minutes will involve actual PhD work. :) 


Wednesday, 25 July 2012

CyComP 2012

         Last week I attended a Cyberpsychology and Computer Psychology conference in Bolton, England (CyComP 2012). It was my first conference where I presented one of my papers. Although I was a little nervous it was an exciting experience and made me finally feel like a real researcher! I presented my paper on diffusion of responsibility and personalisation and their impact on response rates to Facebook messages. I found that referring to a Facebook ‘friend’ by name more than doubled the response rates (25% compared to 12%) and when participants sent the messages to more individuals and did not personalise the message, the response rate dropped to less than 5%. The main take home message was that personalisation is key to increasing responses and messages sent to many individuals at once are not effective unless they are personalised (which is not really possible with mass messages).

 The conference was very relevant and enlightening with topics such as Second Life, social networks, internet research ethics and online gaming and addiction. The two talks that I found most interesting were the talks on Second Life and internet research ethics. Second Life is a virtual reality world where individuals can create their own avatars (online characters of themselves) and navigate the world while interacting with others. Although I have heard of Second Life, I did not know that it was also used for teaching purposes. Most Universities in the UK and the US have bought ‘land’ and ‘built’ their own virtual campuses.  The advantage of using Second Life for teaching purposes is that you can do things that you can’t do in real life like create a virtual brain and use your avatar to walk inside the brain and gather a 3D understanding of its anatomy. One university created an interactive family with psychological disorders to help teach mental illness. Second Life also adds a positive dimension to distance learning. Overall Second Life seems like an advantageous addition to classroom learning.
The second talk that really got me thinking was a presentation on internet research ethics. It raised the question about using information people post online for research purposes and the underlying ethical issues this creates. Is information people post online fair game for research use?  Do researchers need consent from the individuals they are researching? The speaker made the point that if you are not paying for something, you are the commodity. Advertisers, companies, and even Facebook are using personal information to try and increase business, so what is the problem with researchers using individual’s information to gain knowledge and understanding? Just a little food for thought.

Thursday, 28 June 2012


I had the privilege of attending the International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media in Dublin, Ireland this month. It was an exciting and interesting conference on an array of subjects involving social media research. With 1/3 of individuals time spent on social media sites, it's no surprise that researchers are delving into some of the psychological and sociological impacts of this massive world wide phenomenon. One of my favorite studies presented at the conference was from Lada Adamic from the University of Michigan. She found that the mutation of textual memes in status updates changed and evolved in the same way as evolution. Individuals change and update memes until they become something else entirely quite like the Yule process of biological evolution. Her final statement was that "Information is Alive." Another researcher studied comments from Myspace pages of individuals that had passed away to better understand the mourning process. Other studies included analysing tweets to predict the weather and using online check-ins to gather data about a community ( The conference was mind opening and intriguing and provided a little boost and motivation needed to continue on with my own research. Check back soon as I will be posting more frequently in the future!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

NEW STUDY!!! Social Media Engagement

Calling all Heriot Watt students!
I am a PhD student in Applied Psychology and currently conducting a study on individual's social media engagement and need participants! Please email me at [email protected] to find out more information.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Social Media Study

My social media study is now complete, so thanks to all who participated! Stay tuned for more research participation opportunities :)