This is a follow-up to Tuesday’s post, during which I shared some personal benefits of my choice to start using public buses again and then began a conversation about broader communication implications of riding buses.
Below I add some quick notes about Flowing Through the City, a study about communication on buses, a few of my own experiences, and connect the concept to the public sphere.
Communication professor Renee Human rode the bus in Lexington, KY and spent one year analyzing her experience from a critical lens. She found a few patterns in how people who rode the bus communicated.
1. Communication based on logistics. Many people on the bus communicated because it was a necessity; for example, they needed to know about specific stops on the bus route and where the particular line went to. Human (2008) notes these interactions were usually shallow and did not prompt any further dialogue. I do this as well, especially when getting on an unfamiliar bus. I’ll usually double-check with the driver to make sure it’s going to where I think it’s going.
2. Communication between familiars. No surprise here; Human (2008) found that those passengers who knew each other were more likely to have conversations while riding the bus. They might know each other from previous relationships or they may have formed relationships on the bus by being ‘regulars’ on a specific route. A few months ago I ran into a friend I had not seen in years and we proceeded to have a conversation for the duration of the bus ride. This was unusual because the norm for me (and most others) is to not talk with people on the bus and just enjoy the ride in solitude.
3. Other interaction patterns. Human (2008) goes in depth and discusses a variety of interaction patterns she observed; all can be seen here. Among other things, she looks at nonverbal communication (bus riders usually sit in a way that will guarantee maximum personal space for every individual), appropriate/inappropriate interactions, and the type and variety of conversational topics discussed on buses. One interesting find is that the more universal the topic of conversation, the more likely it was to be a sustained topic (i.e. big current event stories, the weather, etc.).
Human (2008) asks two research questions during her experiment, the second question partly has to do with personal maps. Citing Benjamin and Demetz (1986), she elaborates:
Moving through a city, physical structures and landscapes trigger memories of past events and people, but more than that, that visual observation of those particular places trigger the imagination and emotion created through the intrapersonal interpretation of those memories.
The idea here is that observing specific buildings and different parts of the city as the bus rolls along its route will trigger a ‘personal map’ inside many riders; the intriguing and cool thing here is that everybody’s personal map is different. Today I took a bus I usually do not take because the timing worked out and it passed a coffee shop I don’t frequent but have been to before. I instantly remembered the last time I was at this particular coffee shop, the friend I was with, and started to think about that friend and what they might be up to. There were about fifteen other people on this bus and chances are at least one other person noticed that same coffee shop and attached their own meaning and interpretation to it.
In her discussion section, Human (2008) shares examples of personal maps of the bus riders she interviewed and observed. She also discusses the idea that the bus serves as a melting pot filled with different co-cultures along the bus route. The dynamic inside the bus changes from stop to stop, or as Human puts it:
As the bus flows through the city, so also the people flow through the bus.
The evidence in this study and my own experiences have led me to perceive the bus as yet another site that has the potential to be a public sphere.
The public sphere is one of my favorite communication concepts because, if viewed through an optimistic and idealistic lens, it has the potential to improve the whole world. The idea is that a public sphere will allow people from many different perspectives to come together to share opinions, ideas, and constructive dialogue that might eventually lead to changes in society. Oftentimes revolutions against authoritarian governments begin as a result of ‘the masses’ realizing they have the upper hand because there are way more of them than there are government officials. This realization comes during meetings and these meetings happen in public spheres. Public spheres can be formed almost anywhere, including coffee shops, bars, people’s homes, internet chat rooms, barber shops, and public squares in big cities.
In December 1955 a woman named Rosa Parks bravely refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. This act of civil disobedience became a significant part of the Civil Rights Movement because the community in Montgomery, Alabama boycotted the buses for more than a year until the segregation laws for buses were deemed unconstitutional. Who knew a simple action on a city bus could have such grand consequences?
While most who ride the bus stick to themselves and rarely engage in dialogue with other passengers (including myself), the opportunity for the creation of a public sphere on a city bus is always there. All it takes is one person to start a conversation and at least one other person to respond. The bus is usually filled with different perspectives already; a key ingredient for a successful public sphere. Here, Human (2008) shares an example of a conversation she witnessed between a few people.
I enjoy my solitude on the bus as much as the next person and am not advocating for all bus riders to start conversations all the time.
As long as you realize that those sitting next to you on the bus have their own personal maps and might be able to teach you something based on their unique perspectives, and that this sharing of perspectives might turn into a dialogue that might just change society in some small way, this blog post has done its job.
Monday I wrote about spring break, consumption of alcohol among some university students, and Facebook (FB); I discussed how a good number of university students seem to purposefully construct their identity on FB in a way that makes them look like they drink a lot of alcohol. According to the research I cited in Monday’s post, they do this because they think presenting themselves as big drinkers is socially desirable.
One big Communication concept discussed on Monday was identity management on FB, and today I elaborate a bit more on this specific concept and some related concepts.
Lee (2008), in summarizing the IMT findings of Cupach and Imahori, states that they “argued that one’s identity can be revealed and recognized through face, an individuals presented social identity” and that “positive face” deals with an individuals desire to be approved by others whereas “negative face” describes our needs to be free and independent from the influence of others (p. 54). This is an intercultural communication theory because the assumption was that people from different cultures would not be aware of what specific items the opposite culture perceived as “positive” or “negative” representations of face. On this note, Lee states, “during an intercultural encounter, interactants could threaten the other’s face due to a lack of knowledge concerning the other’s cultural rules and differences within cultural identity” (p. 54).
While Monday’s post was not about communication between two different cultures, the need for many university students to present a “positive face” to their peers via FB by making it look as if they drank a lot of alcohol definitely aligns with the above theory. As human beings, we are always “performing” certain identities to certain people because we wish to present ourselves positively to them; this might just be the reason Shakespeare said “All the world’s a stage” so many years ago. University students have a belief that being an alcohol drinker is socially desirable, so they manage their FB identities in such a way to make it appear as if they drink all the time.
These theories all explain, describe, and predict our efforts to “manage” how people we interact with on a daily basis perceive us, and by doing so, we are essentially “managing” the identity we want that person to attach to us. We do this by controlling what we say, how we say it, who we say it to, what we wear, how we wear it, the tone in our voices, the FB profile picture we choose, our voicemail message, our ringtone, and a plethora of other factors.
Since we want different people in our lives to perceive us differently, we present different “faces” to different people. You most likely act very differently in front of your professors than you do in front of the person you are dating, for example, because you want your professor to think of you in one way and your romantic partner to think of you in another way. In the same way, you might be more willing to reveal your vulnerabilities to people who are close to you, while you may always present a strong assured self to people who might look up to you as a role model (if you are a teacher, parent, or a leader in an organization, for example).
There is nothing essentially wrong with presenting different faces to different people, as long as they are authentic. We are all complex individuals with several different identities, which change a bit based on who we interact with. Being aware of this fact will hopefully help you think about all the different faces your present, and might make you aware of which faces are more authentic to who you are and which are just influenced by what you think other people want to see (peer pressure).
Note: I link to the Wikipedia entries for the above theories only to give you an idea of what they are, not to encourage you to use that as a primary source (see my Wikipedia philosophy here).
Today is the historic day citizens of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Mexico, and France have chosen to associate with love.
Not just any kind of love, mind you, but that undefined, illusive, at some points frustrating, confusing, contradictory, unpredictable, perhaps painful, yet still amazing, tantalizing, one-of-a-kind, delightful, mind-boggling, awesome, and life-changing romantic love; a type of love we have felt in the past, currently feel, or will feel in the future for that special somebody, once we realize that all those previous special somebody’s were actually not them (unless you are one of the lucky few who have hit a “hole in one” and have found that person with the first try)!
I am not an expert on romantic love because to be an expert one must have experience, and my romantic relationship experience thus far has not been plentiful enough for me to claim to know what I’m talking about. In fact, even when I do eventually get married (and I’m assuming if this happens the “L” word will have been involved beforehand), I don’t think I’ll be able to claim “expert” status.
So where are these “love experts”?
For me to listen to somebody and consider their words on a certain topic as “expert” words, I want to know they have experience with the topic. Experience with romantic love, to me, does not mean six months, or even three years. It’s decades. I will always take advice from somebody whose longest romantic relationship has been six months with a grain of salt, while I am much more likely to take the love advice of those who have been married for decades more seriously. Obviously, these married couples have figured something out that works and it seems to be genuine. I would include my own parents in this category.
Most people who have been married for many years are probably not faking it. It seems to me that it would be very hard to fake romantic feelings for decades and to stay with somebody for that long if you didn’t truly care for them. Thus I believe most of these marriages are the result of successful romantic relationships (not counting arranged marriage cultures, of course), and I think it’s logical to assume that those who have been in successful romantic relationships for two decades or more can offer some good relationship advice to the rest of us.
Before I share this advice, two important disclaimers are warranted:
1. I know everyone is not necessarily looking to maintain romantic relationships for a long time right now. You may be in a “friends with benefits” deal or some other relationship during which it is understood that the goal is not a long-term bond. You may just be looking to have fun and to explore (in a smart and safe way, I hope), without an end goal of a long relationship in mind. If your current romantic relationship goals have nothing to do with maintaining relationships for a long time, then this advice might not necessarily be for you right now. However, I think it can still help in your other “love” relationships (family, friends) and in your possible future long-term romantic relationships.
2. We are talking about romantic relationship maintenance here, not initiation. I cannot tell you how to find love or how to start a romantic relationship, but I can share with you some advice from experts on how to keep that love (if you want to keep it) once you have found it and started the relationship.
Judy Pearson, a highly respected interpersonal relationship researcher, interviewed 34 couples who have been married forty to seventy years and researched the patterns in their responses and combined those results with existing relationships research. For the statisticians out there, I am fully aware that 34 couples does not a generalizable sample make. However, the common themes that emerged from these interviews support previous research that has been based on many, many more people and can be said to constitute a somewhat generalizable sample for heterosexual American couples, at least. Also, Pearson is a legitimate and veteran researcher, check out her CV (academic resume) for proof. We can trust her on this.
Pearson actually wrote a book based on this research, and information from this book has been neatly summarized into this article. Below I highlight three pieces of advice on how to maintain a romantic relationship for a long time, all based on the above article.
Realistic Expectations and Unconditional Acceptance
If people enter into committed relationships with the expectation that their partner will fulfill every need and that the relationship will be perfect in every way, the relationship is doomed. Real life is often stressful and replete with disappointment.
Ladies, there is no prince in shining armor; if you wait for him your whole life, he will not come and you will end up alone. Don’t believe the chick flicks or romance novels, they are fictional for a reason. There are, however, millions of imperfect, but decent, men out there, who will try everything to be your “prince”, but will not always succeed like the fake men do in the movies and novels. Accept their imperfections.
Gentlemen, there is no perfect princess out there. If you wait your whole life for the one woman who will “get you” 100% and who will be on your side on every issue, who will laugh at every joke, and who will like everything you like, you will also end up alone. There are, however, millions of amazing, but never perfect, women out there who will care for you so much they will be willing to “fake it” from time to time and will laugh at your bad jokes and act like they care about how many points Lin just scored versus the Lakers. Accept their imperfections.
LGBTQ community, this applies to your romantic relationships as well. If you wait for the perfect partner your whole life, they will not come, and you will be disappointed and sad. Realistic expectations are key. Accept their imperfections.
Just to be clear…..
I am NOT telling you to not have dreams, to not have high standards, and to stay in abusive relationships because it might the best you can do. DO NOT interpret this advice as meaning that you should “settle” for what you can get. You should strive to look for the person that gives you that special, undefined, “loving” feeling described above, but realize that while high expectations are certainly okay to have, perfect expectations will never be met. Be aware that your partner is human just like you. If you are in a bad relationship, leave it right away and don’t ever “settle”. However, if you know in your heart that the other person is a decent person who does not take advantage of you and who loves you, then perhaps you are not satisfied with the relationship because your expectations are too high (she’s not the princess you thought she was, his shining armor ended up being dirty, etc.).
2. Positive Attitude
These couples did not view the world objectively, but rather chose to interpret their experiences and each other in an often inexplicably positive way.
I love how Pearson uses the phrase “inexplicably positive way” to describe how the couples in the long romantic relationships perceived each other and their problems. The point here is that focusing on the positives will lead to better relationship maintenance because being “relentlessly optimistic” about relational issues will increase the likelihood that those difficulties will be overcome successfully. This section also talks about strategic forgetfulness, which describes couples’ mutual decisions to “forget” negative relational situations and to only focus on the positive ones. I know I have seen my parents do this; they will fight about something fiercely one moment but laugh with each other ten minutes later, while the topic they argued about seems to have completely disappeared.
Positive thinking works for most things in life. A certain level of anxiety has been a part of me since I witnessed the war in Bosnia as a child, and I have learned one of the most powerful ways to deal with anxiety is to force myself to have a positive attitude about everything in life. I tell my students that positive thinking is crucial to giving successful presentations and to dealing with speech nervousness. Glass half full works.
Some may read this advice and assume I am advocating for you to be in denial about your relationship problems. That is wrong. Dealing with issues with a positive attitude and choosing to focus your perspective on the positive rather than the negative is not the same thing as completely denying the issues are there. Instead, it is a much more productive way to deal with the issues.
3. Conflict Management
Frequency of conflict did not distinguish happy from unhappy couples.
Oftentimes people believe successful relationships do not have any conflict in them and most of the time, this is not the case. Conflict is absolutely and positively inevitable. Oftentimes it is the tension between the two partners that creates the loving bond. Think of the St. Louis Arch, for example. Without tension from opposing forces, the arch would crash. Without some tension in your relationship, it too would probably crash.
The trick to long-term relationships is to find a way to deal with conflict constructively and positively. The article does not give us a fool proof formula for how to deal with conflict because every successful couple will find their own way. Some will be fighters, others will be avoiders, and many will fit somewhere in between. However, one bit of advice that does apply to most couples is that whenever there is conflict involved, you should attack the issue and deal with the issue instead of attacking each other.
Let’s say one partner is mad at the other partner for something they did in public. An unproductive and unhelpful way to deal with this would be to say something like:
“You are just like you father, I can’t believe you would do that, you are disgusting.”
A more productive way to verbalize your disappointment in your partner and to address the issue would be to address it without personally attacking the person:
“I am not happy with your decision to pick your nose in public, that decision makes me feel uncomfortable to stand next to you.”
If you imagine yourself on the other end of that critique, I am sure you can agree with me that you are more likely to respond in a positive manner to the latter comment than to the former comment. This is because you were not personally attacked, just an action of yours was. Again, when in conflict, address the issue, not the person. The article describes how the successfully married couples dealt with conflict:
Conflict was perceived as destructive when it resulted in emotional injury, blame, or it was left unresolved. However, when couples viewed conflict as inevitable, stayed issue-focused rather than person-focused, and shared responsibility for the resolution of conflict, conflict was viewed as constructive and even energizing.
To avoid making this post excruciatingly long, I will not cover anymore tips from the above article here. If you are interested in how a need for autonomy and shared identity, sexual intercourse, and perseverance also play a role in maintaining relationship for a long tie, I recommend checking out the original article (hyperlink above)
Last Tuesday I deactivated my Facebook (FB) account for one week as part of an experiment to see just how big a part of my life it has become. As I said last week,
Often times we do not realize what role something plays in our life until we are forced to no longer have that in our life (this works with people too). Thus, I have decided to proactively eliminate Facebook from my life in order to analyze the role it plays in my daily routine.
For more information and background on my rationale for this experiment, read last week’s entry.
In this follow-up to the experiment I will discuss three items: A.) how it felt to be off FB, B.) three things I learned about FB and social media habits, and C.) how this will (hopefully) affect my future use of FB.
A.) How it Felt
They say “a picture is worth a thousand words” and since today’s entry is already long enough, here is a picture from our Australia trip last March that exemplifies how I’ve felt over the past week without FB in my life.
Dramatic words, I know, but that is exactly how this FB-less week has felt.
I have tried many times before to limit my FB logins but it has failed because there always remained a FB profile to log into. By deactivating my account, however, this urge to log in substantially decreased because there was nothing left to be missed; no messages, no event invites, no wall posts, and no photo tags because it became impossible for people to interact with my FB profile.
I mentioned last week that I would keep a daily journal of sorts to document how the experiment was going. While I did not write everyday (graduate school schedule of death), I still ended up with a total of four “journal entries”. Below is a quote from the first entry discussing how the initial action of disabling FB felt.
Wednesday September 28th 5:21PM
It felt very good to disable Facebook. I think I got an adrenaline rush just doing it, and felt more ‘in control’ of my world! It’s funny that such a simple thing felt so good.
As noted last week, I had made it a habit to log into FB a lot and to make it a part of my daily routine. I also mentioned that I did not hate FB but that I hated my FB habits instead because I was wasting a lot of time on the website. I would not just log in, check my messages and posts, and then log out (as many of my much stronger willed friends successfully do). I would log in, check my messages and posts, and spend the other time mindlessly browsing FB and clicking other people’s profiles to “stalk” them (we all do it, some people just don’t like to admit it).
After I deactivated my account and stopped logging in on a daily basis, I realized just how silly this waste of time really was. Instead of mindlessly browsing other people’s self-created online identities, I could now do more productive things, such as classwork.
It felt really good to not know what hundreds of my acquaintances, excuse me, my “friends”, were doing every second of the day.
Believe it or not, it was still possible for me to have an enjoyable day even when I didn’t find out what hundreds of people thought about the weather or the latest football scores.
B.) Three things I Learned About Facebook and Social Media Habits
1. Facebook as a communication tool. I realized over the past week just how much my friends and I use FB as a tool for everyday communication that has nothing to do with the aforementioned mindless browsing of profiles. I learned this by finding myself in situations in which the other people wanted to use FB to communicate but could not since my profile was gone.
I got the following text message from a friend who wanted to send me a question about an upcoming trip to Chicago via FB just a few hours after “the deed” of deactivating it: “Did you get rid of Facebook?!” We ended up talking about the trip through text messaging instead.
Last Wednesday a friend from New York sent me an article link via email because she could not do so over FB and we had a back and forth email conversation about the article. Usually this would have happened through FB. Appropriately enough, the article was about FB!
Last Friday I asked a friend to send me a text message of his address so that I could enter it into my GPS. He told me he would send an address to me via FB because he had limited text messaging. He had to send the address via email instead.
Yesterday I got another text which said, “OMG ARE YOU NOT ON FACEBOOK ANYMORE!?!” from a friend I had seen the night before but didn’t tell about the experiment.
Obviously, all of these interactions were casual and not serious, thus it was not a big deal that I had to use email and text messaging instead of FB. Despite the lack of “seriousness” in these messages, an important point can still be taken away from my experiences with them. Facebook was seen as the first option to communicate; the other forms of communication were only used as “Plan B” after my friends found out that FB was not an option. This tells me that we have made FB an important communication tool for our daily lives.
2. The “urge” to know. As the FB-less week wore on, the initial feelings of freedom were accompanied by feelings of being out of the loop; I actually wanted to know what my closest friends were up to. Some more quotes from the journal entries are warranted here:
Thursday September 29th 1:17AM
I am actually still happy to be away from the ‘traffic jam’ of FB. I will admit though that I had urges to check up on friends and to log in when I was browsing the web, which tells me that I have formed somewhat of a habit on checking it.
Saturday October 1st 2:00AM
I do feel a little “out of touch” with a few people that I feel that I am usually more “in touch” with.
I have “urges” to share information with the world, and have been doing so more with Twitter and Google lately.
I had developed tendencies to check up on what my friends were doing on a daily basis. While I enjoyed not following hundreds of acquaintances on a daily basis, I began to miss “being in the loop” of my closest friends.
3. Other social media. The third thing I learned during the FB-less week was that FB is not the only social medium allowing us to effectively communicate and share information with our friends online. My usage of Twitter and Goolge + increased over the past week. The former was awesome, the latter not so much.
I’ve had a total of 48 tweets since deactivating my FB, which is an increase from the 40 tweets I had the week prior. For those who have not joined the awesome world of Twitter, a “tweet” is the equivalent of a FB status update.
I spent a lot more time in the past week checking my Twitter feed because the FB feed was not an option. Twitter was a much smaller time investment than FB because there were no extensive profiles to “stalk”; just 140 character statuses to read. These Twitter statuses were often links to interesting articles with brief commentary, so it felt like a more productive use of my time. These feelings led me to post the below “tweet” a few days ago:
I also spent more time on Google +, but it was not as good a replacement for FB as Twitter. Putting on my communication theory “thinking cap” while writing in the journal, I pondered about why Google + might be less exiting than FB and Twitter:
The “newsfeed” of FB and of other similar social media websites has created in us a need to be constantly updated. Even if these updates are absolutely pointless, its not about the content of the updates anyway, its about the updates themselves. We feel more connected if we see that other people are doing stuff, even if that “stuff” consists of “liking” an obscure comment from a friend we never know or commenting on a random photo. Google + also has a stream, but so few people are on this stream that it updates only about every half an hour. On FB, however, there are updates nearly every minute! So I feel that Google + is less exciting because I do not see the constant updates!
Psychologist William Schutz (1976) (as quoted by Pearson et al. (2011)) found that human beings have three basic interpersonal needs: inclusion, affection, and control.
It seems that social media websites such as FB have become popular in part because they satisfy these basic human needs. Particularly relevant for this topic are the constant status updates on our respective social media home pages.
It may not matter that these updates are pointless. What matters is that us seeing these updates everyday might lead to a feeling of being included in our social circles.
Assuming this educated assumption is true, I might have perceived Google+ as less exciting than FB and Twitter because there were no continuous updates from the social circles on Google+ and I felt less “included” in the overall discourse as a result.
Being away from FB definitely helped me to learn and realize a lot. It has also inspired me to take some practical actions related to my FB use from now on.
C.) How This Will (Hopefully) Affect my Future Use of FB.
Last week I said,
I want to use Facebook as a tool and I want to control Facebook. I do not want Facebook to use me as a tool and to control me.
As mentioned above by Schutz (1976), a sense of control is one of the basic interpersonal needs for humans. Using FB as a communication tool loses a lot of its luster when that tool takes control of our lives. When we feel “urges” and “needs” to log into FB and to mindlessly stalk others and endlessly update our own profiles, I believe that we have let FB take control.
However, if we use FB as a communication tool (as the first point above under the things I learned exemplifies), I believe it can still be very beneficial for our lives. It still does the best job of keeping us “in the loop” with what our friends/family from all over the world are up to.
In May I wrote about the predictable fear of new communication technologies. There have always been people who assert that technology is taking over our lives and that we have no control over it; examples include the people who feared the invention of the printing press in the 15th century and people who blame television (instead of social, economical, and familial factors) for increases in violence on American streets.
Deleting FB without critically thinking about how to improve our experiences of it by changing how we use it would just be a continuation of the centuries old fear of new technologies. Instead of fighting against these new trends, we should embrace them (with a caution).
I encourage the reader to become more consciously aware of how they use FB on a daily basis and to take back control if they have given that control up, like I had.
I plan to dramatically reduce the amount of time I spend on FB. I will use it as a communication tool but I do not want it to become a time consuming daily routine. I have learned about my FB habits and will work on changing them.
Among the specific things that I will change include not re-downloading the iPhone application (for me, FB on the phone leads to over involvement) and forcing myself to not spend more than a few minutes a day logged into FB unless I am chatting with someone.
Hey, Facebook User…This post is not just about the author. It’s about YOU.
This experiment was not done just for my personal insights. I hope that these insights will inspire others out there to consciously evaluate their own uses of FB and other social media websites and to conduct “experiments” of their own. Many people have done what I have done (check out this ABC article) and I am certainly not the first to blog about deactivating FB: this person did it, this person talked about doing it, and I am sure there are countless more related articles on the Internet about this issue (I would die if I tried to give you all the links).
For some people doing what they are already doing is working just fine. My brother, for example, has never had a FB account and is completely content with life! For many others, however, FB has taken control over your daily routines and you need to take that control back!
I encourage you to do so in whichever way is best for you. When it’s all said and done, FB and other social media are just accessories to communication, while the best form of communication is still good old face-to-face! The Internet has forever changed how we communicate, but we have a say in this change because we can (as of now) choose to take advantage of FB and to not let FB take advantage of us.