Closing the Gap: Using a Series of Social Networking Environments to Collapse Time and Space by Giving and Receiving Social Support

By Weber, Nicole L.; Conceição, Simone C. O. et al. | Global Media Journal, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Closing the Gap: Using a Series of Social Networking Environments to Collapse Time and Space by Giving and Receiving Social Support


Weber, Nicole L., Conceição, Simone C. O., Baldor, M. Julia, Global Media Journal


Keywords

Social networking, Facebook, Orkut, Yahoo! Groups, communities of practice, virtual communities, informal learning

Abstract

Social networks are altering learning, communication, and relationship patterns as they have the potential to close gaps once created by physical distance. This study, based on findings from a qualitative research project that featured open-ended interviews and content analysis of social network usage among 16 Brazilians who had relocated to the United States, explores social network environments within the communities of practice framework. Findings indicate that participation in social networks foster Wenger's (1998) three dimensions of communities of practice: mutual engagement, joint enterprise, and shared repertoire. These dimensions worked to break isolation by sharing information and providing social support among the participants in the series of social network environments that were studied.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Roberto Hernandez Center for the financial support that made this study possible.

Introduction

Social networking environments and communicative technology are beginning to play a larger role in our everyday lives as they give individuals a constant 24 hour a day, 7 day a week access to friends, family, and communities no matter the physical distance that might exist between them. This is especially true now that we have seen an intense growth in the use of mobile technologies (e.g., smartphones and wireless networking). When taking part in social networking activity members share experiences, expertise, and gain recognition through interactions in the community (Skiba, 2007). This is increasingly important as individuals find themselves moving from place to place and wanting to remain connected to old networks while finding their way into new networks to establish relationships and knowledge bases.

While social networking participants may develop new global relationships and participate in Web communities that introduce them to new and different kinds of people and experiences, individuals tend to use these spaces to keep ties with people they know from a face-to-face group (boyd, 2008). It has been evident that when people move from place to place, so do their networks via social networking Web sites (Vivian & Sudweeks, 2003). However, when individuals choose to remove themselves from familiar ties, such as moving for a job or educational opportunity, the need to connect with the new community makes itself apparent. Moving often forces one to step outside their familiar networks, even though they are still there for much needed support, to meet new people and create a new knowledge base around their new physical location. This study seeks to explore social networking participation among a group of individuals, who at one point in their lives stepped away from familiar ties. The significance of this research lies in its revelations concerning meaning and scope of virtual community networks made possible through the power of intelligent networking. Intelligent networking focuses on the "combination of technology and electronic pathways that makes global communication possible" (Gershon, 2011, p. 13).

Background

New social communication technologies, like social networking sites, have the potential to alter the way individuals communicate and connect with one another. Therefore, it is important to first explore what social networking is and how these sites blur the lines between offline and online before examining how they may be used as a tool for perpetuating virtual communities and even further, a virtual community of practice among their participants.

What is Social Networking?

Rheingold (2000a) writes that "social networks emerge when people interact with each other continually" and that they "can find you a job or a husband, information you need, recommendations for restaurants and investments, babysitters and bargains, a new religion, emotional support" (pp. …

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