Tweeting, Digging, Blogging: Communication in the Age of Interactivity

In the sixth and final Research Unplugged discussion event of the fall season, Distinguished Professor and Co-Director of Penn State's Media Effects Research Laboratory S. Shyam Sundar led a lively discussion on the cultural implications of social media in his talk, titled "Tweeting, Digging and Blogging: Communication in the Age of Interactivity."

man with glasses in orange shirt speaks

We are in the midst of a communications revolution, Sundar said with optimism. People now have the tools to engage with others on a global scale, rather than to just passively receive information, he explained, adding that the simplicity and mobility of sharing information are the hallmarks of this new era.

There are no right or wrong ways to use new media, Sundar told the audience of 70 attendees, saying "We are in the midst of the transformation from an old 'transmission' model to a new interaction model of communication."

Sundar summarized how people share information via Digging, blogging, and tweeting. Digg.com is one of the earliest social networking tools, allowing users to share, comment, and endorse others' Web content, he noted. People can elect to "Digg" or "Bury" a link. This feature, according to Sundar, gives users a feeling of ownership over the content they are commenting upon.

Twitter also empowers users, said Sundar, and makes users feel like "rock stars" because they have followers that regularly read their messages. He mentioned that some common uses of Twitter are forwarding links, commenting during public events, and even advertising. "All Dunkin Donuts has to do is tweet 'free donuts' and they'll have a line out the door," he said.

When Sundar asked the audience which social networking technology was the most familiar to them, blogging was the clear winner. In Penn State's Media Effects Lab, he explained, research participants are taught how to start blogging in ten minutes or less. Because they can so easily publish their ideas and interact with others through blogs and other media, they feel a great sense of engagement in the topics they discuss. Sundar gave the example of the Huffington Post, a political blog. Some participants in the Post's online discussion attend more political events because they first get involved online. He described these people as having a great sense of "self-agency."

Sundar wrapped up his talk by saying that there are at least one hundred other tools available to share information in a social way, including social bookmarking and tagging Web sites. Western countries are more likely to use these tools in a way that promotes the indvidual, while Eastern countries are more likely to use them for community building, he noted.

Audience questions touched upon some surprising trends in social media. Is online information reliable? More than you'd think. Studies have shown Wikipedia to be more accurate overall than the Encyclopedia Britannica. Still, "buyer beware" was Sundar's advice.

Is the United States the world leader in social media? No, that distinction goes to South Korea, said Sundar, who just returned from a research trip there. Korea is "the most advanced country in terms of personal communications tools. So if you want to know what tools are going to hit you in three years, look to Korea," he suggested.

Is it rude to use social media when someone else is talking? Etiquette norms may be shifting, Sundar noted. "When I was testifying before Congress, then-Congressman Bob Barr was talking on his cell phone," he told the audience, adding that he does not have a problem with students texting during his classes, though he conceded some of his colleagues don't feel the same way.

For more about S. Shyam Sundar, read on...

Last Updated December 01, 2009