Which theories are behind our conversations?

Reflection for Northwestern “Social Network Analysis” class.

Spatial dimensions and social support have direct consequences in people’s communications. Individuals will tend to interact in a safe and familiar environment, with those people who they feel more confident to talk and share their problems and situations. Those are some of the principles behind homophily, proximity, and also exchange-network theories.

There are many cases where our behaviors and actions will be determined by our closest people. Voting behavior will be affected by knowing which friends voted, and that effect will be stronger if those friends are closer (Aral et al, 2009). Scientific collaboration and its persistence can be determined by how offices, working spaces, and buildings are designed. If researchers have the opportunities to meet in sporadical places (e.g. in the elevator, kitchen, cafeteria), chances of mutual collaboration would increase (Kabo et al., 2014). Finally, I was impressed with Viry’s study (2012) and their conclusions related to strong and weak ties. Mobile-individuals’ strong ties would be more strengthen, and their transitive connections would be more frequent, because those contacts would be part of individual’s support network in his/her new location.

Technology has enabled people to keep their conversations, even if they are separated by distance or time. Moreover, mobile technologies have created unique states where people maintain conversations with others who are not present in the same place. We are satisfied and interacting permanently with our closest friends using social media and instant messages systems. That also has conceived new critiques about individuals’ interactions, where they are alienated of their physical contexts, and living in a “bubble” (Hampton, Livio & Goulet, 2010). Despite that, we hope that new interacting systems, like virtual reality, would allow us to have more realistic conversations. And independent of the new technology, we will see the same social patterns present in our interactions: private circles will become more important, we will continue talking with our closest friends and family members; while we will have intellectual, political, or work conversations with our weak-ties.

Finally, other social network theories (collective-action, balance theory, and contagion) are present and reinforced with the use of technologies. As algorithms are getting better to predict and suggest new relationships/followers/content, new ties would emerge without the help of brokers (Them & Leonardi, 2012). And, as in the previous cases, those new connections would be based on proximity attributes (such as political opinions, similar interests, geographical closeness), contacts suggestions from our more active contacts (transitivity), and frequently users who we message or visit.