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Longitudinal Changes in Face-to-Face and Text Message-Mediated Friendship Networks

Tasuku Igarashi

Evolution of Friendship Networks, Communication Media, and Psychological Dispositions

Social relationships change over time. Within a social gathering, people form and maintain interpersonal relationships in several ways, whereas some relationships decline and others lapse after a certain period of time. The underlying processes of such relationship formation, maintenance, and dissolution can be differentiated in terms of purely structural network effects (see Chapter 3) and actor-relation effects (i.e., “social selection,” see Chapter 8; also see de Klepper et al., 2010; Robins, Elliott, & Patti- son, 2001). To test how purely structural and social selection processes promote network formation respectively, this chapter examines the development of friendship networks expressed through face-to-face communication and mobile phone text messages among first-year undergraduates through an academic year.

Making friends at a university is one of the central concerns of first- year undergraduates. Friendship plays an important role in adaptation to novel social environments, especially during a major life transition such as university enrollment. Previous research has investigated the relationship between friendship network development among first-year undergraduates and its impact on adaptation to university (Hays & Oxley, 1986; Newcomb, 1961; van Duijn et al., 2003). However, the impact of different types of communication media on network formation and maintenance has not been fully studied. This chapter introduces patterns of longitudinal changes in interpersonal relationships and characteristics of communication media, especially text messages, in relation to strength

I greatly acknowledge Toshikazu Yoshida for his helpful support in this longitudinal survey.

of friendship ties. The effects of individual factors such as gender and social identity on the evolution of friendship network structure are also elaborated.

Interpersonal relationships are naturally managed in multiple ways (White, 2008). This chapter broadly classifies friendship networks into two types based on low and high intimate relationships (Altman & Taylor, 1973). A “superficial network” is composed of low intimate and weak ties that are stable but changeable. Although greetings have a function to show intimacy, people tend to consider sending greeting messages (e.g., via greeting cards) as useful in the maintenance of a greater number of low intimate relationships that are established partly on surface politeness (Dindia et al., 2004). It is therefore reasonable to assume that greetings in general play a significant role to maintain superficial relationships. In contrast, a “self-disclosing network” includes high intimate and strong ties that are likely to be exclusive and mutual. People usually disclose themselves to a small number of intimate others by verbally revealing personal information and by nonverbal involvement in conversation (Cozby, 1973). The dyadic setting often encourages reciprocal self-disclosure (Jourard, 1964). In a context of social capital, superficial and self-disclosing networks might be related to Putnam’s (2000) typology of “bridging” and “bonding” social networks, respectively. Also, strong tie relations (i.e., in the self-disclosing networks) are more likely to be transitive than weak tie relations (i.e., in the superficial networks) (Granovetter, 1973). In line with these notions, people would receive and share novel information through sparsely knitted superficial ties connecting different social clusters (Burt, 1992), whereas they would feel secure and bonded with a small number of others in tightly knitted self-disclosing friendship ties. Consequently, different types of functions give rise to different structural signatures: a superficial friendship network may be less reciprocal and transitive, as well as more expansive than a self-disclosing friendship network over time.

Emotional bonding and information exchange are partly matched to particular types of media of communication. People are connected to others they feel close to via multiple channels of communication (i.e., the so-called media multiplexity; see Haythornthwaite, 2005). Recently, among young people, there has been a rise in text messages (SMS and e-mails via mobile phones) to communicate with friends (Ito, Okabe, & Matsuda, 2005; Ling, 2004). In contrast to face-to-face conversation, text messaging communication is predominantly verbal (text)-based (i.e., there are few if any nonverbal clues), indirect, asynchronous (but reciprocal), personal, and portable, and more likely to be used among close friends than e-mail and other electronic communication tools (Boase et al., 2006; Igarashi, Takai, & Yoshida, 2005; Johnsen, 2006).

In other words, text messages are used to supplement face-to-face communication by sharing their experience whenever and wherever they want. A social network where communication occurs through such media is beneficial not only for maintaining weak ties for information resources (Wellman et al., 1996) but also for fostering self-disclosure (Joinson, 2001).

In the process of social selection, visible and invisible individual factors are important determinants of network formation (de Klepper et al., 2010). Gender is one of the important visible attributes affecting friendship network structure. Compared to males, females are more likely to form intimate social networks, encourage self-disclosure to intimate others, and avoid isolation (Boneva, Kraut, & Frohlich, 2001), whereas previous research has confirmed a strong tendency of gender homophily in a friendship network (Ibarra, 1992; McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001). van Duijn et al. (2003) revealed that the friendship selection based on gender similarity in face-to-face networks among first-year undergraduates emerges only at an initial stage of relationships. Regarding text message usage, Igarashi et al. (2005) showed that undergraduates tend to form same-gender friendship ties, and in particular, females tend to expand their social networks via text messages more than males. This study sought to investigate the social selection process based on gender similarity in face-to-face and text message-mediated friendship networks over time, while controlling for the structural effects of social networks.

With regard to invisible interpersonal attitudes, social identity is also an influential factor in friendship formation and maintenance (Turner et al., 1987). Previous research revealed that members of a sorority embedded in a central position showed a stronger sense of belongingness than those in a peripheral position (Paxton & Moody, 2003). To sustain self-esteem and adapt to a novel environment, first-year undergraduates may invest in the university to increase their sense of belongingness and thus come to regard themselves as a typical member of the university. This identification may lead to more active participation in university social life. Thus, strong identification with the university and its members at an initial period may lead to more active nomination of other classmates over time.

In sum, this chapter investigates the evolution of superficial and selfdisclosing friendship networks among first-year undergraduates formed and maintained via face-to-face and text messages in relation to gender and social identity throughout the academic year. Purely structural and social selection processes among different types of friendship networks are explored and compared over time. Purely structural effects and actor- relation effects are analyzed simultaneously to examine the impacts of each effect on friendship network evolution.

Changes in Face-to-Face and Text Message Networks 251

 
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