Constructing and Enacting Normality Across Generations; the case of social networking sites

Niki Panteli, Ben Marder

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The paper examines how different age groups construct and enact normality within social networking sites (SNS) and consequently aims to extend theory in the area of online interactions.

The chosen research site was Facebook and the research design involved focus groups across three different age groups: teenagers, young adults and the middle-aged. In total there were 78 participants. The focus groups explored metaphoric images of Facebook interactions. In doing so, participants were asked to draw a picture to represent their metaphor and following this, to position themselves and other characters within the picture. The drawings as well facilitators’ records provided the main dataset for the study.

Connective and protective encounters were found to be used by different age groups when constructing and enacting normality on SNS. Further, it emerged that the interpretation and enactment of normality across the different age groups significantly varied. The metaphorical images have transpired as being a resourceful way of unpacking these differences.

Research limitations/implications
The study relied on focus groups in order to capture metaphorical images across generations. It did not include interviews with individual participants to elicit the extent to which they agreed with the group metaphor or whether there was anything else they might have presented in the drawings. This could be on the agenda for future research.

Practical implications
The findings of the study suggest that SNS managers and designers should sympathise with the view that users of different ages engage in different ways with SNS and as a result user interfaces should be customized according to the age of the user.

This is the first study in which the concept of normality has been adopted as a theoretical lens for understanding interactions on SNS. Further, this work adds to the limited body of research on SNS use across different generations whilst it expands on the range of methodologies used within the IS field.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-42
Number of pages42
JournalInformation Technology and People
Early online date20 Apr 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Apr 2017

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