Blogging as Substitute?

Dr. Bernd Marcus, Prof. Dr. Astrid Sch?tz und Dipl.-Psych. Franz Machilek are psychology scholars at the Technical University Chemnitz and probably know everything you always wanted to know about bloggers yet never dared to ask. Or so. Well, actually, I don’t know if bloggers were a particularly important part of their study given the saddening size of the German blogosphere.

Based on 266 questionnaires which the psychologists gathered online they assessed intentions and personality traits of people who own a homepage to answer the question whether “owners of personal websites” are “self-presenters, or people like you and me”. So the question of what exactly differentiates a “personal website” from a blog – as well as the entire “social software” discussion – might be spiced up a little from a psychological point of view.

But frankly, it’s impossible to say anything profound about research that I haven’t read – only the abstract and a German press release are available online – particularly as it’s in an area in which my expertise is predominantly based on BBC documentaries about Bonobos and drinking with heart-broken friends. Nonetheless, after reading about this study on last night, I decided to introduce the study’s main results to the Anglophone blogosphere.

Apparently, according to the university’s press release, Prof. Sch?tz’ team has concluded that people who own homepages – mostly very well educated men, only 13% women – appear to be more uncertain in social conduct, less able to deal with criticism and have a more negative image of themselves than people who have not yet left any trace on a Google harddrive. Prof Sch?tz therefore assumes that websites are used as a substitute communication-tool because direct interpersonal contacts are more difficult to handle [for a part of] the owners of websites than for other people – even though she explicitly notes that dating is not something web authors have usually in mind.

Be that as it may, it is important to underline that methodology, particularly the method of data gathering and questionnaire design are crucial, particularly given a sample of only n=266, when the goal is to model personality traits of tens of millions of ‘homepage owners’. It should also be noted that the results quoted above are rephrased from a quote in the press release, while the abstract of the article is a bit more modest – “contrary to widely held opinions, personal website owners are neither more extraverted nor are they more narcissistic than other individuals. Compared with others, they describe themselves as more interested in technical issues, more open to experiences, and relatively introverted.”

Personally, I would say that even the latter is a rather bold statement. While the results intuitively evoke the imagery of coffee addicted socially inapt male nerds like the young Mr. Gates, and while it is sad but true that not more women are blogging on afoe yet, I can’t help but wonder if the psychologists are not simply underestimating the transforming power of the internet even though their project is part of a larger research programme explicitly dealing with the sociocultural transformations of new digtial media.

But time will tell.

2 thoughts on “Blogging as Substitute?

  1. Oops. Thanks for noticing. I supppose I should edit and reread my stuff a little more carefully… I once wrote a paper on informational assymmetry about cars when I should have written about used goods in general. The difference in German is only one letter (Gebrauchtwa-g-en, used cars, vs. Gebrauchtwa-r-en, used goods). As cars are the usual example for this problem (G. Akerlof, lemons) it never occured to me that I should not write about cars even though I looked at the assignment sheet for several days: I always thought I read “Gebrauchtwagen”. I actually told my tutor to go on the web and look it up when he asked me why I had written exclusively about cars. I said, well, I was asked to. And it was only when we looked it up together that I read the “r”. The games our brains play on our expense 😉 – Well, it should have read (and it does now) “not more women”, as we’re clearly under those 13% percent, even if you discount Jurjen Smies, who unfortunatly hasn’t written that much on afoe yet.

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