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Becoming Intimately Mobile

Series:

Paula Bialski

As more and more people become mobile to visit friends, family, and business colleagues using social networking websites, technologies in use today like Couchsurfing.com or online hitchhiking websites (OHWs) are allowing people to create new, planned encounters also between strangers. This book adds to the small body of work currently existing in the social sciences which describes ways in which the internet aids such face-to-face intimacy. Based on extensive research including 5 years of ethnography of couch surfers and OHW users and insights from over 3500 open-ended survey responses, this book explores the way meetings are initiated, relationships are strengthened or avoided, and the way hospitality and homemaking are negotiated. By explaining the process of becoming intimately mobile, this work creates an in-depth account of the relationships being created today as well as the problems that arise when defining friendship and closeness in a mobile world.

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Chapter 3 Mobile Intimacy: Research Paths

Extract

Conceptualizing the forces mobilizing, driving, and energizing individuals to act, interact, and organize remains a controversial problem in the area of psychology, social psychology, and sociology. Applying the existent approaches to study inter- action to the current trends found in mobile social networking becomes even more problematic when taking into account that many social theories were conceived before the virtual, before people engaged in mass mobility and mass sociality using computer-based technologies (Larsen et al. 2007, 2008, Wittel 2001). When people like Couchsurfers or Hitchhikers engage in mobile encounters they are creating a hybrid of meeting contexts – meeting strangers both online and offline, fluctuating their interaction from co-presence to interaction at-a- distance. By doing so, norms and meanings inherent in co-presence, trust, and intimacy become reconfigured. Thus, if the characteristics of interaction change along with the flows of such societal trends and norms, and theories in the social sciences which once were applicable when discussing interaction must be re- evaluated. How can existing theories account for the temporal, fluid, mobile na- ture of our interactions today? Is research today on computer-mediated- communication taking into account these migratory relationships that form on- line in order to meet offline? Does mobilities theory take into account the way in which co-presence, self-disclosure, and relationship development unfolds among mobile people? This chapter reviews the current research on computer mediated communi- cation, social networking, as well as mobilities theory in order to bring to light issues regarding stragerhood, the development of social networks, and the...

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