From local ties to transnational connections: The role of computer-mediated communication in relational maintenance
As new technologies capitalize on human sociability, people are increasingly able not only to maintain existing active relationships despite distance, but also to re-activate relationships that may have lapsed over time. Yet little research has considered why people seek out such ties and whether they benefit from them. This project focuses on Russia and Kazakhstan as locations where high levels of emigration and frequent mobility due to an economically volatile environment created conditions where people were especially likely to engage in the practice of reconnection via communication technologies such as social network sites. Using a transnational lens on technology use for communication activities, the goal of this research is to assess the way technologies have been appropriated in relational maintenance, what role distance and national borders might play in this form of relating and what this might mean for future technology design and development. A secondary goal of this research is to consider how and why the same technologies may become deeply integrated into daily life for some people and remain as occasionally used curiosities for others and what that might mean for design and development of new technologies.
Moreover, this research brings up issues that go beyond studying interpersonal use of communication technologies and considers how the social and political context of the locations under study can shape the way the Internet is interpreted, adopted and used. In this work we consider how extensive state blocking of Internet sites and surveillance of Internet use might be implicated in people’s decisions about and attitudes toward contributing content online. What role might online communication play in fostering grass roots organizing and civic engagement in Russia and Kazakhstan? Given the different ways that Russia and Kazakhstan exert state control over their national Internet spaces through technical and ideological means how might we take into account the political context of technology use as this relates to design and development of technology conducted with a human-centered computing sensibility?