Media Diary: My Week in Conversations

This is my response to the first assignment to keep a diary of my media consumption.

This week, I spent 78.6 hours in conversations. (Yes, I realize this is about 70% of the 112 waking hours in a week. This provides some evidence to my hypothesis that the internet facilitates higher volumes of communication by allowing, for instance, simultaneous chat.) The runner-up category of “entertainment” had 22.5 hours. (Something to take into account is that I spent four days with friends in Puerto Rico. A normal week may be more news-heavy or reference-heavy, but conversations would likely still dominate.)

Thus my media diary assignment turned into a closer analysis of my conversations, especially once I realized that the broad categories of “e-mail” and “social networking” that RescueTime provided me did not tell a satisfying story. I was interested in exploring how many people I interacted with over the course of a week, how much of this interaction was one-on-one, how much of this interaction was virtual, and the diversity of this group. As I did not know of a tool to help track this, I reconstructed this information into a spreadsheet detailing my interactions with each person from hand-written notes and message archives.

I defined conversations as any interaction with someone whom I can consider a personal acquaintance (as opposed to a one-way conversation with a journalist or celebrity) that was memorable to me–this includes in-person conversations, chat, and social media interactions such as someone I have met before following me on Facebook or a friend “liking” one of my posts. (I did not include people whose posts I had “liked.”) I spent about half of my conversations one-on-one and half in groups. My one-on-one conversations were split evenly between virtual and in-person; most of my group conversations occurred in person.

This week, I had nontrivial correspondence with a total of 127 people. (This is an underestimate, as I am already remembering other people.) To give some context, I have 996 Facebook friends, 414 Twitter followers, and 514 LinkedIn connections. Most of my correspondence was through direct virtual communication: e-mail, chat/SMS, or phone/Skype.

Here are some interesting numbers from the week. For 55 (43%) of the people I interacted with this week, it was my first interaction with them this month. Of all of these people 21 were completely new; 19 of them I met in person and most of them are outside of my social network. A little less than half (57, or 44%) of these people are associated with work: either at MIT with me or working in my research area. Half (63, or 49%) of people I corresponded with live in the same city; most (121, or 95%) live in the United States. A majority (92, or 72%) are within five years of my age. About a third (46, or 36%) are female. I interacted with 87 (69%) of these people strictly virtually and 18 (41%) strictly in person.

The number of interactions are about what I expected: roughly 10% of the people in my broader social networks. I had more in-person interaction than I expected and met more new people than I expected, though both were probably a bit higher than normal due to travel. I was pleasantly surprised that I balanced work-related correspondence with other correspondence. The percentage of women is lower than I expected–this may be because I have higher-volume correspondence with individual women. From this week’s data, at least, it seems that while virtual communication is useful for helping establish connections with people I have already met who are within my social network, the more serendipitous connections came from traveling. Over the course of a year, however, it may be that how many people I meet virtually (through AirBnB, Twitter, my other internet presence) outside of my social network may balance out with how many people I meet while traveling.

If I had more time to do this assignment, I would be interested in looking more closely at the following:

  • Whose links am I “liking” on Facebook? Whose links am I clicking through across media? Whose links am I sharing across media?
  • How diverse is the information I am accessing through these people? How connected are these people to each other?
  • It would be interesting to have a notion of how much within my social network/sphere of interests these people are so I can have some concept of how likely someone is to change my opinion.
  • It would be interesting to measure different categories of conversation: work, gender, and productivity, to name a few.
  • How does my level of serendipitous interaction look over the course of a year and what does it correlate with?
  • How can I measure attention with respect to conversations?