Human-Computer Interaction Institute
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
Residential Mobility, Technology and Social Ties
Irina A. Shklovski
Humans are fundamentally social creatures and our social relationships depend on communication to survive. It is not surprising that communication is the most popular use of the Internet. Researchers have examined computer-mediated communication since the early 1980s, yet, the precise role of computer-mediated communication in growth, maintenance of social relationships has not been isolated. Recent movers are a perfect population for studying how people use information and communication technologies for the daunting task of maintaining existing social relationships and initiating new social contacts. By examining residential mobility, I studied how movers used mediated communication via phone or Internet as a way to retain contact with existing social relations, to build new relationships, and to adjust to the new location after a move.
Using results from qualitative interviews and a national sample survey of recent movers, I found that pre-move relationships tend to decline in psychological closeness and enacted support due to a move. However, movers who used email reported slower declines in both developing and mature friendships. Mature pre-move friendships relied on phone calls for relationship growth, whereas they used email in ways similar to postcards, as reminders of an existing relationship. In contrast, new, developing relationships relied on all forms of communication for growth. Even though movers used technology to maintain distant social ties,it did not help them adjust to the new location. In fact, those with less social involvement in the prior location reported better adjustment to the new location, even two years later. Adjusting to a new location after a move required focusing on the here and now of the local social context. Movers relied on friends or acquaintances that were close by to help them with day-to-day management, with settling into the new location and with accepting a residential move as a positive life event.