A new study has found that virtual possessions – digital imagery, Facebook updates, online music collections, e-mail threads and other immaterial artifacts of today”s online world – have a powerful hold on teenagers.
In a study of 21 teenagers, researchers at Carnegie Mellon”s Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) and School of Design discovered that the very fact that virtual possessions don”t have a physical form may actually enhance their value.
For the young people in the CMU study, a digital photo that friends have tagged, linked and annotated is more meaningful than a photo in a frame or a drawer.
“A digital photo is valuable because it is a photo but also because it can be shared and people can comment on it,” said John Zimmerman, associate professor of human-computer interaction and design.
For their study, the researchers recruited nine girls and 12 boys, ages 12-17, from middle- and upper-middle-class families who had frequent access to the Internet, mobile phones and other technology.
The researchers interviewed them about their everyday lives, their use of technology and about the physical and virtual possessions that they valued.
The online world, in fact, allowed the teenagers to present different facets of themselves to appropriate groups of friends or to family.
The study was recently presented at CHI 2011, the Association for Computing Machinery”s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Vancouver.