Monday, November 14, 2005

Gendered txt

Via Netwoman comes the tale of two recent stories about gender issues in text messaging, both about a study led by Simeon Yates (Sheffield Hallam).

They found that men's texts are "shorter and use more sarcasm and swearing than those sent by women," according to the BBC News article. Messages are also longer when men are talking to women, and most interestingly, men will text their lady friends when out with their dude friends in order to avoid appearing less dude-like by actually talking on the phone to their lady friends:

"It has become common to text when you want to keep communication private, especially if you are in a group. An obvious example is that a man is more likely to text than phone his partner when he is out with friends or peers. This prevents him by losing face by switching from 'friend' mode to 'partner' mode in front of his peers," says Dr Yates.

The Yorkshire Post article is a little more ridiculous:

For years women have been battling to keep up sides with men and prove themselves to be equal in all ways. But researchers in Sheffield have proved that in the modern world there is one key difference – and that is in the way that we text.

Right. Anyway, that article's explication of the length and content findings is:

Messages between men are shorter than those between women, and text messages from men get longer when they are texting women. There are also significant differences in the content of messages men and women exchanged, men being much more likely to use sarcasm, sexual humour and swearing. Women are more likely to show support and affection. They also rarely swear, use little sarcasm, often put themselves down -– something men never do in their texts.

Because these are pop media articles, I don't know where the academic source is - Yates' homepage turns up nothing.

As Netwoman points out, this is certainly not surprising, but I want to see more about the differences in men talking to men v. men talking to women v. women talking to women v. women talking to men. I'd also like to know how more linguistic issues figure in here, and how they were used in determining the meaning of the content - do emoticons signal "support" and/or "affection" and/or "sarcasm"? Does an all-caps SWEAR WORD count as more of a swear word than a no-caps one?

how cool is it that women even hedge during text messaging?

1) i'm curious about the age range of these participants - they sound young, but i do want to know if middle-aged men are texting their wives during poker games with the guys. i also have doubts about this being nothing more than a face-saving mechanism.

2) i also reeeeally want to know the specifics of those linguistic issues you mentioned, especially how showing sarcasm and support and affection were all achieved (and how they were quantifiably measured).

i love that the bbc article refers to styleshifts as switching between identities.
Without an actual study to back up these claims, i'm hesitant to believe them. As Lauren points out, what metrics are being used here? I could conduct the same study with the same people, redefine the metric for "sarcasm", and get completely different results. Results are useless without any kind of methodlogy to support them.
Absolutely - there is certainly some subjectivity invloved in coding text messages - what one person deems as sarcastic might not be the same to the next person etc. I had the same issue when coding blog comments.

It's too bad the research is not available online. Perhaps this is next on the list to research - as if there isn't enough to do ;)
it's not really the subjectivity that bothers me. as much as we like to think that we're completely objective in our analyses, in fact, we can't be. it's more the fact that the article was written for a popular audience, and assumed that they would take the findings as stated, at face value. to me, this kind of "just take my word for it" popular research is something that has the power to perpetuate stereotypes.
I saw that Yates will be giving a plenary with the title "Exploring computer-mediated communication through discourse analytic methods: implications for CMC, DA methods and DA theory" at the Organization in Discourse 3 conference in Turku, Finland in August ( Why not ask him there? Deadline for abstracts is February 15, so you all have plenty of time to submit. Would be great to meet up with you somewhere close my hometown!
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How to Text Girl
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