Social Dilemmas

In which The Author wonders about trusting
people you deal with online

Social dilemmas are defined as situations where the best interest of the group as a whole conflicts with the best interest of each individual, so that if each looks out only for themselves, all lose.

Bos, N.D., Olson, J.S., Gergle, D., Olson, G.M. & Wright, Z. (2002). ‘Effects of Four Computer-Mediated Communications Channels on Trust Development’ in CHI, 20-25 April 2002

That’s a mouthful by anyone’s standards.
It’s also the title of a research paper. It’s one of four, from which I’m supposed to critically review one for my Psychology in Everyday Life assignment. It’s got to be in by Friday and I honestly don’t know where to start. The other papers deal with cyber-cheating (cybersex, chatroom flirting, and so forth); child suggestibility and witness reliability; and public reactions to terrorist attacks.
As I’ve already read quite a bit about Game Theory, I feel drawn most strongly to the paper on trust. In a perfect world I should give the article on cyber-cheating a stab – if only because it was written by one of our lecturers, Dr Martin Graff. The piece on terrorism was very interesting, but there wasn’t much there to get my teeth into. The report on child suggestibility was dry and full of statistics. So I think it’s going to be the one on trust.
I pretty much made my mind up about that on Saturday, while I was reading the four to try and decide on which one to tackle. The paper is quite stats-heavy, so I’m heading to the library to mug up on ANOVA, Tukey’s test, and linear regression. At least I’m used to dealing with maths in a fairly complex setting, which puts me one step of the rest of my group.
Anyway, yesterday evening I was on Facebook, to see if I could find anyone from my course whom I knew. As usual, a couple of ‘People You May Know’ popped up, so I decided to have a scroll through the suggestions and see if there was anyone I actually did know (for once). Right at the bottom of an array of mugshots was a new photo of a familiar face – Jenny.
Earlier in the day, Carys had been reading my blog, and sent me a text which said ‘Ha ha seen the jenny bit very funny x’. It’s gotta be one of them coincidences. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been thinking about Jenny quite a lot recently.
Every so often I used to log into MSN Messenger and leave the window open, just on the off-chance that she’d spot my name and decide to say ‘hello’. Usually the only people who did come online were Shanara, my cousin Kayleigh, or my niece Mae. Shanara can talk for Bangladesh, and doesn’t stop for breath even when she’s chatting online. On the other hand, Kayleigh and Mae always chat in that really anoyin styl kids hav ov typn onlin, + it defo pises me of afta a bit. Therefore I don’t tend to leave the chat window open for long.
I did email Jenny a couple of weeks ago, after Claire M. had done a bondage-themed Halloween shoot with Mike the photographer. Jenny’s ears pricked up when I mentioned it to her beforehand, and she wondered about coming along on the day – that was before she failed to show up on the last occasion, of course (see ‘Autumn Almanac‘).
Anyway, once Claire and Mike put some of the pictures on Facebook, I just sent Jenny a quick one-liner with the link, and a message that went something like ‘Thought you’d like to see Mike’s Halloween photos – you could have been part of it.’ I didn’t even say ‘Hi Jenny’ or put my name at the end. I didn’t want her to think I was making any friendly overtures. In the event, the social niceties (or lack thereof) didn’t matter, as she didn’t reply.
The mysterious redhead from our psychology group seems to have changed to a different course. I’ve only seen her once since the day we had to write our Lonely Hearts ad (see ‘Fool’s Mate‘), in the bar about a week or so ago. So when Jenny’s face popped up among the usual suspects, I was pleased to see her. My initial response was to leave well alone, of course, but it must have been coincidence that her name had turned up earlier in the day. After a little while I decided to send her a very brief message via Facebook – ‘You look very nice in your new pic, hope you’re okay.’
I didn’t expect a follow-up, of course, but to my amazement she emailed back and we soon started quite a lengthy exchange by email. She told me she’d started Counselling. I asked her, half-seriously, if she was studying it or receiving it. She’s receiving it, apparently – she’s decided that she needs to address her problems and do something positive about changing the situation.
We chatted for a while about odds and ends – university, work, the fact that Borders has gone into administration (an even better reason for getting out of the book trade when I did!) – and I decided it was time to grasp the nettle. I asked her if she fancied meeting for coffee.
I told I knew I was taking a big risk again, and I’m still not convinced that I’m doing the right thing, but she said she’d like to meet up. The fact remains that she’s still the only girl whom I both fancy and like enough to actively pursue, even in the teeth of all the times she’d knocked me back. If there’s a possibility that things might develop between us, I owe it to myself to give her another chance. Otherwise we’ll both spend the rest of the foreseeable future wondering about the parallel universes where it all went right for us.
The upshot of the paper by Bos et al is that the trust game shows significant differences between the four situations in which the game was played: face-to-face; high-quality video conferencing; telephone conferencing; and text only (email). In particular, the text-only environment showed a considerable lack of trust and a lower degree of social bonding between participants. It suggests that non-verbal clues – tone of voice, direction of gaze, facial expressions – play a significant role in building relationships between players of the game. It’s ironic, therefore, that Jenny will open up significantly online, but doesn’t seem to do well around other people.
We’ll see what happens tomorrow night. We’re supposed to be meeting up in the evening and going for something to eat and a couple of beers. That’s my week pretty much mapped out – Social Dilemmas a-go-go. Watch this space …

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