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Relationship Equals Sum Media Use: Examining Relationships as Media Ecologies
Unformatted Document Text:  Relationship Equals Sum Media Use 9 pressure is sometimes applied in encouraging couples to refrain from such intimacy until after marriage, but additional social and relationship pressures often push the other way. These pressures may magnify the importance of physical intimacy as a defining medium within a relationship, even when (and perhaps especially when) the medium remains one that is anticipated rather than shared. • Some media are sufficiently repetitive in execution and mundane details that it is particularly easy to adopt relational schema that fully script interaction. As an example, consider preparing and sharing a meal within a relationship. It is fairly easy to fall into patterns in which each relational partner takes ongoing responsibility for different parts of the preparation and in which the transitions from one part of the preparation and meal to another follow a specific script of words and actions. Highly repetitive use of the medium may magnify its importance in defining aspects of the relationship, but highly scripted interaction may reduce its ongoing impact on the relationships continuing development. This is just a sampling of conditions that, at the very least, might be expected to introduce some level of error into simple measurements of a an individual medium’s use, or of a relationships overall media ecology. Such errors should not be considered problematic, especially where a study is able to examine the sources of error. Even where it is not, measurements of our shared media use offers advantages relative to the measurement systems normally associated with existing entry points to the study of relationships: • Measurement of relationships from the perspective of individuals is, in general, restricted to self-reports of who they are, how they feel about themselves and their relational partner, and similar measurements of the self and its orientation to the relationship. These measures most often take the form of either interval level data whose meaning is often ambiguous and difficult to compare across studies, cultures, and time, or descriptive data (from interviews or open ended survey questions) that requires considerable thought and analysis. • Measurements of relational characteristics often have similar problems, with relational level measures often generated by systematically combining individual level measures. Neutral observations of relational behavior can provide a useful alternative to such measurements, but relationships exist within relational participants, and the error variance associated with neutral observation cannot be underestimated, especially when, as is often the case, interval level measurements are used in assessing isolated relational episodes within a single medium. • Measurements of relational messages, discourse, and language provide even more fundamental difficulties. Observation of even short relational episodes within a single relationship requires effort that typically exceeds the length of the episode observed by several orders of magnitude. Rawlins (1998) analysis covers 12 minutes of a conversation between friends. Generating the transcript alone probably took hours, and subsequent analysis almost certainly entailed days or weeks of effort. The article alone is more almost an order of magnitude longer than the snippet of conversation it analyzes. Such analyses are unlikely to ever

Authors: Foulger, Davis.
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Relationship Equals Sum Media Use
9
pressure is sometimes applied in encouraging couples to refrain from such
intimacy until after marriage, but additional social and relationship pressures
often push the other way. These pressures may magnify the importance of
physical intimacy as a defining medium within a relationship, even when (and
perhaps especially when) the medium remains one that is anticipated rather than
shared.
Some media are sufficiently repetitive in execution and mundane details that it is
particularly easy to adopt relational schema that fully script interaction. As an
example, consider preparing and sharing a meal within a relationship. It is fairly
easy to fall into patterns in which each relational partner takes ongoing
responsibility for different parts of the preparation and in which the transitions
from one part of the preparation and meal to another follow a specific script of
words and actions. Highly repetitive use of the medium may magnify its
importance in defining aspects of the relationship, but highly scripted interaction
may reduce its ongoing impact on the relationships continuing development.
This is just a sampling of conditions that, at the very least, might be expected to introduce
some level of error into simple measurements of a an individual medium’s use, or of a
relationships overall media ecology. Such errors should not be considered problematic,
especially where a study is able to examine the sources of error. Even where it is not,
measurements of our shared media use offers advantages relative to the measurement
systems normally associated with existing entry points to the study of relationships:
Measurement of relationships from the perspective of individuals is, in general,
restricted to self-reports of who they are, how they feel about themselves and their
relational partner, and similar measurements of the self and its orientation to the
relationship. These measures most often take the form of either interval level data
whose meaning is often ambiguous and difficult to compare across studies,
cultures, and time, or descriptive data (from interviews or open ended survey
questions) that requires considerable thought and analysis.
Measurements of relational characteristics often have similar problems, with
relational level measures often generated by systematically combining individual
level measures. Neutral observations of relational behavior can provide a useful
alternative to such measurements, but relationships exist within relational
participants, and the error variance associated with neutral observation cannot be
underestimated, especially when, as is often the case, interval level measurements
are used in assessing isolated relational episodes within a single medium.
Measurements of relational messages, discourse, and language provide even more
fundamental difficulties. Observation of even short relational episodes within a
single relationship requires effort that typically exceeds the length of the episode
observed by several orders of magnitude. Rawlins (1998) analysis covers 12
minutes of a conversation between friends. Generating the transcript alone
probably took hours, and subsequent analysis almost certainly entailed days or
weeks of effort. The article alone is more almost an order of magnitude longer
than the snippet of conversation it analyzes. Such analyses are unlikely to ever


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