While social relationships are important in any culture, research suggests that in societies marked by economies of shortage and authoritarian political systems, such as Russia, people rely on their social relationships for coping with contingencies of daily life as well as for providing the basic social services where the government falls short (Lokshin & Yemtsov, 2001; Lonkila, 1997; Rose, 2000). In these types of personal networks informal interactions are governed by norms of high degree of reciprocity, providing everything from information to functional support. With the demise of the Soviet Union, resurgence of nationalism in many of the former Soviet Union republics and volatile economic conditions motivated large swaths of the population to relocate, taking advantage of greater mobility afforded by the post-soviet states. What used to be stable local personal networks, developed over the course of a lifetime, became unstable connections to mobile and often long distant contacts (Rose, 2000). This erosion of personal networks had a substantial negative effect on the ability of individual and households to deal with problems and crises, in some cases even leading to social exclusion and marginalization (Lokshin & Yemtsov, 2001). Mobile telephony research has repeatedly shown that adoption of mobile phones plays a substantial role in the development of social cohesion and perceptions of social capital in personal networks (Ling, 2008). Moreover, mobile phones enable people to maintain broader networks of shallow and long-distance ties that can be useful for certain types of support (Horst & Miller, 2006). Although Russians were relatively late to broadly adopt mobile telephony, by 2005 Russia had the fourth largest number of mobile subscribers in the world (Gladarev, 2006). Despite such breadth of adoption, the social consequences of mobile phone use and the dynamics of use in social situations are relatively understudied. This paper presents results from a study of the role of mobile telephony in the lives of adults (30-60 years old) in Russia. The analysis is based on 50 interviews collected in capital cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg and in three regional population centers in different parts of the country, focusing on users’ social networks in their cultural and local context. Results suggest that while mobile phones do allow respondents to maintain broader shallow networks useful for business transactions and information gathering, the majority of phone use is directed toward deepening existing strong ties to local family and friends. While people in capital cities cannot imagine life without their mobile phones, people in regional population centers are less attached to the technology, emphasizing in-person interaction with local contacts and occasional phone conversations with long distance ties. However, the very ability to maintain phone contact with long distance ties can result in perceptions of greater social capital for those whose friendship network had dispersed over the years.
Main Research Area:
Internet Research 12.0 - Performance and Participation, 2011