For teens, online tagged photos more precious than actual ones

Virtual possessions

“A digital photo is valuable because it is not only 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 at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

The very fact that virtual possessions don’t have a physical form may actually boost their value, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University discovered in a study of a group of teenagers.

A fuller appreciation of the sentiments people can develop for these bits of data could be factored into technology design and could provide opportunities for new products and services, they said, according to a Carnegie statement.

One of the teenagers said she always takes lots of photos at events and uploads them immediately so she and her friends can tag and dish about them.

“It feels like a more authentic representation of the event,” the 16-year-old told the researchers. “We comment and agree on everything together... then there’s a shared sense of what happened.”

Electronic equivalents

The penchant of people to collect and assign meaning to what are often ordinary objects is well known. But a lot of stuff that often is cherished—printed books, photographs, music CDs—is being replaced by electronic equivalents, such as e-books and iPod downloads.

For their study, William Odom, Zimmerman and Jodi Forlizzi recruited a group of girls and boys, aged 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.

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