Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Department, Singapore University of Technology and Design
What are you currently working on?
I am working on several projects related to the impact of digital media use on well-being and development. There are three projects that I am really excited about right now: one involves disentangling what screen time means for preschoolers and how different dimensions/facets of screen device use impact their pre-literacy, executive functions, and socio-emotional competency. We use a combination of qualitative approaches including in-depth interviews and home observations (it was a wonderful experience visiting families and their homes across Singapore), as well as quantitative approaches including surveys and formal assessments. We are midway through data collection, and it is fascinating to see how the practice of screen device use at home is so diverse.
The second project involves the study of youth screenomes. Screenomes are basically sequenced high-frequency screenshots which provides incredibly rich data about people’s smartphone use. This technique was pioneered by the amazing team at Stanford led by Byron Reeves. My research team spent the past two years developing an easy-to-use and open-source program – called ScreenLife Capture – for the larger communication research community. We are exploring the use of this data we have collected to study different topics: about algorithmic experiences (with the wonderful Mariek Vanden Abeele), mobile news use (with the lovely Jakob Ohme), and social media use (with the amazing Adrian Meier and Hannes-Vincent Krause).
Finally, I am editing a book volume on Mobile Media Use Among Children and Youth in Asia for Springer (the series editor is one of my favorite academics, Lim Sun Sun). For this book volume, I am working with contributors across Vietnam, China, India, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines, among others, to provide a broad survey of the landscape of children and media research in the region. The ability to add to the diversity of voices in the scholarly community makes this a very rewarding project – something the Raising Digital Youth Research Hub – led by Wonsun Shin and May Lwin – also aims to do and which I am actively involved in.
What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?
Surprisingly, my most memorable project is a small-scale qualitative study on the video game Animal Crossing and its impact on the psychological well-being of young people during the pandemic. This was a project I started with my good friend Jeremy Sng during the pandemic. It was entirely self-funded and we worked on it in our spare time, speaking virtually with players of Animal Crossing and how their video game play experiences helped them cope with the pandemic. The stories they shared were deeply personal and we developed a kind of connection to the participants in a very profound way.
Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
Personally, being a proud dad to my son, Noah, a 7-year-old who for some reason is turning out to be kind, generous, and sweet. Professionally speaking, just being able to become a professor. We are sometimes consumed in our efforts to chase the next big achievement – the next paper, the next award, or the next research grant – that we can miss finding joy in the present. The privilege of being a professor – to do research we want to do, interact with and impact the next generation, work with people we enjoy spending time with, and to spend all day reading and thinking about the things we enjoy – is something that I try to remind myself time and again.
What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?
One question that always comes up in conversations with parents is: “What kinds of digital device use is suitable for my child?” Key to this question is “my child”. Traditional media effects studies tend to look at effects within larger samples, and it can be very difficult to say if certain content, techniques, etc are suitable for one’s child. The shift towards differential effects, and even N=1 studies, as discussed by Professor Patti Valkenburg’s team at the University of Amsterdam, is a promising direction to help answer some of these questions.
What would be your work motto?
Do work that moves you. As academics, we are under pressure to produce large quantities of research for the sake of job security. This can be draining especially if we must work on projects that we don’t necessarily intrinsically derive a lot of joy from. That is why I have decided to always (caveat: if possible) only work on projects which I know can bring me a sense of joy.
Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
I have a few I really like for a variety of reasons, but I think my favorite right now is a paper documenting a pilot study using the ScreenLife Capture application published in Behavior Research Methods. We spent two years working on this project and to see the first of many papers coming out from our series of screenomics studies was really satisfying.
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
I would love to work on a large-scale study of video games and the impact that different types of games have on development – cognitive, moral, and emotional development, among others. In my experience, video game research can be difficult to find funding for, and I think it will be a wonderful experience working on something I find enjoyable.
If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
I am still reasonably young myself! But if I were to give one piece of advice to scholars even younger than me, it would be to do work which moves you. Don’t compromise on your own well-being and happiness.
Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
I nominate Adrian Meier. I admire his work on social media use and well-being, and the way he thinks about the mechanisms behind social media effects (whether positive or negative).