Università della Svizzera italiana
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently coordinating the science communication project “Siete connessi?” (Eng. “Are you connected?”), in which we offer targeted activities to children, adolescents, and parents to promote healthy smartphone use. I’m very excited about this project, which is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and involves different stakeholders in Canton Ticino (Italian-speaking Switzerland). As researchers, we are generally busy studying drivers and effects of media use and sharing our results at conferences and in scientific publications. And, occasionally, we are asked to speak as experts in the media. But rarely do we have the time and financial resources to engage in coordinated and targeted communication activities informed by our study findings to give back to children, adolescents, and parents who are the ones that make our research possible and who should benefit most from our work.
What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?
No doubt, the MEDIATICINO project. Between 2014 and 2021, we collected longitudinal data through an annual survey on digital media use and well-being in a cohort of more than 1000 students, now 17 years of age. Even in 2020, when we were about to distribute the survey and, suddenly, Canton Ticino went into a complete lockdown, we were able to resume data collection in the second half of that year, thus turning the project into a natural experiment. We also collected longitudinal data from parents on their digital media use and parental mediation practices and, on a smaller student sample, trace and EMAs data on smartphone use and well-being. At the end of each school year, the Cantonal school administration provided us with students’ end term grades as an objective measure of academic achievement. I am very thankful for the great collaboration between our research team and the schools, which made such an intense project successful.
Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
Hmm, this is a difficult question. Five years ago, when I was a postdoctoral researcher, I would have mentioned my first project grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation to finance the continuation and upscaling of the MEDIATICINO project by integrating trace and EMAs data collection. Today, I’m proud of all the outcomes of this project, especially the academic development of Laura Marciano, who closely worked with me on the project and who I co-supervised during her doctoral studies. She is currently doing her postdoctoral studies at Harvard University and develops her own research line, though we continue our collaboration.
What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?
There is one question that parents repeatedly ask us, i.e. “When is the best time to get my child her own smartphone?” This seems a very simple question, but there is no simple answer. As researchers, we tend to be (actually we should be) prudent with providing a simple age limit as we don’t have consistent evidence (yet) on differential effects of smartphone use based on children’s age. So, we must explain parents that “it depends on each child and the family context,” but this answer is usually not the one parents want to hear. We may probably never find a straightforward answer to this question but should continue our research on differential media effects using longitudinal data. It’s great to see more and more well-designed longitudinal studies in this regard conducted by our CAM community and beyond.
What would be your work motto?
I would say “get out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid of new methodologies.” I’m a social scientist with a solid training in ‘traditional’ survey methodology. There is nothing wrong with surveys, but we should embrace technological advancements and the possibility to integrate real-time, fine-grained longitudinal data to investigate the causes and effects of digital media use. Following this work motto, together with my research team, I integrated trace and EMAs data in the MEDIATICINO project, which I mentioned earlier, as well as physiological data in the DIGITAL LIVES project, in which we studied emotional arousal during instant messaging among young adults.
Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
One of my favorite publications is a latent class regression analysis of online and offline activities, using data from our MEDIATICINO cohort. I particularly like this publication because it uses a person-centered approach and identifies four different classes of adolescents based on their online and offline activities, i.e., the social-recreational onliners, the weekend onliners, the balanced, and the noninvolved. We found that the first class showed significantly higher levels of problematic smartphone use over time. Additional analysis, not reported in the publication, also evidenced that the balanced class had the highest level of academic achievement, taking into consideration students’ end-term grades obtained from the Cantonal school administration.
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
Like several fellow CAM members said in their Spotlight interview, I would want to do (actually continue doing) longitudinal research with children and adolescents, their families and schools. But I also want to have enough time, money, and support to develop and implement communication and education activities for them based on the research findings, without the need to worry about necessary follow-up funding after the conclusion of the research project.
If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
“Less is more.” This advice applies to two considerations. Nowadays, there is so much pressure to continuously produce academic output that it may become stressful for scholars, especially young scholars, to keep up with this trend. Of course, our research should have impact, and output is needed to create impact, but this impact depends on the quality and timeliness rather than the number of publications. In addition, the advice applies to the research questions in our field. Especially for young scholars, a research question should be limited to few, clearly defined, and observable concepts and their interrelations. This is not an easy task considering the need for differential and reciprocal media effects studies, which may quickly become complex.
Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
Simone Ehmig. I got to know Simone when I started working in her team at the Università della Svizzera italiana. She was a great mentor and inspiration for me before she moved back to Germany and became head of the Institute of Reading and Media Research at “Stiftung Lesen” (Eng. Reading Foundation). I would love to hear more about her activities geared towards the promotion of reading in the digital era.