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Shared Instagram photos such as these can help strengthen intergenerational ties, according to Turner’s research.

Instagrammy: How grandparents and grandchildren can connect through social media Can social media bring digital natives and older generations closer together?

this conference also gave Turner the opportunity to chat in person with Ely, who lives in Berkeley, Calif.

That’s the topic of Dr. Lynn Turner’s new family communication research, which is informed by her relationship with her two grandchildren on Instagram.

Naturally, their conversation stemmed from a shared experience — something Ely posted on Instagram.

Turner’s thesis is that by being connected with her teen grandchildren on Instagram, they discover tidbits about each other that spur conversations and enrich their longdistance relationships. Social media makes this possible where it otherwise might not exist because they live in different parts of the country. “Instagram reminds me of when I listened to my kids in the back seat when I drove them around,” Turner says. “I liked listening to them conduct their business.” Turner, who has written extensively on family relationships, is a professor of communication studies. She and her co-author, Dr. Richard West from Emerson College, were honored with the National Communication Association’s 2014 Bernard J. Brommel Award for Outstanding Scholarship for Distinguished Service in Family Communication. Her new paper on Instagram — which was co-authored by her grandchildren Sophie and Ely — was presented to the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language and Gender in San Francisco in October 2014. Traveling to

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“Ely’s teacher had told him to post something about a class activity on feminism,” Turner says. “Then we had an offline conversation about that for an extended period of time. We probably wouldn’t have had that talk if it wasn’t for Instagram.” In an interview via text message — he is a digital native, after all — Ely echoed his grandmother’s sentiment. “For kids and the average person looking to share their life experiences, a photo is simple and all you really need,” he writes. Turner says much of what gets posted on social media, like selfies and food photos, may seem trivial, but according to the communication theory that Turner studies, these small things become a kind of social lubricant. This social lubricant paves the way for ongoing interactions that build bonds between people. It establishes the climate of relationships. “The stuff we are tempted to dismiss as trivial,” Turner says, “is really what’s the most important thing.” TIM CIGELSKE

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Discover Research 2015  

Marquette University Research and Scholarship is out. Read about this year's featured researchers.

Discover Research 2015  

Marquette University Research and Scholarship is out. Read about this year's featured researchers.