Blog 1 – Our Social Selves

Beer has a problem with the way that boyd and Ellison go about framing their questions. He believes that they’re not asking the right questions – he thinks that instead of asking people how to use social media, we should ask larger questions and use social media to find the answer. In particular, Beer doesn’t like how boyd and Ellison differentiate between Friends and friends (online vs. in “real life) as well as the differences they point out about mediated and unmediated communication. Beer believes that all forms of communication are somehow mediated, which I agree with. He also believes that there shouldn’t necessarily be different terms for Friends and friends, claiming that who you’re friends with in the physical world is often the same relationship online. I also agree with him on this.

I like boyd and Ellison’s article as a point of reference; they do an excellent job giving us the basics and the definitions of social networks/social networking sites. As I mentioned, however, I have to say that I agree with Beer’s issues with their article. Beer also brings up capitalism and how it cannot be overlooked in the realm of social media, stating that it plays a huge role in the sites, the ideologies they enforce, and how users interact with them. While I also agree that capitalism is not a point within social media that should be overlooked, I also want to point out that capitalism applies differently to different sites and different users. Beer would probably agree with me, but in the last 4 years a lot has changed that he couldn’t have foreseen.

What I’m really trying to get at is some forms of social media are purely used for capitalistic purposes, while other users are simply trying to kill some time looking at friend’s photos. In particular, Twitter has become a site a lot of businesses and companies have utilized simply to promote and drag attention to their industry. I work in New York Magazine‘s PR Department, for example, and I manage the Twitter and Facebook accounts. I see how many more viewers it gets the company, so I can understand how crucial social networks can be for particular companies. Another example would be LinkedIn, a purely professional social media site that allows users to network themselves and their companies. Twitter has also changed the types of people we interact with in the online world. While it’s still true that most of our Friends and friends are one in the same, I personally can say that I have many followers/I follow people on Twitter that I don’t personally know simply because they’re funny/businesses/news sources/etc.

I think social media is really tough to analyze as a whole because different sites are used in completely different ways. It’s difficult to sit down and make broad analyses of social media as a whole and I think a better approach would maybe be to look at different types of social media in multiple contexts, compare them and see what each one is doing and how users within our society are reacting to and using them. I also think it’s important to ask broader social questions like Beer suggests, such as  “Is there any socio-technical explanation for how society has shaped within the last 4 years?” and then maybe attempt to analyze that by seeing how Twitter and Facebook have changed over the years and consequently affected our society and human interactions. I think that by doing this, you could get a much better picture of the importance and affect of each social networking site. It seems silly and overcomplicated to try to analyze each site at once. While I agree with boyd and Ellison on some of the basics of social media, it doesn’t make sense to say that Reddit and LinkedIn have similar purposes.

It would also be interesting to compare the end results of certain types of social media – to get to the heart of what people really aim to get out of them and how this reflects our society as a whole. What is someone really trying to get at, for example, when they’re tweeting at celebrities? Obviously they want to get a response back but they know it’s not likely to happen.  Is it simply because they know that this is really the only site they can do that on, or is there something more? Maybe people simply want to get recognized and gain more followers, or maybe they’re just trying to be the latest trend (pun intended).  No matter what the reason may be, what does this really say about our society? It could be that we like living in the online realm better than we do the “real world.” Does this show throughout our society? There are so many questions and ways to go about it, but I think what I’m really trying to say is that there’s just too much social media these days to categorize it all as one. It is necessary to analyze them separately and in multiple contexts to really understand how these sites are affecting the physical world and vice versa.

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1 Comment

  1. Matt Gorman

     /  February 10, 2012

    I definitely like the idea that social media is a difficult thing to study as a whole, and that it would be more effective to analyze different social networks separately and see what their role is in society. You pointed out that Reddit and Linkedin have different purposes, which is a good extreme example, but I think if you asked most people, they’d even tell you that they have a different ‘voice’ or sharing style, even on Twitter compared to Facebook.
    I also think you have a good point about the capitalism thing–when Beer (and especially boyd and Ellison) were writing there articles, I’m pretty sure the state of advertising and commerce on social networking sites was just getting started and was pretty primitive compared to now. Nowadays, the capitalism aspect brings in new questions of authenticity and privacy on social network sites. Without even realizing it, regular users could be reading advertising messages, whether from things like promoted trends on Twitter or even celebrities posting sponsored tweets. (More on this here: mbist.ro/wpHMOK) Apparently, celebrities can be paid from $2,500 to $8,000 just for one sponsored tweet, which definitely brings into question what exactly it means to be a “Friend” or “friend.”
    So basically I agree that there needs to be some new studies on social media, taking a look at each one separately to see how people use the different ones for different purposes. Obviously that would be a pretty big task, and would probably have to be done by a couple different groups, but the data they’d get would be really interesting.

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