More “Friends” than “friends”?

Dr. David Beer, in his response to an article by danah boyd and Nicole Ellison, clearly articulates that he has a number of issues with their discussion of the distinction between “social network sites” and “social networking sites.”  While he does not think that they are wrong in their facts about these differences, he does not understand why they took the time to ask the questions that they did.  Why make a distinction between one’s “friends” in the physical world and “Friends” in the internet world?  Beer believes that online relationships are just as real as physical ones, and that online/offline relationships should not necessarily be distinguished.  Boyd and Ellison discussed that “social network sites” were used to connect with people that the user was already friends with.  Beer does not think that this is an accurate depiction of what people use these sites for, challenging boyd and Ellison’s definition.  Beer also believes that all communication is mediated, taking issue with yet another of their distinctions, mediated vs. unmediated communication.  Even in face-to-face communication, Beer believes that anything communicated is mediated through societal norms and discourses.  Furthermore, Beer thinks that boyd and Ellison are looking at these sites from entirely the wrong perspective.  He stays away from the question of how individual users participate in social networks, but would rather look at the economic structures and business aspects behind sites like this.  What are the dominant ideologies that are being reinforced, and how are they being reinforced?  He believes that unless there is a critique of capitalism within the study, as a society, we run a risk of naturalizing these sites and the ideas that they promote.

While I do agree with Beer on many of his points, some of them seem slightly outdated.  While the notion that all communication is mediated makes a lot of sense, I do think that there should be a distinction between online relationships and relationships in the physical world.  Face-to-face communication might be influenced by societal values, but online communication is completely filtered.  People only have to show as much of themselves as they want to online.  They can be completely different than they actually are if they so choose, and reread the information that they volunteer before actually volunteering it.  Relationships in the physical world take into account more aspects of each participant’s life.  Primarily internet relationships cannot be considered the same as relationships in the physical world.

It also seems as though he is sort of resistant to the proliferation of social networks and their naturalization.  Perhaps they have become more accepted since his article was written, but they reinforce societal values as any other medium would.  For example, Television can be considered one of the most influential mediums in proliferating what is to be considered common sense and reinforcing values.  All media is going to have an influence on society as well as having a capitalist aspect of it.  Social networks have now become such an important part of daily life that nobody considers them to be not a natural thing anymore.  In finding a job, skills in social networks are often look at as positives by employers, not to mention their wide use in classrooms for tools such as class-wide blogs.  As people grow and move away from their personal relationships, social networks give the opportunity to keep in contact.  Social networks have been widely accepted as a mode of communication, keeping up with people without having to make a conscious effort to do so as we are given constant updates on people’s lives.  We have been conditioned so that this seems natural, and analyzing the capitalism or the way that ideologies are thrust upon us is pointless at this time.  We already see these sites as natural.

Because these sites are already naturalized, it might be a better sociological experiment to look at the way social media is used.  This should show a lot about the way society has changed because of the availability of these sites, the way that people interact is changed.  To avoid awkward conversations, people will check their facebooks on their smartphones.  Does this make people more introverted in their daily lives?  Does it show that hyper-mediated communication is more comfortable for people and being honest is way easier online?  Do people have more “Friends” than “friends” today, and is that a bad thing? Shouldn’t society be more worried about that, than if Facebook is making money and pushing ideologies that any other medium would be?  If social networks are going to be criticized for this, any other medium should be, dating all the way back to the newspapers and the postal service.  These sites have become domesticated.  We have accepted them as a part of everyday life.  What should be looked at now is how that daily life is impacted by such a domestication; the capitalist perspective seems pointless to dissect.

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1 Comment

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post. You did a great job of summarizing Beer’s critiques while showing that you were going to focus on his critique on Boyd and Ellison’s distinction between “Friends” and “friends.”

    I found this point interesting as well when I read both articles last week. I would have to say that I too agree there is a distinction between how we communicate with people online and offline. I think that these “introverted” tendencies began when people were able to text instead of call. I found myself texting almost all of my friends and family instead of dialing their number to hear their voice. I even find myself still ignoring a phone call, only to text that person two minutes later. (Yes, I’m THAT girl). But I think that your question of what type of consequence social media has had on our communication skills is really great. These tendencies to talk to someone through a computer rather than face-to-face has permeated almost every aspect of my life, even at work. I have had internships where my boss and I solely communicate through ichat like programs, even though we sit only a few feet away from each other.

    But thinking about what we talked about in class today about research methods, I believe it would be hard to answer your question of how social media is used. I’m not sure we would be able to get a true answer from people. If someone used the survey method, I think people would fudge answers or be unsure of what they do. If someone did experimental, then people would know they were being watched so they wouldn’t be using it the same way they normally do. I would like your question to be answered, I’m just not sure what the right way to go about doing it is. Thanks for the great post and read! I look forward to more!

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