Social Network Sites and their Ability to Rewire Our Existence

In Dr. David Beer’s “Social network(ing) sites…revisiting the story so far: A response to danah boyd & Nicole Ellison­”­­­­,­ he critiques boyd & Ellison’s “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship.”  He argues that although the differentiate social networking sites from social network sites, the term “social network sites” is still too broad as it encompasses too “vast (of a) range of often quite different applications” that each of these is meant for (519).  He believes that all though they do in fact do a lot of the same things, we are at a point where we need more classifications for them as opposed to less.  Beer believes that although dated, the term “Web 2.0” is much better overall at describing many subsets of user-generated content, social network sites being one of them.

Additionally, he discusses how instead of boyd & Ellison’s idea of differentiating ‘friends’ online from ‘friends’ offline, we need to realize that we are living in a time when the two work together to build relationships: “we might need to engage with sociological studies of friendship (Pahl, 2000) to understand how friendship changes as it inter- faces with such technologies” (520). At the base of this argument is the notion that technologies like social network sites and what comes with them should be examined not as their own entity but in the context that they have become integral parts of our everyday life.
Beer continues by explaining that it is important to do research on SNS reasons other than simply user information, specifically noting that knowing capitalism is displayed by the usage of SNS, “with the information being used to predict things about us, to find us out with recommendations, or even to discriminate between us as customers” (525).  He points out the important fact that with SNS, information that was never before so readily available about people and their habits is easy to find in a variety of ways.  To conclude, he continues with this thought to point out that there is a vast amount of knowledge to be gained and researched and that it is incredibly important that we study specifically the consumption information and knowledge of people themselves that is now available through SNS.

Overall, I agree with Beer’s criticisms of boyd and Ellison’s work, especially his point that “social network site” is too narrow of a term to describe the vast variety of social sites and uses of them.  While facebook certainly fits into this category, I believe sites like youtube do not; that is, while it does depend on user-generated content and at times smaller social networks may build and grow within it, the basis of the site of my opinion is still for entertainment.  To be fair, of course, we must note that that much of the arguments on what sites are and are not are just that: opinions. Everyone uses sites in different ways and thus is likely to categorize them more for how they use them and perhaps not what they were intended for.

The hardest part about the study of social media is how rapidly changing it is.  In the past four years alone since Beer’s article was published, a countless new number of social sites have flourished and new ones are being introduced every day.  Even more importantly, something that Beer touches upon to an extent, is just how ingrained social media has become in our lives.  With the rapidly spreading use of Internet-on-the-go (in the US alone, studies show that around “44 percent of Americans now own smartphones” – this does not include phones and other wireless devices that are capable of Internet access,) there are few moments nowadays when people, most importantly and specifically active Internet users are not connected to online content.  Thus, I think an important scholarly approach on the study of social media in 2012 and beyond is how it is changing what we do and how we do it.  For example, as a college student, SNS (I will continue to use this term in the broad sense that boyd and Ellison use it in) such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are ingrained in my brain as part of my existence.  Although it may sometimes not be what we I want to admit, not only do I turn to these sites when I stumble across an interesting article, funny video or good music, but (and I believe this to be much more of an interesting subject) also, the moment good news arises, something funny happens in my life or I come up with an interesting or note-worthy idea, I turn to my online network to share it.  As Beer discusses in his piece, our online and offline selves (especially in younger generations) are rapidly becoming intertwined.  This can affect us in a countless number of ways, perhaps not always positively as Brianne Garcia discusses in “How Facebook Has Changed The Way Young Girls View Themselves.”  Thus, I would be interested in studying how the deep integration of SNS in our lives may affect not only how we live, but also our mental and emotional states in general, and how this can be both positive and negative.

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  1. I enjoyed the article you linked to, discussing the impact of Facebook and other SNS’ tagging of photos. I can relate to the article because some of the first pictures on my Facebook page were from my junior prom, resulting in some OMGs and cringes on my part. Today, it is assumed most pictures will make it to Facebook, twitter, instagram or others, making some people say “Oh God, DON’T post that” after seeing a less than perfect photo of themselves. This level of integration between posting photos, statuses and running commentaries of day to day happenings is something that I think would surprise Beer. Beer was aware of this to certain extent , but since his article was published the connection has evolved to a point where an SNS user’s (most people) physical life and web life are no longer independent from one another. Through his disagreement with the friends/Friends distinction and other distinctions between physical and SNS lives we can see his recognition of the overlap between the two. 

    I feel that SNS users utilize the sites as a supplement to their physical life, such as managing their friendships and keeping up to date with family news. I think Beer might be disturbed by this fact though, that people announce engagements, a good song or a long line at Starbucks via Twitter. Why do people rush to some SNS to vent or brag? I feel as though it is to confirm their physical identity. Lastly, as you mentioned the growing number of SNS almost daily, I think Beer would be surprised by the number of them able to flourish as well as the cross platform option. A photo can go to Facebook, twitter and Instagram immediately. I wonder why people use multiple SNS to often post the same or similar content? Isn’t one enough? (I myself am guilty of this).

    • lauraportwoodstacer

       /  February 10, 2012

      You ended with a great question, Bianca. (And I appreciated your confession as well.) Do you think it has to do with different networks having different people and thus you might have different audiences on them? Or are there different norms of interaction on the different sites and you are interested in having people respond to your posts in multiple ways? This seems like a really fruitful line of questioning to investigate… hopefully we can talk about it in our class discussions sometime.

  2. zoiemancino

     /  February 10, 2012

    Arielle you are an amazing individual and I am so in love with you. With that being said, I find that there is an inherent contradiction in Beer’s own argument. He is so focused on the “bigger idea”, with asking broader questions, putting SNS into context, and yet he’s remarkably preoccupied with semantics here and the differences between the terms network and network”ing”…I totally understand where he is coming from, but it just doesn’t complement the rest of his argument very well.

    However, I completely with you when you say that the hardest part of social media is how rapidly it changes; Beer’s article is already frighteningly out of date. In fact, all the examples you provide help strengthen Beer’s own argument; I couldn’t agree more with the statement that “there are few moments nowadays when people, most importantly and specifically active Internet users are not connected to online content”. This statement aids Beer’s argument and makes what he’s worried about actually seem like an ominous threat, as opposed to an innocuous one. It almost seems that at the time Beer didn’t realize how pivotal what he was studying could be. Maybe now that the realm of internet communication has stemmed beyond simple SNS, (apple apps for example) and they are so specific to people’s wants, it’s time to contextualize the economic factor in SNS. How much are advertising companies make through contracts with Facebook, etc? How many jobs has this opened up for the public? Can we consider SNS an actual INDUSTRY now? I also like how you mention the potential emotional and mental consequences from being an active member on Social Networking Sites. I know that Beer is not focused with the sociological aspects of SNS, but it would be interesting to analyze the scope of SNS in terms of both global industry and psychoanalysis so we can put the confusing pieces of the puzzle that is SNS together.

    • lauraportwoodstacer

       /  February 10, 2012

      Good points, Zoie. I don’t know off hand of any psychoanalytical studies of SNSs but I’m *sure* there are researchers out there doing it. Would definitely be interesting to find out… You’re right that we have to study the phenomenon from all those different angles in order to figure out what all is going on!


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