friends, Friends, Facebook friends

Truth.

In 2008, when social network(ing) sites had become one of the most popular ways for people to communicate, scholars danah m. boyd and Nicole B. Ellison, using an academic approach, not only defined social network sites (SNS), but also raised questions regarding SNS that sparked numerous discussions within the academic community. One of the most interesting arguments made was by Dr. David Beer, who challenges numerous points made by boyd and Ellison regarding their definition of SNS and offers his two cents on where he believes future research on SNS should be headed.

One argument Beer makes is regarding boyd and Ellison’s preference over the use of network rather than networking. According to boyd and Ellison, the word networking implies that users are actively initiating relationships with other users and even though this may occur on some SNS, it is not widely practiced enough so they choose to exclude it from their definition believing this decision will broaden the scope of their study. Beer strongly disagrees with the decision and argues that SNS should not be differentiated by whether its prime focus is for creating networks or not; in doing this, boyd and Ellison have made the term SNS too broad. Beer calls for a new classification of these SNS, and rather than blending their differences under a broad term, we should celebrate their differences with more distinct classifications.

In this regard, I have to side with Beer in that classifying all these social sites as SNS do not do them justice. A huge selling point for more unique SNS such as Catster, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Facebook is that they all bring sometime different to the table. Why else would one person sign up for multiple accounts? And because they are all different, users also behave differently on each site, which is something I think sociologists may miss if they continue to study SNS in the direction that boyd and Ellison point them in. The easiest example of this would be how one acts on LinkedIn. Because LinkedIn is designed especially for people to meet and establish online relationships with professionals, the behavior, including one’s profile, one’s pictures and one’s status updates most likely differ extremely from what they upload on more casual sites such as Facebook.

Is there even a reason to fight?

Another point Beer brings up is boyd and Ellison’s explanation of the difference between friends and Friends. boyd and Ellision define friends as the people one has a relationship with in the offline world and Friends as the people one has a relationship with in the online world. However they do admit that sometimes friends and Friends overlap, but they believe that the friendships formed with Friends are not the same as friendships in the “everyday vernacular sense.” Beer argues that this particular differentiation impacts the general direction of SNS research. It draws a very clear line between our offline lives and our online lives, which is becoming more and more intertwined as more and more users use SNS. Beer also brings up another point in that he believes the very definition of “friend” is changing, in which I couldn’t agree more.

The meaning behind the word “friend” is definitely changing—but not in the way Beer thought it would. Beer believed as we increasingly engaged with SNS, more and more people would be willing to describe what boyd and Ellison call “Friends” as their “friends,” because the meaning behind friend would grow less intimate however I think the opposite effect is actually occurring. For the past few years as we’ve watched our number of friends grow, we’ve grown more detached to our online friends simply because there are too many of them to keep track of. I remember running into a guy from high school last summer who I am still “friends” with on Facebook, but when my mother asked why I didn’t say hello, I told her it was because we weren’t friends, we were just Facebook friends. And as for my “real” friends, it’s come to the point where we’ve realized that SNS don’t compensate for spending time with each in the same room. I’d say we have hit a saturation point where we (or at least I) are unable to part with SNS, but we are aware of how much time we spend on it (too much time) and that we are willing to force ourselves to step back from it by creating games such as cell phone stacking.

The cruelest game ever created.

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3 Comments

  1. priyabhikha

     /  February 7, 2012

    I completely agree with your point that on different social networking sites, people portray themselves in a different way. Your example of LinkedIn is perfect. To add to your point, I think that the reason that people are open to all of these different SNS is because they each offer a person a unique chance to display himself or herself differently than they normally would by accenting one feature of their personality. I would like to explore this further and propose that by combining all of one person’s profiles (on different SNS), we may be able to capture all the different aspects of a person. For example, let’s examine “Jane.” Her Facebook page and her interactions on it with her “friends” might suggest that she is a party person who enjoys late nights and alcohol. If you look on her LinkedIn profile, you would be able to glean that she has advanced quickly in her career because all of her “contacts” are men and women who are highly successful in their professional fields. This information may confuse you because of your first impression of this person as a hardcore partygoer. Looking over to their Twitter, you may find that she makes insightful and witty comments that are both hilarious and provoke thought; this aspect of their personality is both useful in party situations as well as business affairs. By combining all of her profiles and interactions on SNS, we can form a more whole impression of this anonymous person.

    Reply
  2. I like your title and the layout here. The placement of pictures is uncanny, and the pictures themselves work really well. I have never blogged before, but in terms of readability, this is probably what I will aim for when I start one.

    As for the content, thank you for bringing up that awkward moment when you run into a Facebook friend and not acknowledge each other. I had the same experience 6 years ago, before taking a leave of absence. Most Welcome-week friends had a really short memory span, it seemed to me. I too witnessed the effect of “friends” becoming “Friends” more often. It’s hard to say those people were friends to begin with. They were more like acquaintances, but instead of becoming friends like the good old days, my acquaintances became Friends.

    I was cleaning up my Timeline the other day, and went through all the wall posts from 2006 to 2008, then wondered, “Who the?” A quarter of the names on my wall sounded totally new to me. Some of them even unfriended me! Somehow this came as a shock even though I could not remember them at all, and I am not sure which is ruder: herding strangers on Newsfeed or deleting acquaintances.

    SNS-saturation is indeed very scary. After creating a Twitter account AND a Pinterest account, at least one or two sleep cycles (*one cycle of sleep is about 90 minutes) have vanished. I quit Facebook last semester to make more time for studying, but I ended up with two extra fake accounts. Cellphone stacking might work for me, though.

    Reply
  3. I like that you point out how Social Networking Sites shouldn’t be grouped together because they all have a unique flavor that they bring. It makes sense that although all of these sites are geared towards “socializing” they all do so in such different ways that they should be studied separately. However I’m not entirely sure that we are becoming increasingly distant from our “friends” online. I think generally it may be true, but coming from personal experience, I’ve found that online friends can become some of your closest. To quote “The Social Network,” People in real life don’t have signs on them saying what they’re interested in. But online, people do have signs up that say, “I’m interested in these things.” And even better, algorithms have gotten to be so good that the internet can say “This person likes the same things that you do!”

    Friendships born out of strong common interests usually last. Of course, the relationship usually becomes a friendship in real life, but by that point, even when the two haven’t seen each other once in person, they hit it off really well because of all the interaction that they’ve had in real life. As far as friending someone you meet at a party and never talking to them again, that does exist and does create a divide between Friends and friends, but I think that the distinction can be made from the opposite point of view as well, with friends being different from Friends because your relationship with people online is very good. Not necessarily stronger or better than the relationships you have with people in real life, but different for a positive reason.

    Reply

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