The blurring lines of online and reality

In Beer’s article, he offers a continued analysis of social network sites that so far “have not received little in the way of sustained analytical attention” (Beer 516). He focuses his response on the definition that Boyd and Ellison construct of the difference between ‘social network sites’ and ‘social networking sites’, and how that difference should be renamed under different terms. Beer wonders, “why not use a term like Web 2.0 to describe the general shift and then fit categories, such as wiki’s, folksonomies, mashups and social networking sites within it” (Beer 519). Boyd’s and Ellison’s definition don’t do the vast amounts of social sites (whether that be network or networking) justice.
Beer also takes up discussion with Boyd and Ellison’s separation of ‘online’ and ‘offline’ living, and how each consists of a separate group of friends. He brings up the point that, “it is possible that SNS, as they become mainstream, might well have an influence on what friendship means, how it is understood, and, ultimately, how it is played out” (521). As more and more people use SNS, they become more integrated and normal in everyday life, and there is no clear distinction between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ friends. It becomes harder to separate the technologies we use daily from the interactions with real people around us as they become more and more intertwined.
Beer then transitions to the future of analysis of social media. Keeping in mind that while social media is often free, there is an economic aspect to it due to the extremely high exchange rate of “information, cultural artefacts, personal details, links to products and commodities, contacts, friends, and details about events and meetings” (524). And as research continues, Beer and other academics should learn from everyday SNS users and their integration of SNS into daily life.

One of the issues that both articles discuss, the idea of online vs. offline friends and SNS influencing the way friendships function, is something that I think is constantly evolving. Especially with the rise of smart phones and nonstop connectedness to the internet and social media, we almost cannot escape this increasingly mediated world. Social media have seeped into every aspect of our life – everyone is connected through networks like Facebook and Twitter and we are constantly using them at home on computers as well as checking up on them through phones when out and about. I especially like Beer’s comment, “without wanting to sound Baudrillardian, we might even want to think if there is such a thing as an online and offline in the context of SNS” (522). How can we tell the difference between the two anymore? Websites like google are expanding their social media into many different platforms, like google+, and in short periods of time can already attract over 90 million users. And when these 90 million users are constantly connected, there is a blurry overlap of the line between real life and virtual life. They are quickly becoming one and the same.

Also, I can agree with Beer’s criticisms of Boyd and Ellison’s article. While Boyd and Ellison set up a solid framework for the analysis of social media, the large bulk of it being historical leaves some room for them to be able to continue their analysis. Beer’s article does continue and refine their analysis, but both articles were written in 2008 and are already outdated in some areas (for example some of the social network sites have a completely new role in society, or on the other hand don’t even exist anymore). A lot of Beer’s more detailed points, however, seemed to have aged better. For example, Beer realizing that the future research of social media should take advantage of the participatory knowledge of regular SNS users is something that can continually help. As social media evolves, so do the users, and by learning first hand experience from those users will provide the best insight into how and why SNS work they way they do.
As research continues into social media, there seems to be a never ending supply of different social media outlets, and an exponential amount of users. If a website like google can add 50 million users in a three month span, and facebook can accrue over 845 million users over its lifespan, there seems to be no end in sight for what social media can accomplish and how connected it can make the world. These SNS users are they key to understanding why social media has become the phenomenon that it has, seemingly unstoppable.

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  1. danirait

     /  February 9, 2012

    Hey Caroline,

    Great post! I completely agree with you about the ever-increasing impact SNS has on our daily lives. As I mentioned in my original post, I feel like people (especially young people) are constantly inundated with social media and are growing up with it, and therefore have a really hard time distinguishing the “real world” from a “mediated world.”

    This got me thinking about how I’ve heard some people take breaks from the “virtual world” by shutting off their phones for a while or refusing to log in to Twitter for a day. People do this occasionally, but 99% of the time they always connected. The fact that society even makes a point of distancing themselves from the Internet and social media demonstrates what an integral part of our lives it has become. I imagine if I eliminated SNSs from my daily life it would not feel as if I was more in sync with the “real world,” but that part of my “real world” was missing. Perhaps evaluating users who take “virtual world” breaks would make an interesting study.

    I also agree with your support of Beer’s idea of participatory research of SNS. As we learned in class this week, there are multiple methods of research such as ethnography/participatory, textual analysis, and surveying, and in my opinion, ethnography/participant observation seems to be the best way to study SNS. Although different sites call for different research methods, it seems in general that researchers actively experiencing what users experience when using different sites would be the best way to fully comprehend SNS impact on individuals and society as a whole.

    • lauraportwoodstacer

       /  February 10, 2012

      Love the way you put this, Dani:

      I imagine if I eliminated SNSs from my daily life it would not feel as if I was more in sync with the “real world,” but that part of my “real world” was missing.

      And I totally agree that the intentional non-use of social media has to be studied. A few of us are working on that right now, but it will probably become even more of a research area in the future, since, as you point out, unplugging is becoming more of a trend!

  2. Hi Caroline, just wanted to say – starting off – that I really enjoyed reading this! I thought you did a nice job of tackling the content of both articles and submerging us into the problem of “how” SNS has the possibility to work. I like the way you phrased the complication between what is real and what is not; “when these 90 million users are constantly connected, there is a blurry overlap of the line between real life and virtual life. They are quickly becoming one and the same.” I definitely agree with you that this issue is not black and white. With a Facebook and Tumblr, I can see in my own life how I mix up friends and online friends. Sometimes when I “reblog,” “follow,” “message,” or read about on Tumblr I consider them friends just as they do for me. They know about my life, my thoughts, my feelings – just about everything but my dirty little gum-popping, nail-biting habits. Currently, I started working with an online company of a friend of a friend. The business just started up and I’ve been working as a media rep for them. Although we have only communicated online, emails and fb chat, I feel like I really know these people. Recently, my boss sent an email ending with the thought that although he doesn’t know us, we are somehow a family working together. I think, like you, that this virtual life, and our real world is becoming the same. Maybe we shouldn’t differentiate between them?


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