Why can’t we be friends?

David Beer, in his response, revisits the story posed by danah boyd and Nicole Ellison in their article about the definition, history, and study of social network sites. From the start, boyd and Ellison define the difference between a social network site and a social network-ing site. Choosing to employ and look into the social network sites alone, boyd and Ellison disregard the networking sites saying, “While networking is possible on these sites, it is not the primary practice on many of them, nor is it what differentiates them from other forms of computer-mediated communication (CMS).” Beer has real contention with this distinction stating, “Whereas the term ‘social networking sites’ describes something particular, a set of applications where, to a certain extent, networking is the main preoccupation.” Beer wants to create a less distinction between these sites and redefine what SNSs are in a diversely mediated world. boyd and Ellison went on to assert, “‘Friends’ on SNSs are not the same as ‘friends’ in the everyday sense; instead, Friends provide context by offering users an imagined audience to guide behavioral norms.” Beer takes great issue with their distinction and separation of an online and offline life. He says, “The problem is that increasingly, in the context of SNS moving into the cultural mainstream, the ‘everyday’ sense of a friend can often be the SNS Friend.”

The virtual world very much coincides with the physical world. Not a day a goes by when someone does not ask you, “Did you see that on Facebook?” It has entered into our daily conversations and we do not even separate from our physical world interactions. The idea of a Friendship has been redefined by SNSs but not totally changed, just enhanced. We have been able to maintain friendships from our past on SNS that we would be unable to do in the past. Forget looking in the phone book for an old classmates number, we now can use a multitude of outlets to reconnect with an old friend (or sometimes enemy) to just check in and say hello or even to rekindle a relationship gone by. Baffled by the idea of creating such an extensive Friends list, my parents tend to ask me, “Do you really have that many friends?”. Would I invite them all to a party? Probably not. But would I have invited them at different points in my life? Probably. They were all my friends, classmates, acquaintances at some moment. By adding them to my SNS, it allows me the opportunity to maintain friendships with those I choose to and merely keep track on our “friends”. The need to know what is going on is others’ lives is sometimes considered nosy but if the technology allows, we build networks on various platforms to quench our curiosity.

Conversely, these SNSs have the power to take established physical world, lower-case, friendships and completely destroy them. Whether we find incriminating information or catch our Friend in a lie, the information we share on SNSs can really affect our physical relationships. When we hit send, we are blind to the fact that whatever we just put out into the online world can reemerge in our offline world with completely radical consequences. We all have that friend that broke up over Facebook. Facebook’s “unFriend” button has a great power that enables us users to end Friendships and friendships without the awkard harm of letting someone down in person. However the power of Facebook and other SNSs allows people, who would maybe just pass each other by on the street, the opportunity to connect, start a Friendship, develop it into a friendship, and, with the luckiest cases, start a relationship.

Beer looks to redefine the idea of social network(ing) sites in an appropriate and progressive manor. boyd and Ellison do not see the full extent to which SNSs have given users power and the variety of functions users operate SNSs for. Social media continues to change in its technology, its platforms, and its usage. The approach to the study of these social media should be one that examines the online world’s affect and connection to the offline world, and how these two worlds, in combination, shape our society. With every social media platform I engage with, I now begin to question my motivation for engaging with the site. Am I just extending my physical, offline, relationships into a digital sphere? Or am I looking to escape and create a new online network? Either way, SNSs provide different users with different outcomes. Our reality is shaped by our own perceptions, and how we use the social media will shape our criticism of them.

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1 Comment

  1. I think that your point about how the virtual coincides with the physical world is very relevant. What happens online drastically effects offline relationships, and what happens offline is usually reciprocated online.

    It seems to me like a lot of the academic articles that we have been reading talk about the differences between the virtual and “real” world. Obviously there are the niches in our culture that have online personalities that do not coincide with their offline selves, but I don’t think that the vast majority of our online communities partake in this. This article from AdWeek(http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/internet-identity-crisis-137991) called, “The Internet Identity Crisis,” also attests to this. “If Facebook were to back away from its (real name) policy, it would “absolutely” be less valuable to marketers, says Clara Shih, CEO of social media management company Hearsay Social. It “has been transformational for the online experience and, secondarily, for marketers,” she says. “Marketers work with an authentic community and that authentic community comes from having real names.””

    Essentially, with these SNS becoming more prevalent for advertising/sales comes the idea that these sites also want to look more attractive to the marketers. In the end, it is all about making money because that is the only way for the sites to stay afloat. From the LA Times (http://shar.es/fiwuS), Zuckerberg says “Facebook was not originally created to be a company, it was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected.” Yes, initially Facebook may have not been invented to be a billion dollar company, but in the end, that is what exists and there is no way around the fact that Facebook is how it is today because of advertising revenue.

    Great post!


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