Culture vs. Cult: The Role of Social Media in Our Lives

In an article from October on the Huffington PostKatherine Bindley explores what role social networking and jealousy play in “your” life. Her main argument is that while Facebook is a very powerful tool to help people connect and stay connected to one another, it has equally as much capacity to effectively ruin relationships. Specifically, she points out a few main things that people tend to do (or not do), which lead to their partner to feel either jealous or uncomfortable. Some of these examples included things like over/undersharing about the relationship on the network, having tagged pictures of exes, and seeing ‘worrisome’ things on partners’ pages and assuming the worst.

With all of this, though, it becomes clear that the underlying issue is a lack of communication rather than anything Facebook itself is doing. In fact, Bindley quotes a couples therapist from San Diego, Jennine Estes as saying, “Facebook isn’t usually the problem. It’s the behaviors that are the problem.” This statement is particularly important, because it immediately takes out considerations of Facebook being the ‘active ruiner’ of relationships. Such a blame on Facebook would be a very blatant statement of what Judith Donath (and others) would describe as technological determinism. In fact, Estes goes even further, saying:

“To be clear, Facebook itself isn’t to blame for the demise of domestic bliss. Instead, it’s an avenue by which threats can develop if you fail to communicate about them, and one that can exacerbate problems that already exist.”

Again, this is a very clear way to disprove arguments of technological determinism and instead emphasise what more looks like a social shaping view of technology, where people’s usage of new technology are taken into account. Because Bindley presents this concept early on and comes back to it throughout the article, the general ‘story’ of what she writes does not blame Facebook for strains in relationships, but rather points out how people can abuse its capabilities in ways that lead to a strain of trust.

The jealousy that a boyfriend or girlfriend might feel as a result of something done on Facebook is not very different from the ‘psychological warfare’ that dana boyd describes from the MySpace ‘Top 8’ feature.  Again, however, neither boyd nor Bindley suggest that the social networks are to blame (although in the case of MySpace, it’s hard to imagine a practical use for ‘ranking’ your friends), but rather that people are quite prone to be sensitive in these publicly social spaces. Overall, then, I think she presents the possibilities of Facebook in a reasonable, objective manner.

In the film Life 2.0, however, the users of Second Life are presented in such a way that they come across as if they were members of a cult: that they got into ‘this thing,’ couldn’t stop, and may or may not have made it out. In fact, the way it was put together made me think of the movie Jonestown, (trailer below)  where the people who joined the ‘People’s Temple’ cult were vulnerable for some number of reasons, found a comfortable, welcoming environment in the cult, eventually found out that it was ‘bad,’ and either made it out or didn’t (although obviously there was no mass suicide shown in Life 2.0). Although the stories presented in Life 2.0 had varying areas of success, I felt like the filmmakers generally presented Second Life as something that could be very dangerous, and that it was best to get out of it rather than lose all touch with reality.

Because of the way Second Life seemed to be shown as ‘dangerous’ in the film, I would argue that it takes more of a technologically deterministic view, where people have little or no control of what they are doing once they sign up for the game. To avoid this, the filmmaker could have shown a few people who use Second Life casually and who still maintain normal relationships with other people. This would have given proof that there is nothing inherently wrong with Second Life, but that it may bring out underlying social issues in some people who play it. In fact, I would imagine (or hope) that the stories shown in the film were extreme cases chosen to exhibit an entertaining yet disturbing look into the lives of Second Life addicts, posing them as an ‘other’ character for people to laugh at and maybe feel better about their own interpersonal relationships.

Given these two differing perspectives on social media, I think it is important to study these areas through an unbiased lens and present all sides of the story. Rather than present the audience with predetermined judgements, it would be better to show people how a social network works in its most basic form and how people have changed and adapted this, but most importantly, that all these uses are different for everyone.

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  1. Anthony Duffy

     /  February 22, 2012

    Great post! The article you chose has such a charged topic, as we all know of that couple that broke up from Facebook. Debunking Facebook as the “active ruiner”, you illuminate the author’s message of a lack of communication and open the idea to our behaviors being at fault. I agree with your commentary on it being a socially shaped technology. The strain of trusts do not stem from Facebook, but the users’ abuse of its capabilities. I also feel that it’s users’ lack of knowledge about privacy and their audience that brings forth the strains of trust. In Life 2.0, there is definitely a loss of reality for users, when entering into Second Life, which is not present when engaging in Facebook or Myspace interactions as Bindley described. The film definitely uses the extreme examples to intensify the drama and truly develop the character of the “other”. It is interesting to see how Facebook has been dramatized in visual media (i.e. The Social Network) in comparison to textual analysis, and how that has affected the discourse about social media and its power over users. The dramatized social media puts forth the “predetermined judgments” in a highly dramatized way. You conclude with such an appropriate proposal for how social media should be presented in discourses.

  2. maddiechivi

     /  February 25, 2012

    I had actually used this article but presented my information a bit differently. I thought your approach on how many social media platforms are socially shaped technologies was very true. Facebook has been dramatized to be these networks that can only really increase the problems we have in our friendships, relationships, sociability in the physical world, whereas we never take a look at how it can be of use to us. We should also think about how social media networks have changed the way we as people view our relationships. When Facebook did not exist, and when texting did not exist relationships were much more reliant on what you knew of your partner based on what he told you, not based on his profile, not based on his style of texting or his pictures on his Facebook. The accesibility of these mediums allow us to let them influence our lives, but at the end of the day we are the ones influencing our own lives. We chose what to post on our Facebook profile therefore, if you decide to like a comment on a boys wall, you are accepting your boyfriend might see it and depending on how jealous he is… you know in the back of your head what the outcome could be. Media, however, puts the blame in the social networks hands. All these platforms really do is allow us to chose what we want to put on them, so are they really to blame? Also, as for Life 2.0, the more I have thought about it, the more I feel saddened by how many of these people are portrayed. Their ‘colt’ like behavior is very apparent from what we see in the film. We get a theatrical representation of the “strange” people who sit on Second Life for hours yet we never take into account the people like T.A. Tanya Cornejo. She uses Second Life (granted it’s for research purposes) only a few hours a day (she said in class). Life 2.0 however, is a perfect example of how media can distort our perceptions of social mediums. When they show on extreme it is obvious they want the viewer to be uncomfortable. It was obvious they wanted you to have no choice but to think the Second Life users were total weirdos… Anyways, time to go on facebook and over think all of the comments on my page. 😉


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