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.