Kids Living and Learning with New Media -Chapter 2 Presentation – *Friendship*Chad Ward – CMS 298 – Final Presentation
Social networking tools, likeMySpace, Facebook, andothers are not new features forteens to utilize whensocializing with one another;they are the features to utilizeif you want to have a sociallife. Friendship is broughtabout by acquiringinterpersonal relationshipswith people, and the only wayto acquire these relationships isby presenting developingyourself in this new digitalmedium.
Social networking sites allow peopleto socialize with one another at alltimes, and allows the youth ofAmerica to “develop and maintainbroader communities of peers”,albeit a bit impersonally. This allowsthem to flourish (or falter) in a worldthat caters to the digital realm, andgives them numbers to base theirsocial progress with (i.e. number offriends on Facebook, or number ofmessages received, or number ofphotos they are tagged in, etc.).
Teen socialization has shifted with each generation. From going to a drive in Movie Theater,to gathering in a parking lot or shopping mall, and now to the digital world; teens seem to bethe go-to generation to find out where social mediums are flourishing. “Teens gather innetworked public spaces for a variety of purposes, including to negotiate identity, gossip,support one another, jockey for status, collaborate, share information, flirt, joke, and goofoff” (p.79). With the dawn of the digital age, social media tools now allow teens to interactwith their peers beyond the „physical realm‟, and so allows them to not only broaden theirsocial circles, but to separate from it and expand outward to other social circles that wouldotherwise have been out of reach.
Over the last 50 years, teens have really been the same,socially, from each generation to the next. They have thesame „struggles‟ now that they did decades ago. Teensare associated with a history of “intergenerationalstruggle over parental authority, youth culture, and thepeer relations fostered in high schools” (p.82).Struggling to fit in is not a new trend, and as the world(especially American culture) rapidly acceleratestowards the future, where the speed at which we evolvetechnologically is cumulative as our technologyenhances, teens today are having a much more difficulttime in the social world. „Fitting in‟ requires many toembrace technology, and social media sites are a meansto an end in that regard.
Although it does appear that the friendships and social schemata that teens live with in the „physical‟ world takesprecedents in terms of how teens view their social lives, the online-sensation of digital communities is making a largeimpact (an impact that continues to grow with each new generation). The internet has become an “arena to play out these ameans of status negotiations even when they are away from the school yard”, allowing social development to continueoutside of the structured, parent-supervised system, and allowing teens to identify themselves more fully. In this arena ofself-discovery, teens utilize all the technology available to them in order to “craft and display their social identities andinteract with their peers” (p.84).
Teens do not distinguish between thevirtual worlds and the physical one, interms of socialization. The virtualrealm is a tool, much like a voice or achalk-board, where one can connectwith their peers. Theses tools feel“seamless with their everyday lives”,and with the rapid development oftechnology, allows teens to socialize ata pace that is no slower than their face-to-face interactions are. These digitalrealms have in fact altered thesocialization standards in a way thathas never been seen before, as it allowsfor teens to network in a social worldthat is „always-on‟, meaning that theyhave access to their peers at all-times.
“Social media mirror, magnify, and extendeveryday social worlds,” and soconversations and interactions that start inone form (either in person, or through somedigital medium) can continue seamlesslythrough other forms throughout its life-span.A conversation can begin at school, thentransition to phone texting, and end as aFacebook status or instant message on thecomputer (or smartphone), without „missinga beat‟; this allows socialization to occurconstantly and consistently, altering existingsocial patterns and enabling a constantstream of interaction with the social world.
Teens, in most cultures, select their friends from a poolof possibilities that is encompassed by societalrestrictions. The „pool‟ of possible candidates generallyconsist of people the same age as the teen in question;from people in your same grade or near their place ofresidence (which again encompasses people of thesame socio-economic status, among othercharacteristics). Although the pool is limited, generally,by geographic location, and again by culturalrestrictions, children have very little outlier optionswhen it comes to choosing friends. That being said, thespecific selection as to who, from the given pool, theychoose to be friends with, is a choice they are able tomake.
Now, with the advent and evolution of social media, thepool of „options‟ that teenagers were once able to selectfriends from has grown exponentially, and is no longerlimited by physical barriers. Studies done with U.S.children found that, although social media is utilized tosupport and develop pre-existing friendships; it is notcommonplace for American children to search for newfriendships in the digital realm. This is interestingbecause, although the pool has widened a great deal interms of whom teens are able to socialize with, Americanteens tend to stick with what is available to them in thephysical world, and expand upon the relationships theyalready have, rather than seek out new friends online.
Again, this reinforces the notion that the digital natives of today do not see the digital world as a separateentity, but rather as a tool to further develop the reality that is limited by geographic location. In somecases, specifically in the situations where a teen feels isolated by people in their „physical world‟, theyutilize social media technologies to find others like themselves, or find others that share their same plights,and thus online friendships are borne that are counter to the normalcies seen with other teens.In addition, heavy stigma surrounds this outlier socialization, as the notion of meeting people and makingfriends online is regarding as weird, with practitioners being labeled as “freaks”. This stigma is exacerbatedby the “stranger danger rhetoric and terror talk” that is emphasized more as safety practices, as it is wellknown that much of the public spaces in which people can interact online go „unmediated‟.
The formalization of friendships has neverbeen a common occurrence in Americanculture, especially in the teenage years.Instead, friendships have always been„ensured‟ through “implicit social rituals”(p.93). We hang out, we ride bikes, wemake plans, and so we know that we arefriends without ever formally agreeing onengaging in an interpersonal relationship.However, with the new wave of socialmedia technologies, friendship verificationhas become a great deal more formal,especially with new social tools likeFacebook or MySpace. “One of the ways inwhich social media altered friendshippractices is through the forced – and oftenpublic – articulation of social connections”(p.94).
Buddy lists, friends lists, tags, „likes‟ and „dislikes‟,followers, and other public labels have shiftedinterpersonal relationships into the public‟s eye. Inorder to participate in the digital medium, one mustbe willing to have an open book in terms of theirsocial „prowess‟, capabilities, dedication. This openconcept that has been employed in the social mediaworld serves multiple purposes, from allowingpeople to maintain a „contact list‟ to assist withkeeping track of their friends, to regulating who hasaccess to what information about you (thusreinforcing the publicly articulated social networkwe employ), to also acting as a representation of an“individual‟s social identity and status” (p.94). Thistransparency in social relationships has also shiftedthe very meaning of „friends‟, as a friend on a socialnetworking site can be as trivial as just a personwhom you know and get along with, to somethingmuch more substantial as in a „best‟ friend withwhom you share a deep personal connection with
The dialectic tensions that prevail whendeciding whether or not to publicly„accept‟ someone as a friend or not is apowerful entity prevalent in this digitalsocial realm, especially whenconsidering the social impact that thesenetworking sites have on the personallives of the teens who utilize them. Insummary, these tools can indicate whois being „included‟ and also who isbeing „excluded‟ in each social group,which has a doubled effect as indicatingwho is being „included‟ or „excluded‟ inthe physical world.
Since social identity, in the public realm of digital social media, is newlyhighlighted by how many „friends‟ you have, the goal of teens and adults alikeseems to be simple: acquire more. Having a large number of “friends” on yoursocial websites like MySpace or Facebook must mean that you are in fact morepopular, and thus more „fit’ in terms of social abilities. However, there aredifferent positions on this „numbers‟ phenomenon. Some view it as a way for“people to seem more popular to themselves”, while others may view it more as away to network and maintain a list, without giving it the aesthetic socialapplication that teenagers seem to do. Others still seem to take this at face value,and try to acquire as many „friends‟ as they can in order to boost their socialstatus; which in certain social circles, may actually occur. Teens do find somevalue in this “mass friending” activity, but others see it as more of a “popularitycontest” (p.96).
Friendship Hierarchies are also quite prevalent inthe digital realm, just as they exist in the physical-social world of teenage life. „Cliques‟ are prevalenteverywhere, and the “Top Friends” status is asurefire way to signify (publicly, of course) who isin your clique. Many teens, and users of sites likeMySpace where friends lists are organized bothpublicly and numerically, note that this listing andhierarchy is often a source of drama, whilesupposedly adding “nuance” to a user‟s „friendslist‟. This list can cause strife when people are on orare not on a list; or when people are not in a numberslot that they feel is reflective of their relationshipwith the „user‟. A common method for avoiding the„drama‟ associated with this hierarchical list is forusers to simply add irrelevant relationships (likebands or celebrities) or family members.
Pre-digital media, the practice of numerically listingfriends in a hierarchy (even within one‟s own mind) wasnot only irrelevant, it was unpracticed. Now, with thelisting schemata present in one of the most popularsocial media tools around, users are somewhat forced toplay into this top-friends „game‟, where the articulationand ranking of friends is imperative in maintaining anactive social life. “The problem with explicit ranking,however, is that it creates or accentuates hierarchieswhere they did not exist offline, or were deliberatelyand strategically ambiguous, thus forcing a new set ofsocial status negotiations” (p.104).