The Social NetworkA look into the world of social networking within digital culture By Nicole Wilson CULT3020 - Digital Culture
Things have changed in the digital world thathas made people accustomed to thinking ofthe online world as a social space. (Donath & Boyd 2004, p. 71)
What is Social Networking? “We define social network sites as web- based services that allow individuals to construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (Boyd & Ellison 2007, p. 211).
These sites allowpeople toconstruct apublic profile &connect withother users.
Do these public profilesgive an accurateimpression of the user?
But also, have thesesocial networkschangedour culture and our society?
To properly answer thesequestions we need tolearn how social networksfit into society and howthey came about.
HistoryThe first social networking site called SixDegrees.comlaunched in 1997, which allowed users to create theirown profiles with a list of friends. However, it wasclosed in 2000 because it was not sustainable. Therewere many other websites that came about in thistime, some were successful, but others, likeSixDegrees.com could not sustain the websites. Forexample, Friendster was launched in 2002 but was notable to handle the fast popularity of the site. (Boyd & Ellison 2007).
After 2003 there weremany other socialnetworking sites that werelaunched likeFlickr, YouTube, LinkedInas well as Myspace. Myspace quickly grew in popularity because people were able to connect with bands and artists, it allowed users to personalise their profile page as well as accepting minors to join the site.
Then along came Facebook in 2004, which wasoriginally designed as a network system forcolleges, but they began expanding their network toinclude high school students, other professionals andthen eventually everyone. (Boyd & Ellison 2007)
Facebook now has one billion active users withapproximately 81% of these users outside of theU.S. and Canada. (Facebook 2012)
These social networks are keepingeveryone connected in the worldof digital culture.However, does this mean that bybeing connected in a digitalenvironment people are lessinvolved in the real world?
In some ways, people are less involved in the real world because they are constantly involving themselves in the digital environment on computers or phones. But they are also more connected in many other ways. People are able to interact directly with particular users or companies that would otherwise be out of their reach.“If you’re not on Myspace, you don’t exist” Skyler, 18, to her mom (Boyd 2007, p. 1).
Most people use social networks as a means ofentertainment because it provides insight intosociety as well as passing the time (Boyd 2007).Others use social networks “to explorethemselves through feedback from others, tocompensate for social limitations ofshyness, and to facilitate social relationships”. (Valkenburg, Schouten & Peter 2005 in Pempek et al 2009, p. 228)
But what do the users getfrom their participation in thesocial networks? Boyddiscusses how these “socialnetwork sites are providingteens with a space to workout identity and status, makesense of cultural cues, andnegotiate public life” (Boyd 2007, p. 2)
Not only can social networks entertain people andhelp them learn things about themselves, but also itseems that most people who use social networks arenot using them to meet new people but rather“communicating with people who are already a partof their extended social network”. (Boyd & Ellison 2008, p. 211)This is because social networks “provide an easy,accessible way to interact with peers and gatherfeedback”. (Pempek et al 2009, p. 228)
Donath & Boyd believe that social networks are“sources of emotional and financial support, and ofinformation about jobs, other people, and the worldat large“ (2004, p. 71).As they suggest these social networks can be used tomeet new people, or to contact a person from thepast like an old school friend. As well as finding outinformation about events happening in the world oreven to find a job or information about a possiblecareer.
It is also interesting to see how people use socialnetworking sites to express themselves to other users.Each user will do some sort of impressionmanagement to construct an online representation ofthemselves.
Erving Goffman discuses about how people use impressionmanagement when expressing themselves to others:Sometimes a person will intentionally and consciouslyexpress themselves in a particular way, but chiefly becausethe tradition of his or her group or social status require thiskind of expression and not because of any particularresponse that is likely to be evoked by those impressed bythe expression…The others, may be suitably impressed bythe individuals efforts to convey something, or maymisunderstand the situation and come to conclusions thatare warranted neither by the individuals intent not by thefact. (Goffman 1959, p. 4)
But don‟t be fooled as any representation orexpressions online can be misinterpreted if taken outof context or taken the wrong way. As Boyd discussesusers are “able to carefully choose what informationto put forward, thereby eliminating visceral reactionsthat might have seeped out in everydaycommunication. At the same time, these digitalbodies are fundamentally coarser, making it far easierto misinterpret what someone is expressing”.(Boyd 2007, p. 12)
Facebook is oneexample of howpeople use impressionmanagement on theirpersonal profiles. Thephotos that a personshows on their profilecan certainly expressmany things about aperson as well as theinformation that isshown.
But the information that is shown can also say a lotabout a person. For example, users are able tochoose whether they express their relationship statusto other users or not.
And even have theoption to let other peoplesee how old theyare, where theylive, places they havevisited or how educatedthey are.
Zizi Papacharissi gives a great example of Facebookand how some “profiles may consist of alengthy, cluttered, and disorganized page, containingendless lists of applications and postings whichpotentially communicate a careless or unkempt tasteperformance” (2009, p. 213).But this does not mean that this person is unorganisedor messy, it just communicates this to other usersbecause of the content on their profile.
It appears that the impression management of profiles can have an effect on offline social interaction as well asonline interaction, with ,people being aware ofhow they are beingperceived and trying tochange it.
“This customization makes daily life and networkmanagement more convenient. However, as tastecultures carry a distinct socio-economiccomponent, or at least aesthetic commonality whichmay be connected to class somewhat, one cannothelp but notice that a medium heralded as the greatsocial equalizer gains meaning and relevance as itenables its users to construct not just mere self-performances, but performances structured aroundoffline spheres of taste and culture”. (Papacharissi 2009, p. 213)
Therefore these social networking sites can only givean accurate impression of a user to a certain extent;it all depends on the information that the userdecides to make public on their profile. But for somereason people are quick to judge others oninformation from a social media website and this iswhy there are so many people who are aware ofhow they are being perceived and managing theimpression they give off.
Of course there are advantages anddisadvantages of having these socialnetworking sites a part of our lives.
Many companies are using social networkingsites to support the creation of brandcommunities, for marketing research and topromote (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010 p. 64).This is because it allowscompanies to engage withtheir audience at a low costand at the same timepromoting their company.
But in todays digital culture social media is not justavailable on computers, it is now on mobile phones.Meaning the social network you are a part of basicallygoes everywhere with you. “Some would argue thatwhile it enables the detailed following of friendshalfway across the world, it can foster a society wherewe don‟t know the names of our own next-doorneighbors”. (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010, p. 67)
Having these social networks in our lives has also openedup questions of privacy. With all this information availableon the Internet for people to view users are able to trackother people in their extended network. With many mobilesnow containing location detection features that are basedon your position and tower location services(Hansen, Scheiderman & Smith 2010, p. 27), people areable to track your location.Although, while people‟s privacy may be at risk on thesesocial networking sites, the information is willingly providedby the users (Gross & Acquisti 2005, p. 3), as there aresettings that can be modified to protect privacy for eachusers need.
So the ultimate question now is have social networks changed our culture and society?
Donath and Boyd believe“the types of social networksthat develop in differentcommunities have aprofound effect on the waypeople work, theopportunities theyhave, and the structure oftheir daily life” (2004, p. 71).
And things certainly have changed in the way societyfunctions from day to day. These days, nearly everychild has a mobile phone, people organise majorevents using Facebook, they locate jobs online usingdifferent social networking sites, even majorcompanies are creating public profiles on socialnetworking sites to promote their company. The onlyway for society to keep functioning is by keeping upwith the social networking sites. Although, they maybe confusing at times with so much going on, theyaren‟t going anywhere.
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