Drew dondelinger virtual communities- final draft

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  • 1. Drew Dondelinger<br />Writ 1133<br />Assignment 2<br />Facescreen<br />Howard Rheingold and Neil Postman agree that the relatively new fad of online communities is changing society as we know it. Second Life, Facebook and other social sites allow people to have a social experience beyond real life. Facebook focuses on sharing, talking and interacting with friends primarily not in your vicinity. Facebook is just a way to convey your real life and share it with friends, while Second Life, gives people the opportunity to completely “start over” and create a new online life. Rheingold believes that online community interaction will ultimately benefit society in general, especially online. Postman however argues that ultimately technology and online interaction will have an overall negative impact on society. Based on Postman’s theory of negative impact, and Rheingold who expects to find social benefits, I will test online communities for myself to see what I find. I will be going in with the expectation of negative effects. As for my specific expectations, I will test my belief that online communities have created a society that is increasingly based solely on person to computer interaction and not face to face human contact. Because online interaction is “easier, more convenient and better” in the opinion of many twentieth-century leaders, the next generation, the “technoration” as Jeffery Gitomer puts it, is becoming very inhuman and exceedingly worse at face-to-face interaction and real world communication. I assume to find many people that rely on the computer as their main source of social interaction, that is spend more time on online social websites that socializing in the real world. Inversely I would expect to find at least one, likely more, examples of how technology has benefited society and created social ties as Mr. Rheingold suggests. Also with more time and resources I would enjoy observing the difference in how people interact socially and professionally between technology and the real world. I would venture to hypothesize that most people struggle being professional and interacting face to face in current times in comparison to twenty years ago, which would suggest disevolution instead of forward advancement of society. However for this case study I will focus on the amount of time spent between online social interaction and real life interaction and the activities that take place online and finally analyze their effects on the real world.<br /> <br />I will be using my experiences and conversations in Second Life along with some insight from Facebook users. I have a Second Life account and have begun immersing myself into the unique culture. To measure and get meaningful information out of Second Life I will need not only to be a random person walking around but I will have to befriend other people and develop relationships where people respect me enough to talk to me and give personal information. I would plan to set out looking for information like, what do people do in Second Life? What do they do in “First Life?” How many people to you communicate with regularly in each society? Do you find experiences simpler in one life than the other? Do you find it easier to be outgoing in either situation? Which life do you spend more time in socially? This type of information would lead me to a better understanding of why people use Second Life and more importantly how their Second Life relates to the real life.<br />To gather information about Facebook I will have to draw on others’ experience. I have no personal Facebook experience, but from past observation my information will look towards the difference between friends on Facebook and friends in real life. Some people have upwards of a million friends on Facebook and my initial feeling tells me that those people aren’t friends with all of those people in real life. My guarantee would be that in general people interact far more, both in number of people and amount of time, on Facebook than in real life. Types of questions I will ask Facebook users will be geared toward finding out the difference between how often, why and with whom users interact with. I will do this both by inquiring regular users of Facebook and by exploring the world myself by using a rented Facebook profile to explore the new world myself. How many friends do you have on Facebook? How many of those friends do you interact with regularly via Facebook? How many of those friends do you regularly interact with face to face? Do you have friends on Facebook you’ve never met in person? Do you find it easier to communicate socially with people face to face or on Facebook? How much time do you spend on Facebook versus socializing face to face? I will interview a few subjects and try to find other general statistics about Facebook in addition to my observations to contradict my hypothesis.<br />Through my interaction on Second Life I learned a lot about the culture and also about the people of Second Life. One of the biggest things I noticed was that the users of Second Life are a proud group of people that identify with their social network. Many people became defensive at first when I asked them about the difference between their Second Life and their real life, most interviewees were taken aback at first and then came back on the attack by responding with something close to, “What are you talking about? Are you saying Second Life isn’t real?” This feeling of having to defend their site and opinion that Second Life is real was common among users. I interviewed around twenty-five avatars in Second Life, with varying lengths of time interviewing because often if a question offended someone, or if they felt I was a waste of time they would just fly away. I talked to people in a very diverse group of places, everywhere from a baseball game to an art gallery, someone at the roller disco and even someone at the strip club. On average Second Life users said they spend between two and five hours a day interacting in their 3D online community, with a range from half an hour to ten hours a day. The majority of users actually engage in similar activities in Second Life that they do every day in real life, however with some exciting activities they’ve never done in real life. The reason for this was almost always because respondents found it safer to try out a fantasy in Second Life rather than taking a chance in real life, users agreed that it may be awkward in person but very easy given a computer screen. In general most Second Life users said they met entirely new people in Second Life and their friends in Second Life were hardly ever their friends in real life. In fact no one I talked to said they have ever gone beyond Second Life in actually meeting with any of their Second Life friends in real life. Eight of the twenty-five responders admitted that Second Life is a bigger part of their social life than time they spend actually interacting with people. <br />My Second Life experience was eye opening. People said they have completely different friends on Second Life than in reality, which means Second Life gives you the opportunity to expand your social network, however, it is hardly ever used in that way. Instead Second Life seems to be an activity based community. There is no arguing that Second Life is a community, as the definition of community is ambiguous in itself, and if Second Life users believe they are part of a community, then technically they are. I would agree that Second Life at least gives the opportunity to create and be a part of an online community where you can meet people, hang out and have ongoing meaningful relationships. However in my experience that’s not how users put the site to work, instead on the aggregate it seems like people simply go there for something to do and never build anything out of it. When you ask an avatar why they use Second Life you would most likely get an answer related to, “Because” or “Cuz it’s here.” Not many relevant actions come out of Second Life. Interaction occurs solely from behind a computer screen and hardly ever expands from that. <br />All of this supports my hypothesis and Postman’s ideas because this example of an online community does not benefit society, but rather is just an activity to fill time in people’s lives. Activities that are just time fillers can be useful as stress relievers but have no more benefits, and in my opinion the negatives of time fillers outweigh the positives. My hypothesis is supported by this evidence and social site in general; this site I would argue is damaging to society because there is no societal benefit and is therefore just an activity for fun. While fun can be beneficial to societal needs, in this case I (and I assume Mr. Postman would agree with me) would consider spending excess amounts of time on this site as a waste of time and therefore a waste of money. Time is money and a waste of time and money can be labeled as inefficiency, both threatening to take over society without benefit and destroy face to face real life society.<br />While I don’t personally have a Facebook account I was able to find many of the over 410 million people that do and interview five of them. My sample wasn’t pleasing to me because it consisted of five college aged users, but at least I feel it’s a good range of taste of my generation’s use of Facebook. All of my interviewees admitted to spending at least an hour, most of them were more, on Facebook every day. Just to put that into perspective that’s about 365 hours a year, which equates to over 15 full days of time spent on Facebook every year, for a one hour a day user. Of the people I interviewed the group had a range of between 431 and 1,496 friends, one of the most shocking things to me when gathering this specific statistic was not the sheer numbers but that four of the five subjects knew their exact number of friends without even looking online. When I asked, “Are you sure?” They opened up their profiles and proved my skepticism wrong. I found this astonishing, but when I asked how or why they knew that off the top of their heads, I got the same look I get when I tell someone I don’t have a Facebook. Kids nowadays can memorize all 150 Pokémon or the number of Facebook friends they have but not the US Presidents or acquaintance’s names. While browsing this site one of my main observations was what a “friend” really entitles, a friend in Facebook means that a person requested you as a friend and you hit the accept button. Most of the people you “friend” are friends you know in real life, but not all of them, often they’re people who have mutual friends with you or just other random people. Every person I interviewed admitted to having friends on Facebook that they’ve never even met; the average per interviewee was 27. Of their hundreds of friends each interviewee only consistently communicates with between ten and twenty-five of those friends on Facebook. Of all the Facebook “friends” each interviewee only regularly communicates face to face with five to ten of them. <br />This would seem at first to support my hypothesis if out of hundreds of friends there is only regular face to face communication with five to ten people. With this evidence it seems like the online social network of Facebook is becoming the main reliant for college social interaction, however every respondent said their real life social activities are far more important than their online social life. However another constant comment was that Facebook is a huge part of their social life and they couldn’t imagine their lives without Facebook. One of the biggest uses of Facebook is connecting with and staying in contact with people you can’t regularly communicate with or lost contact with over the years; this is the reason I find this site refutes my hypothesis. Even though the average user spends aggregately over 15 days on Facebook and only communicates with 5% of friends face to face, Facebook can be socially beneficial. For example college students are increasingly leaving their home state to go to school across the country; this I believe is in large part thanks to the advancement in technology, specifically cell phones and online social communication, that allow kids to keep in touch with family and friends, first MySpace and now dominantly Facebook. Of the five interviewees two are from California, one is from Minnesota, one is from Missouri and one is from Connecticut. Each interviewee notes that most of their Facebook friends are friends from high school and their home town that they want to keep in contact with when they start new journeys. Also one interviewee was able, only through Facebook, to find his best friend from middle school who moved away before high school and reconnect with him. Facebook does have some very useful social tools, but it is also shows evidence for my hypothesis. Two friends live on the same floor of a dorm building, their rooms are about 35 feet from each other, and when they want to have a conversation, they both log onto Facebook. Instead of walk 35 feet and give the other person the satisfaction of their sole attention, both prefer using Facebook to communicate, because it’s “easier” and “you can do other things at the same time.” This was the biggest support of my hypothesis, talking over the computer is easier than walking 35 feet and talking face to face? You can’t give another person the respect to talk directly to them because you can get other things done while talking to them? An older gentleman would likely find this offensive and a hunch tells me your boss wouldn’t appreciate your logic if that was your excuse. Another piece of evidence I uncovered to support my hypothesis, while trying to disprove my hypothesis, had to do with the picture sharing aspect of Facebook. Users all admitted to spending a significant amount of time browsing through pictures on their attractive female friends’ profiles specifically looking for beach pictures and commenting on them. I asked if they would ever observe girls on the beach and comment on them to their face. No. Again this just exemplifies the differences between online communication and real life.<br />I view my experiences as two separate examples. I feel my time in Second Life was confirmative to both my hypothesis and Mr. Postman’s ideas. The site was not socially beneficial and in fact threatened to turn people’s social lives totally electronic where they would eventually completely lose the ability to communicate in the real world, slowly taking over and destroying society. Facebook however seems to be more of a supplement rather than replacement to social life. Facebook has beneficial qualities, and communication in Facebook is most often derived around or about real life, not threatening to take over society. While Facebook may be contributing to the face to screen relationship, as I’m trade marking it, it seems to be more beneficial than hurtful; however this correlation depends completely on the individual’s choice of how to use Facebook. As for my hypothesis I would denounce that Facebook is socially harmful if taken summative because of the evidence from Facebook that suggests real world social growth. However Mr. Postman’s ideas and my hypothesis do hold true in many cases. My initial hypothesis was that online social sites are ruining real world communicational skills, and I believe this is partially true, there certainly seems to be evidence for both sides. The argument I would add to Mr. Postman’s ideas is that it is not social sites nor technology that threatens to capture, manipulate and control society; but rather the people using the technology. Technology is a tool made by man and for man, and though technology has developed it is still a tool man controls. That being said guns are a tool controlled by man as well and they have become destructive to society and man himself. However guns are not to blame nor is the technology that led to innovation, but the choices man makes on how to use his inventions, and specifically how man abuses each. If used to further your social life in the real world, find lost friends or keep up with friends you’ve parted ways with, Facebook can be very beneficial. But if used to have a conversation with someone down the hall from you or to just browse for hours on end, these networks can have a negative impact on society. Second Life has the same basic potential as Facebook, however at basic nature Facebook is set up for man to make more constructive choices with it. My addition to my and Mr. Postman’s hypothesis would be the same: that technology and online social worlds do have the potential to aid in the corruption and harm of society, but the biggest threat technology gives man is yet another way to abuse his own tools and destroy society himself. This can be seen in reflection of Rheingold’s hypothesis as well, because while technology gives man the potential to destroy society it also gives him the opportunity to better society. Technology can be useful and benefit society but it is ultimately man’s choices that will decide the fate of his society, and in my prediction ultimately destroy society, technology is just another possible tool for the job. <br />