Tuesday, March 12, 2013

New Media - Social Media

The article for this week is here. It was published in 2007, and so things might have changed. Feel free to express how you think the social media landscape has changed since the article was released.

How many "social media" technologies do you use (Twitter, Facebook, etc)? How long have you used these things? What do they do for you? Do you believe in the notion of “online community”?

This is something that has caused problems for some of us; some have problematized the notion of online communities as true communities. This article suggests, though, that communities online are actual communities, and that computer-mediated interactions have had positive effects on physical interactions.

“Capital” refers to having resources (money) in a market system. “Social capital” broadly refers to the resources accumulated through the relationships among people. Here it refers to the ability to bond with others on these social network systems, and it is quantified by the number of friends one might have on the network. “Maintained social capital” refers to the ability to stay connected to members of a community once the community has dissipated.

From the article: “When social capital declines, a community experiences increased social disorder, reduced participation in civic activities, and potentially more distrust among community members. Greater social capital increases commitment to a community and the ability to mobilize collective actions, among other benefits.”

How high do you think your social capital is? How many friends do you have on Facebook? If you quit participating in one of these communities, I wonder, how would your social capital fare? Would it go down? Do these online communities make it easier to maintain connection with people?

For one thing, there is less work needed to keep these connections with others open when a network like Facebook is used. The initial contact is really the only work that needs to be done; without the Facebook infrastructure (which basically keeps the connection active as long as one remains on your “friends” list), you need to work to keep that connection active. There isn’t really a real-life “friends” list that is constantly updated. Online, there are what the article writers call “weak ties,” loose social ties which are easily maintained.

There are lots of numbers and charts in this article. These stats are not the most important thing for us here. The findings are interesting, though. Facebook is overwhelmingly used to reinforce an existing relationship, rather than simply meeting new people. Maintaining a relationship with former high school friends seems to be a priority. Do you agree with these findings? What do you use Facebook for?

From the article: “Online interactions do not necessarily remove people from their offline world but may indeed be used to support relationships and keep people in contact, even when life changes move them away from each other.”


Phil Wiebe said...

As far as I'm aware, I only use one major social media platform: Facebook. According to my timeline, I have had my account since 2007. I had it in high school because 'all the cool kids were doing it' and as a responsible user of a new technology I made sure to post witty and edifying comments and upload only beautiful and educational photographs and videos. Just kidding, it was pretty much the same fare that teenagers post nowadays. After graduation, I kept my Facebook on the rationale that it would help me keep in touch with my friends who had been flung to all the corners of the globe. Although I rarely communicated in any way on Facebook with most of the people I was 'Friends' with, I liked having the option. It was also secretly satisfying to be able to experience their lives vicariously without having to interact with them on a meaningful level.

My reaction started slowly. Upon discovery of the 'Hide from Newsfeed' option, more and more people who were ostensiby my friends were sent out of sight and out of mind until only the couple dozen that really mattered remained. However, I eventually realized that this was all a bunch of nonsense and that I was hanging on to a past that did not exist anymore. I really only needed Facebook as a line of communication with a few close friends, so I took out the friendcleaver (it's like the banhammer) and my friend count dropped from a bloated 660 to a trim 100, in accord with a lowball figure for Dunbar's number.

In view of this account, I don't think I really believe in the online community in the sense of 'believe' as 'support, advocate, have faith in.' Online community can exist, sure, I just don't really want to be a part of it. Myspace is as dead as disco and Google+ was DOA; Twitter is cool if you already possess a horde of people who really like hearing what you have to say or use it as some kind of legitimate enterprise; LinkedIn would be sweet if I mattered as a professional; Youtube's functionality is awesome but the people who comment on Youtube videos are surprisingly abhorrent; Pinterest is a black hole; Tumblr and Instagram seem to be mainly populated by dirty hipsters with vain and naive notions of artistry; it's just downhill from there. Some of my friends, who may be more internet-savvy than me, swear by Reddit and 4Chan, but I find both sites' navigation and format un-intuitive and their 'online community' to consist of people I do not really want to associate. I'll be honest - although I've posted on many a forum in my time, I have never felt part of any kind of community in the sense that beyond the practical exchange of information I did not feel any bond of kinship that made me cherish the website not for the purpose it served but for the people who posted it on it. I do believe in online communities as actual communities, though; I'm not just interested in being a part of one. I've got too many communities to deal with in 'meatspace' already.

Phil Wiebe said...

I acknowledge the power value of social capital, but I am not really a social capitalist in the way of actively looking to increase my social capital. I imagine my social capital is fairly low since I have tendencies to reclusion and have always been fairly selective about the people I spend time with; I prefer bonding capital over bridging capital so much that I put almost no effort into bridging capital. I currently have 114 Facebook friends - if I quit Facebook, my social capital would necessarily diminish according to the empirical research in the article, and I would also perceive some of this loss in my social life because I do use Facebook fairly frequently to communicate with the people that matter in some capacity. On a practical level, Push Select maintains a private page where we pitch ideas at each other, my tabletop RPG playing circle has a page to coordinate where and what we will play every week, and I send files and important notifications to people over Facebook messages occassionally. On the personal level, I frequently chat with friends on Facebook and will comment on statuses or pictures that strike my fancy. I am more of a lurker though as I do not often post content of my own. So, yes, online communities do make it easier to maintain connections with people.

I agree with the findings (holy charts, Batman!); I have never known anyone who friended someone on Facebook that they did not already know in person. Facebook seems to be used not to enlarge a social network but to enhance it.