Social Context

It was peer pressure. My gateway drug — the Internet. More precisely, email — that electronic conduit whereby I received numerous invitations to join Facebook.

For weeks I resisted. But I began to feel anti-social, the more I held the invitations at bay. And I like to work a room. Why not virtually?

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According to comScore, an Internet market research firm, Facebook is the leading social networking site based on monthly unique visitors, having overtaken main competitor MySpace in April 2008. comScore reports that Facebook attracted 132.1 million unique visitors in June 2008, compared to MySpace, which attracted 117.6 million.

How individuals use and interact with Facebook is a matter of personality; philosophy; online persona; technical proficiency and personal notions of privacy. For the voyeur, the News Feeds and Status Updates (two Facebook features) make observing the actions, opinions, thoughts and emotions of one’s “friends” as accessible as fireworks on the fourth of July — provided you’ve been “friended” adequately.

Like fireworks, some news feeds and status updates leave more of an impression than others. The looming query on Facebook: “What are you doing right now?” When the medium was new to me, the question was an affront to my sense of privacy. Why advertise the minutiae of my life to my “friends”?

It is fair to ask: Why the careful placement of quotations around friend in the context of an essay about Facebook? A few reasons:

I cannot count on every one of my Facebook “friends” to care about what I post.
Confidentiality on Facebook is an oxymoron.
Some of the people I’ve “friended” I know remotely (in the case of one person — she was recommended by a college friend).
Some of my “friends” are relatives.

I’ve spurned a few individuals; recently, to protect myself from a certifiable weirdo — made all the more convincing by a crass message he sent to my Facebook inbox. Michael Jackson, it seems, has some competition.

To date, I’ve ignored two “friend” requests. For me, having “friends” in common is not a good enough reason to add an individual to my Facebook “friendship” network. No matter how good-looking they may be.

Despite my best urging, some of my Facebook “friends” have opted not to post a profile picture. What’s in a face? Apparently, not nearly enough.

Recently, I changed my relationship status from “In a relationship” to “Engaged.” The congratulations I received on Facebook were plentiful — a boost to my sense of how things should be irrespective of sexual preference.

“Friendships” require work. Facebook is no exception. Keeping up, maintaining one’s online persona demands a willingness to interact in imaginative, representational, nostalgic and political (depending) ways. The snowball wars I’ve been participating in lately are one example. They are all but political. Otherwise, calling upon the imagination (real snow falls from the sky), snowball images (representation) and childhood memories (nostalgia) of urban snowball fights where I fought back, despite the odds (two-handed snowballs are easier to form).

A registered Independent for many years, having no allegiance to one particular political party, my Facebook profile reflects this. Many of my “friends” identify as left or left of left. What can I do? Politics is a pendulum.

One group I joined recently is Lexicon which aggregates and analyzes millions of Facebook Wall posts every day to provide a searchable database of trends over time. Too Big Brother for some I suppose but the anthropological possibilities resonate with me.

Meanwhile, this just in:

Betsy is “channeling Marilyn Monroe.”

2 comments:

  1. Good article! 8) I capitulated to the many join requests in late August of '08 and find the FB experience to be incredibly interesting and certainly worthy of study, analysis and synthesis. As one of your "friends," I look forward to reading more of your ruminations over the coming months -- as does Betsy, I'm sure!

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  2. Time to update your "Status." Julie is ???????

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