Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Post 9: Facebook

One theory of interaction says that "action discloses the 'who'” - that is, even when we interact with old friends, we still can find out unique, surprising, and exciting things about them. To what extent do you believe Facebook "discloses the who"? If Facebook already discloses everything, or if you believe that it hides the “real” person, what consequence does that have for our interpersonal interactions off-line?

Note: If you don’t use Facebook discuss a similar social networking system you are familiar with.


_ said...

This is my question, so I hope I'm not biasing any of your answers:

I don't think facebook discloses the "who" at all! Who a person really is cannot be summed up in an online profile. Let's look at an example:

A relationship status on facebook. If you choose to list a relationship status, you can be Single, In a Relationship, Engaged, Married. That discloses the "who," right? That's what your friends know about you, right?

Wrong! Your friends - the people you have real interaction with - know whether you're in a relationship (but looking), single (but not really), or whatever else is actually going on in the life. To the extent that Facebook tries to mirror it, it fails.

Proving it with relationships is easy. (I think I remember Andrea telling me about pranking people with her "Married" status the other month.) But the same thing goes with religion, interests, favorite music, and so on. What are you really like? The people that you actually interact with off-line know the best. Am I just a Sunday-morning Christian? Do I pretend to like football just because someone else likes it, too? Did I add "Michael Buble" to my favorite music list, even though I've never heard him before?

I think we implicitly believe that facebook already discloses the who, and it does so online.

So, why bother getting to know people offline? Especially if we already know everything about them?

This bit from the nerd comic XKCD is clearly hyperbolic, but shows one of the consequences of a complete disclosure of the "who."

What do you talk about if you already know "everything" about someone?

Etse Sikanku said...

This is an interesting topic. It is obvious that social networking sites cannot take the place of personal relationships. I have lost faith in the ability of technology to replace inter personal networks. The increasing use of such networks such as facebook is an inevitable consequence of this technological generation but the enduring question has been to what extent will that affect social relationships?

For long distance friendships or relations i think social networking sites serve a good purpose. One cannot deny the usefulness of facebook in helping to keep in touch with friends you haven't seen for ages or relatives who live a very long distance away. Even then there's always the urge to see them physically.

Social networking sites therefore do not replace the urge to meet physically. To an extent it rather fans that urge to really see someone physically and you often find people saying “we should meet sometime soon” or “when are we going to meet again?” So if networking did such a good job why the clamor for personal meetings? At best they compliment existing relationships. At worst they perpetuate the quest to meet in person.

Melissa said...

I hate Facebook...

But anyway, the topic.

Facebook and any other type of virtual network can never and will never be able to replace that of real interpersonal relationships.

You can read as much as you want about a friend online, but you may not be getting (a) truthful information and (b) all the information. The info provided via profiles on Facebook are basic. It doesn't have fields for favorite restaurants, foods, places, etc. and it doesn't have anything to describe you as a person (physical or disposition). So there's always something to learn.

Facebook does not disclose the "who." To disclose the real "who" we have to use our real senses: sight, smell, taste (well, maybe not that one), touch, hear.

titun said...

I do agree on the first comment as to what we disclose on these social network sites, is not really “who we are”, and as the famous cartoon of a dog sitting in front of the computer quotes; No one can tell we are dogs, explains the entire online networking authenticity. I use orkut as my social networking site to keep in touch with friends, but am bombarded every day with anonymous friendly invitations of – Do you accept Mr. X as your friend? If I am interested in their interests and/or appearance, I can simply click a “add to friends” button, thus sending a request out to that person, and he or she can either accept or decline the invite. By displaying my dating status enables people to set up dates. There are many people who go on dates and even develop a “long lasting relationship” with someone because of the online self description, which again question the validity of self. We spend hours in a virtual world where the people of the pages we are browsing or simply reading about are people we don’t even know, and it takes time away from actual socializing. By browsing these pages, we become so absorbed into a virtual world that we become disconnected from reality. People try to gather the most friends on their list to look popular. The physical contact and presence of being with a friend thus fades, and we slowly become disconnected with reality. The way I see these sites is that it gives me a set of tools for identifying myself the way I want my image to be out there; It does not have to be my real self, only my glorified version of it.

Andrea said...

Clearly, Facebook isn't doing what it claims. We aren't really learning much at all about the people we are or aren't that close with. Just as Samuel notes in his examples, the new favorite TV shows, songs, websites, and relationship status aren't who we ARE.

If we define ourselves simply by the people we date, the shows we watch, or the websites we look at, then we're doing a disservice to ourselves. And we're doing our friends a disservice too if we think we can keep them "informed" of our lives simply by having them look at our profiles online. Unless you're talking, seeing, touching, or listening to your friends, you might as well delete your profile (and my profile included), because true interaction is failing to happen.

Like Dr. Bugeja noted, online isn't really "anywhere." We owe it to our friends and ourselves to keep things hands-on, by staying off-line.

Andrea said...

I like what Etse said about Facebook and individuals. That it "compliments existing relationships." I know my post earlier sounded a bit cynical, so I wanted to reaffirm that for many people Facebook means A LOT. They check it constantly because it serves as a connector for many small and large groups of friends to stay in touch daily, even hourly! Sitting in the reading room, I notice many students checking it regularly and for several minutes at a time, so the dedication to continue its use is certainly there.

So, at best, yes, its complimenting relationships, but these relationships existed before Facebook and will likely continue long afterward. So, Facebook is simply an addition to what's already there.

Daniela Dimitrova said...

Great discussion so far!

And the big technology news of the day: Microsoft invests in Facebook:


Etse Sikanku said...

Thanks for the pretty ‘hot’ news Dr D.

“If we define ourselves simply by the people we date, the shows we watch, or the websites we look at, then we're doing a disservice to ourselves.” (Andrea, 2007)

Great quote Andrea. You’ve hit the nail right on the head. You know, I remember the sociologists have something called the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ concept by Herbet Mead. Mead had argued that what people reflect on the outside is always different from the real self. The ‘I’ refers to what the person portrays outside whiles the ‘me’ refers to the “individual true self.”

Despite his intellectual prowess Mead might never have thought of facebook when he ironed out his theory. But several decades after he propounded it no other concept in this technological age confirms his idea as well as social networking sites such as facebook.

As alluded to by several of us, the facebook profile is hardly ever the real ‘self’. It is the ‘I’—what we want the world to know. According to Mead “existence in community comes before individual consciousnesses.” How true.

Back to the big news of Microsoft’s investment in facebook. This always looked like it was going to be. It is quite interesting how things play out between these big corporations and owners of sites such as facebook and MySpace. It reminds me of one of Dr. Bugeja’s last words when he came to class: ‘money’.

What caught my attention about this article was when they reported that “… trying to reap too much out of sites like these, which can lose popularity as quickly as they gained it, is a challenge…”

I think this is a foreseeable development. I’m already off facebook (for some unavoidable reasons) but only for a while. I know some people who have cancelled their accounts ever since facebook went global. Others might follow. Some may never come back. I can’t wait to see what happens to all these social networking ideas in the future.

Melissa said...

"I think these things are going to have some legs, and yet there's a faddishness, a faddish nature about anything that basically appeals to younger people," Ballmer told England's Times Online in an Oct. 2 article. "There can't be any more deep technology in Facebook than what dozens of people could write in a couple of years. That's for sure."

I just love that last comment.

tammy said...

I like how Titun says it…we become so absorbed into a virtual world that we become disconnected from reality…I think one of the dangers of facebook type relationships is that they are so noncommittal. By this I mean that real relationships are hard work. There are typically tensions and misunderstandings, a constant give and take, and a real risk of rejection. But these are also the qualities that make real relationships so rewarding.
I think in the facebook reality we can fool ourselves into believing we are in relationship with people without putting any of the hard work into it. Therefore these “relationships” will leave us feeling empty. The danger is that we may continue to gravitate to the virtual relationships, because it is earlier than dealing with the difficulties of real relationships, and never really experience the full reward of being in a relationship.

tammy said...

I don’t think facebook shares the “who” at all. It may share the “who I want to be” or the “who you want me to be” but a real person is far too complex to really divulge on a medium such as this. I think these sites are contributing to less meaningful interaction in real relationships.

_ said...

How about this comment from "The Image" - a 1961 book by media scholar and Librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstin: "...it reveals a naive take-it-or-leave-it mentality that is at one with the oversubtlety and indirectness of all our thinking about our relations to other peoples. In our popularity game we ask the world not, "Do you like me?" but, "Do you like my shadow?"

Facebook, like all fabrications, gives us the ultimate power to make shadows of ourselves. There are plenty of things about ourselves which we can turn into simulacra (we'll be re-reading Baudrillard before next week), but, like all the shadows in Plato's cave, there's still something real behind it all.

Melissa said...

An article on Facebook addiction appeared in the Daily today. Here's the link...


Melissa said...

And another about Facebook being a social network for stalkers.


Xiaomin Qian said...

Because I have no facebook account, I'd like to talk about Myspace instead.

I think Myspace helps little to "disclose the who". Although lots of users provide their personal files in Myspace, putting on pictures and electric diaries. How much of them are real and can be trusted? How much of them really reflect the personality of its owner?

Here are several examples. Some prudential friends of mine never put any files related to their personal information on their Myspace. The pictures on their space are all natural views or animals. You can't deeply know this person only from the space. Contrarily, you may get wrong understanding. One of my male friends pretended to be a female on Myspace. He said that can attract more people to visit his space. In addition, people usually tend to show a good side to others unconsciously or consciously. What they showed on Myspace has been edited. It hide another side of people's personalities.

Myspace gives a way to interact with people besides telephone, instant messaging software and face-to-face. In a certain perspective, it encourages people to deep communicate in a face to face way. For example, I am interested in the content of my friend's Myspace. I will chat with her on the topic. Myspace connects friends living in a long distance geographical location. I always check my collegemates' space to see how are they doing now.

When I was in college, QQ (a kind of instant messaging software, similar to MSN) spreaded in campus. Almost every student used it chatting online. Once they met strangers and have the same habit or topics, they would arrange a time to meet each other off-line. It was very popular to meet online friends. I think Myspace has the same function like QQ.

Erin O'Gara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erin O'Gara said...

This is so interesting, I love what everyone is writing! I completely agree that any form of technology will NEVER take the place of one-on-one interaction, but I do think that (to some extent) Facebook does reveal a little of the "who"... only to the extent that you allow it to, though.

I agree that if you put a lot of information or applications on your profile, the people who don't know you as well really have no way of knowing if that information is really true about you or not. However, I really don't see this as that much different than before you get to know someone well in-person. You may be friends with someone for a while before you know their top-10 list of favorite movies, simply because it might not come up. Facebook doesn't make this relationship stronger, faster because it discloses this information, but I don't think that it really serves a deceptive purpose if that information is false, either. I understand that to some extent, you can put whatever you want online to create the "you" that you want to be. However, this can only go so far... I can change my favorite movies or music, the groups I'm in, my political beliefs, etc., but I can't claim that I'm a model who is currently attending Harvard Law School... anyone who takes one look at my pictures or network could quickly see that my information is completely false.

It may not be the best example, but when I had everyone look up the profiles of people in political offices, several of you identified profiles that you could recognize as untrue. Usually, you don't become "Facebook friends" with someone until you have some sort of relationship with that person in real-life. If you can recognize that something isn't right with a profile of a politician that you may have never met, I think it is completely possible to recognize inconsistencies on a profile of someone you have some sort of actual connection to.

I know I'm straying a little, but I think that if nothing else, the use of online dating sites, (E-Harmony, Match.com, etc.) shows that in general, people must trust you to put accurate information about yourself online, even though (at least for a while) people wouldn't know if it wasn't true. In both the example of the online dating sites and Facebook, if you actually expect any form of "real" friendship or relationship to start because of the information you put on your profile, you had better be honest about what you put on there.

I don't think that you can really get to know someone through the use of Facebook alone - but on the other hand, I don't think that people disclose so much false information that it actually hurts the process either. You might be able to change or fabricate things about yourself to become a cooler, more interesting "you", but if you really want to go that far, what's stopping you from lying about these same things to people you actually meet?

Scott Schrage -- Program Assistant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Schrage -- Program Assistant said...

I cannot argue with the fact that Facebook (and other networking sites) will never capture the subtleties of individuals and their relationships, much as some might want them to. At the same time -- as has already been well established -- many are not looking for this when they venture over the digital threshhold.

However, it seems to me that you get from Facebook what you invest in it. If you are the sort to spend hours at a time tailoring the profile to your exact specifications -- and digitally interacting with those who do the same -- you may well feel that it reflects your personality far more clearly than one who simply includes the most basic of information and rarely checks the site. Paradoxically, those who spend the most time and effort in crafting their profiles might also be those least able to project their personalities in interpersonal interactions -- that is, they have taken for granted the "summarized self-portrait" provided by such sites, slowly forgetting the social norms involved in verbally sharing and receiving the information that forges healthy, stable relationships.

While the shortcomings of Facebook are readily apparent, it is worth noting that the site DOES provide a great deal of information about the user. I am not speaking of the interests, relationships, religious or political orientations that one may post on the site. Rather, I believe that the way in which one uses the site says far more about the person than the more overt signatures ever could. Stating that you are married to your best friend, or posting innocuous messages on their wall, or divulging an in-depth political philosophy via an on-line note -- the actions themselves say as much (if not more) about a person than the actual content.

Clearly, this has not been the advertised mission of the site. Yet, whether we realize it or not, we are taking these impressions from each profile that we examine. It could also be argued that these impressions are more important than the details, for they are typically longer-lasting, far more likely to be remembered than a person's favorite album, their worldly travel destinations, or their inclusion in "How Many Touchdowns Does it Take to Beat the Hawkeyes?" The social and psychological underpinnings of what is shared might well be the aspects of a profile that we most commonly take away from our brief adventure into a person's digital universe. If this is the case, then perhaps we should give a second thought as to the usefulness of these sites.

Scott Schrage -- Program Assistant said...

I like the fact that Melissa pointed out the value of using our senses in order to determine who a person truly is. Of course, this begs an interesting question: If networking technologies continue to advance to the point of approaching face-to-face interaction, how close might they come to mirroring the more in-depth aspects of such interactions, and they value we attach to them?

_ said...

Erin's post brings up a possible problem in my argument about social networking disclosing the who. Specifically -- how much of the "who" is actually being disclosed?

If you trust online networks to selectively disclose the who, then you need some other way to finish doing that -- namely, an offline interaction. As an example, how many people do you see getting married based solely on what an online matchmaker has said?

Xiaomin Qian said...

I restrict my Myspace or blog only opening to my friends and classmates. They have already known me in the real world. I think that my Myspace or blog provides another place besides face-to-face to they to approach me. In this point, Myspace did help they disclose who I am. But I think this restricts to people who have known each other in the real world. For those who want to understand a person only through internet, it is impossible.

Eva said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eva said...

Hi, guys. 
I am a new in facebook. I built mine for curiosity, “why people always mention it?”, “is it interesting”? But actually I don’t find much fun there yet, and I hate to watch piles of things jammed in one page. It makes me dazed. Why is it so popular? Could someone point it out? Or what’s your biggest interested in facebook?

For me, there is little impact from facebook. Files and lists are true; photos are true, though I will pick up some satisfied photos. It is me, but just some part of me, which have been decorated and considered before exposure. I think the author of facebook disclose the things what he/she wants us to know. The “us” in facebook is built on reality, and furnished with some purposes.

But when it comes to the effect on relationship, I consider there is nothing different. In the real world, aren’t we show more decorated face to others? Are you the “real” person when you talking to your friends? Aren’t you hiding some facet of you? And why we worry about interaction when facebook “disclose” too much? If there is no facebook, things will not turn back. It’s not it changed, it’s us change. Make an analogy in a relationship, if your boyfriend/girlfriend breaks up with you because he/she falls in love with another guy, who will you blame for? The facebook is like another guy.