Quickly peruse a profile and you know more about a potential acquaintance in a moment than you might have learned about a flesh-and-blood friend in a month. Are they crazy-religious, is their favorite quote from the Bible? Everyone takes great pains over presenting themselves.
Here are all the CDs in my collection. Here is a picture of my dog.
This kind of carelessness has provided fodder for many sensationalist news stories. Although not grounded in any particular local community, the imposter quickly gathered more than friends for his MySpace profile and began corresponding with several teenage girls. Although the girls claimed to be careful about the kind of information they posted online, when Dateline revealed that their new friend was actually an adult male who had figured out their names and where they lived, they were surprised. The danger posed by strangers who use social networking sites to prey on children is real; there have been several such cases.
This danger was highlighted in July when MySpace booted from its system 29, sex offenders who had signed up for memberships using their real names. There is no way of knowing how many sex offenders have MySpace accounts registered under fake names. There are also professional risks to putting too much information on social networking sites, just as for several years there have been career risks associated with personal homepages and blogs.
This is a quaintly Victorian notion of privacy, embracing the idea that individuals should be able to compartmentalize and parcel out parts of their personalities in different settings.
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It suggests that even behavior of a decidedly questionable or hypocritical bent the Victorian patriarch who also cavorts with prostitutes, for example, or the straight-A business major who posts picture of himself funneling beer on his MySpace page should be tolerated if appropriately segregated. These sites make certain kinds of connections easier, but because they are governed not by geography or community mores but by personal whim, they free users from the responsibilities that tend to come with membership in a community. This fundamentally changes the tenor of the relationships that form there, something best observed in the way social networks treat friendship.
In its traditional sense, friendship is a relationship which, broadly speaking, involves the sharing of mutual interests, reciprocity, trust, and the revelation of intimate details over time and within specific social and cultural contexts. Because friendship depends on mutual revelations that are concealed from the rest of the world, it can only flourish within the boundaries of privacy; the idea of public friendship is an oxymoron. Friendship on these sites focuses a great deal on collecting, managing, and ranking the people you know.
Everything about MySpace, for example, is designed to encourage users to gather as many friends as possible, as though friendship were philately.
This promotes a form of frantic friend procurement. There are even services like FriendFlood. The structure of social networking sites also encourages the bureaucratization of friendship. To be sure, we all rank our friends, albeit in unspoken and intuitive ways.
One friend might be a good companion for outings to movies or concerts; another might be someone with whom you socialize in professional settings; another might be the kind of person for whom you would drop everything if he needed help. But social networking sites allow us to rank our friends publicly.
And not only can we publicize our own preferences in people, but we can also peruse the favorites among our other acquaintances. We can learn all about the friends of our friends — often without having ever met them in person. Unlike the painted portraits that members of the middle class in a bygone era would commission to signal their elite status once they rose in society, social networking websites allow us to create status — not merely to commemorate the achievement of it.
But status-seeking has an ever-present partner: anxiety. They are the ultimate social currency, public declarations of the intimacy status of a relationship Every profile is a carefully planned media campaign. The sites themselves were designed to encourage this. Describing the work of B.
There's Nothing Like A Friend
What, in the end, does this pursuit of virtual status mean for community and friendship? Nichols is a small school whose students come largely from Connecticut and Massachusetts; many of them are the first members of their families to attend college. How have these sites been useful to Nichols students? So perhaps we should praise social networking websites for streamlining friendship the way e-mail streamlined correspondence. And that ease admittedly makes it possible to stay in contact with a wider circle of offline acquaintances than might have been possible in the era before Facebook.
But what kind of connections are these? They favor interaction of greater quantity but less quality. This constant connectivity concerns Len Harmon. What does a child weaned on Club Penguin learn about social interaction? How is an adolescent who spends her evenings managing her MySpace page different from a teenager who spends her night gossiping on the telephone to friends? The few studies that have emerged do not inspire confidence. The implications of the narcissistic and exhibitionistic tendencies of social networkers also cry out for further consideration.
There are opportunity costs when we spend so much time carefully grooming ourselves online. Given how much time we already devote to entertaining ourselves with technology, it is at least worth asking if the time we spend on social networking sites is well spent.
In investing so much energy into improving how we present ourselves online, are we missing chances to genuinely improve ourselves?
How Friendships Change in Adulthood
We should also take note of the trend toward giving up face-to-face for virtual contact — and, in some cases, a preference for the latter. Today, many of our cultural, social, and political interactions take place through eminently convenient technological surrogates — Why go to the bank if you can use the ATM? Like Verizon Media, our partners may also show you ads that they think match your interests.
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