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Facebook Friending

danah boyd writes in an article entitled “Facebook’s Privacy Trainwreck: Exposure, Invasion, and Social Convergence”,

“In June 2006, a group of sociologists argued that Americans have fewer friends now than they did 20 years ago (McPherson et al., 2006). This made me wonder whether social media might be detrimental to friendship maintenance. If social information is easily available, it seems natural that people would tune in. Yet, if social information is the human equivalent of grooming, what happens when a computer provides that information asynchronously without demanding reciprocity? This conundrum pre-dates the internet. Over the last century, celebrity gossip rags have made it much easier to obsessively follow the details of celebrities’ lives, or at least those published for enquiring minds that want to know. Just because I can follow every detail of Angelina Jolie’s life does not mean that she knows that I exist. Furthermore, she has absolutely no reason to respond to me when I ask for her support.

Strangers and celebrities are one thing, but what about acquaintances and other weak ties? Studies of email have shown that the internet helps people maintain both strong and weak ties by making ongoing communication easy (Boase and Wellman,2006). Does the same argument hold when it comes to social media that allow people to follow in lieu of reciprocal communication? My hunch is that the stream of social information gives people a fake sense of intimacy with others that they do not really know that well. If this is true, it could be emotionally devastating.”

 

"If social information is the human equivalent of grooming, what happens when a computer provides that information asynchronously without demanding reciprocity?"
“If social information is the human equivalent of grooming, what happens when a computer provides that information asynchronously without demanding reciprocity?”

 

 

danah boyd is right on with this point, and I think it is a fundamental assumption made by many today that, with the advent of social networking as such a significant force in the lives of people in general and youth in particular, is very important for people to realize and deal with.  So many friendships are tended through some kind of social networking site, and these forms of media become the grid through which these relationships pass. 

As these relationships pass through this grid, the computer provides personal information about someone else (or a lot of someones) and feeds it to the user.  This can definitely have the effect of bringing a certain degree of emotional connection without any reciprocation: exactly the same effect as following a celebrity in the tabloids. 

I think that the implications of social networking on relationships is just beginning to be understood.  

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