These are just the beginnings of some notes and explorations about the topic of Social Networking Software and websites. I welcome comments.
I’ve been playing around with Facebook lately, and have an account there – an “identity” if you will (as myself – Eric Platt) . I’ve gotten some messages from friends and family, and notices via email that someone wants to add me a s a “friend”.
But it’s a strange kind of socializing, if you want to call it that. What is it about? People update their “Status Updates” with what they made for lunch or what kind of tea they drank. My question is, who cares? If they do care, why? I exchange messages with people, yet I could do that via email. I prefer to use it to mention projects I’m working on.
Is it real community? A symptom, or a cure of what ails us?
It’s ironic that I’m writing about social networking software sites via a blog – yet another way of trying to connect with people via computer networks and software. Of course, people have been doing social networking with computers for decades: using email and Usenet. What’s the difference?
I asked a friend of mine, who is not a computer person but very social and has used FaceBook, her impression of the social networking website phenomenon. For one thing, she mentioned that the difference from email and such is that you have visuals.
Speaking of visuals, Flickr, the photo sharing site, is also a kind of social networking site. People share their photos, make comments on each other’s photos, interconnect their accounts from this and other social networking sites, and so forth. It has some of that same cutesy, trendy concept and design. I tried used Flickr a little, again at the urging of an acquaintance, and found the interface frustrating. If I was going to represent myself as a photographer and as a person through time (a photo journal as it were) on their site to other people, I wanted to have a large collection of my photos online, and that was just too onerous a project, given the awkwardness of the uploading, tagging, organizing etc. via their interface, and the fact that I’d have to go through 7 years of photos and find the relevant ones and re-size/process them for Flickr’s site. Who has the time? A friend of mine that does night photography, has a very high output level of photographs, and has published a couple of books on the subject, uses Flickr as a kind of testbed to see what people’s reactions are. It’s a marketing tool, both for feedback, to get his name out there more, and connect with other people that he knows or doesn’t. I can understand how for him it has a function. For me, I’m not quite so sure, yet.
Another interesting observation my friend made, that I also noticed, was that people do it to show how popular they are. Why show how many friends you have (a feature of Facebook)? Is it the Same Old Game? In other words, stupid social status popularity contests like in high school? On the plus side, she thought it would be a way to see what friend has what friend, or could be a way to connect with a friend of a friend. You could possibly find people with similar interests, or who you’ve emailed with in the past. Kind of scary though that all these people from the past show up in the “Friend Finder”.
I also took a look at Twitter, where people post what they are doing moment to moment almost, but it seemed pointless to me. I think it’s really more for high schoolers (if not younger) laying on their beds with the iBooks and cells phones their parents gave them. The graphic design would seem to reflect that.
Business people are noticing though – if there’s a trend, there’s a market, right? The other night I noticed an ad on the sidebar of Facebook. It was for a new social networking site “for adults”. It’s called teebeedee, and is marketed towards those over 40. I found an article about it entitled “TeeBeeDee – Social Networking For Baby Boomers” at Business Pundit. The founder, a successful businesswoman already “realized that her generation is very different than previous generations, and that they needed a way to connect, talk, and learn about the things that were important to them.” Now, it doesn’t seem to me it’s strictly for “baby boomers” – I’m 48, and don’t consider myself a boomer – but I get the point: us “old people” just can’t relate to Twitter, Facebook etc. We don’t “get it”. I will probably sign up, just to explore it, and report back to you…
Speaking of ads, let’s be honest here – these are businesses we are talking about, and some of them make serious money.
My friend also suggested that these types of sites prey on people’s loneliness and boredom.
Does it replace real life socializing and being out in nature? There is another site, called Second Life, that’s even stranger and scarier. A programmer friend told me about it. She thought it was so great and wanted me to get involved in it. She is someone that seems to spend all her time at her computer, seemed reluctant to meet people in real life, being an introverted type (who’d had some painful experiences in the past) especially if it was strangers. You can build things, sell things, all in a 3-D virtual world … but why?
The other comment my observant friend made about social networking software was “Why are so many people so lost?” Of course, the theme of “alienation” has been in the culture for a very long time. I remember an acquaintance years ago (she was 17 at the time, but very bright), in relation to Instant Messaging, said that she thought technology actually separated people more than it brought them together. So it is ironic that we are trying to bridge the gap with software. Is it working?
These activities, or ways of being, are what I would call, from my psycho-spiritual studies “Mind-oriented”. It’s why computer dating doesn’t work very often. An image you have in your mind of someone is not the real person. It is a projection. When mental life and reality collide, there is disharmony, pain, even violence.
But these new forms of electronic social networking can have their benefit. You can see what people are doing – if they post something of substance – or experiencing. Perhaps the question to ask is, how much to you expect to get from it – photos of someone’s vacation, or a sense of real connection?
I also am concerned about privacy issues, but will save that for another day…