Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Personal in the Anonymity

What Facebook, Twitter and Co. can do to Personal Friendships

Postcard from PostSectret
Media experts have been debating for years whether traditional media, such as newspapers and books, are getting replaced by modern media devices, such as e-papers, e-books etc. It turns out what can apply to some devices, such as the Walkman which got replaced by the portable CD player first, and then the MP3 player, is not valid for every device. So what has long been expected by cultural anthropologists, did only come true in part, because not every device is being replaced automatically, once a new one hits the market.
We still read printed books and newspapers, while the CD player will probably be completely replaced by the MP3 or MP4 player at some point. So although people have changed, and will continue to change their consuming behaviors, someone who has been reading a printed copy of a newspaper, is not likely to change their ways about it and immediately cancel their subscription, because the e-paper version exists now. Indeed, a person who has subscribed to a printed paper version, is likely to still enjoy being able to hold the paper with one’s hands, listen to it's cracking noises with every turning page, and will still enjoy carrying their paper to work or elsewhere after browsing through it at the breakfast table. In short, new devices do not necessarily replace other traditional devices, but can contribute to changing consumer’s behavior, if the new version turns out to be more convenient than the existing one.
However, we are talking about materialistic things after all – one thing getting replaced by another thing. But, what happens if modern media phenomena reach way further into every day human behavior, and actually change people’s interaction, and dynamics of friendships and personal relationships. What happens when devices enable us to do social networking in anonymity?
Recently, I picked up a magazine with an article about “cyber jealousy,” while also coming across an article on Yahoo, which was supporting the fact that divorce rates have raised, because partners are finding out about their significant other’s affairs via their MySpace or Facebook site more often. Question is, what else does Social Media do with us?
Picture these scenarios: Hannah suddenly turns into an online stalker, and Jessy unfortunately has to view pictures of her Faince’s ex-girlfriend. Bob feels jealous, because Mindy has accepted another guy’s friend request, and Liz has actually uncovered an affair thanks to her husbands Facebook site. Users are suddenly confronted with situations that would have been avoided with real life interaction, or one-on-one communication. Jessy would have never seen pictures of her fiancĂ©’s ex, or Bob who is not jealous in real life, would have not felt threatened by written expressions. Bob, for the sake of his relationship, decided to un-friend his partner, so that he would stop going to her page.
Besides all these changed behavioral patterns we develop, another negative side effect of more social media interaction is, that we share information about ourselves with people we never met in real life, or barely know at all. What is dangerous is, that our online friends potentially create a picture of us, that might not be true to real life, or is only true in part. Maybe Mindy seems like a player on MySpace, but in real life is a shy person who is very dedicated to her relationship.
So even if online communication seems to enable us to being more communicative, it can actually accomplish the opposite. When friends used to call each other to talk, they now shoot short messages via their online network site or cell phones. In addition, one feels like one has to keep friends updated by changing online statuses, which takes away valuable time spent giving friends a phone call the old fashioned way. Is that why more people become depressed, due to the lack of face-to-face talks?
I remember when I first got on Facebook, I found it positive that I got to know people’s last names, many which I have known for years. So in a way, it completed that part for me. In addition, it helps me keep up with friends easily, if they choose to share pictures of their vacations and anniversaries, especially since I have friends in different cities, countries, and on different continents. But, did it really enable me to network and make business? Probably less so. And honestly, it is scary what kind of information we choose to put out there, or others choose to put out there for us. We are not even in control of it at times, because it’s our friends who post pictures of us from last weekend. It scares me how many “friends” my significant other has: 941 so far. I mean, can someone really KNOW 1000 people? So if I write on his wall, 941 people, majority of who I do not know, can read it, too. Do they really have to know what we have been up to last weekend?
I have made use of the privacy settings more and really try to separate acquaintances from friends, who only get to see one of my photo albums and have no access to my wall. More friends of mine decide to delete their Facebook page altogether, mostly yearning face-to-face interaction.
I really am curios where Social Media will continue to take us years from here, and am looking forward to reading extensively researched articles about it...
I have been getting annoyed by girls who decide to un-friend everyone who is associated with their ex, who then come back and be-friend you after healing time. What do I have to do with your break up anyway, shouldn't we stick together even beyond our friendships to guys...