Posts Tagged ‘Orkut’
I believe I speak for quite a few, if not all of the people using this tool (and for those, not using it for that matter) that when we think, say or hear the word “Facebook” we think social networking. Other things we may think include keeping in touch, becoming friends, and so on.
However, is Facebook a technology that is purely a social network? Or is it a tool? In other words, is Facebook an alternate reality or is it a tool that boosts or complements the growth of social relationships: an extension of physical social reality? In the following article, I will aim to discuss the two ideas by taking into account a number of features of Facebook, drawing a conclusion.
How many of us randomly add people whose profiles we find interesting? This includes those people we consider “sad”, having no lives: Yes, those “franshippers” as the term has become common on Orkut (A Google Company).
A quick analysis reveals that with so many applications and widgets that add flavor to the service (the term is used loosely), it is indeed an alternate reality; a world within a world. Think about it: We talk to people, we play games, we look at photographs, buy/sell and/or trade, plan events and so on. With technology advancing so rapidly, minds becoming open to the idea of virtual reality in ways never dreamt of before, the list is perhaps endless. All those activities we perform in our daily physical lives, we are also able to perform such in the virtual world on Facebook.
Look at it the other way. Is Facebook really an alternate reality? A key feature of our non-virtual world is that at any point, we can talk to anyone whether or not we’ve previously met, we make inferences about individuals and from there, we decide whether we like them or not. We are introduced to new people through our friends and colleagues. All of this is not true on Facebook – well, for the most part anyway. A key feature on Facebook is limiting or blocking others from viewing profiles. In the real world, even if we do not want to talk to anyone or make friends with anyone, there is no mechanism that stops others from stalking us through our daily activities and making judgements.
When we go to a party or a meeting, we meet new people and before leaving we ask them, “Do you have Facebook?” I’m pretty sure quite a few of you reading this have done so. When we ask this, we are implying one of several things about our relationship:
I would like to stay in touch,” “I would like to get to know you more,” “I think we would make good friends,” and even, “I think we would make a good couple.”
What I am trying to demonstrate, then, is that Facebook is more of a social tool than society itself. It answers the key question in communication in everyday life, that Dalton Kehoe asks, “Who am I and who are you to me in this conversation” and “What happens next,” particularly the latter. It helps to further this relationship, which may not be more than mere accquaintancy.
To demonstrate this point further, let us take into account the Friend Request feature. When an individual “adds” another as his friend, a pop-in window opens asking to further define how we know an individual. Are the individuals family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, members of a group, or particularly, know each other through a third individual. This shows two things: Firstly, the term “friend” has a range of meanings. Secondly, it is an extension of physical social reality: we add individuals we have already had contact with in the past in various shapes or forms.
Facebook is also like a chronological catalogue. It records events and memories using the RSS feeds and the photo album. Not only so, it allows individuals to conduct discourse by commenting on photographs. All of this can also be done in the physical world, but there are limitations: as soon as a word is spoken, a statement made, it disappears into the ether. There is no visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory or olfactory records. The only records that exist are the ones stored in the brain – unless ofcourse a selection of tools are used to make formal records, such as video cameras, voice recorders, and type. This is what Facebook does, it makes these records exist through time and space, something more than just the short and long term memory of human beings. Facebook is essentially using new tools in a way in combination with old tools to make records. Therefore, it may be considered to complement methods of social recording.
While it is true that the “Profile” and “About Me” parts serve for new individuals to make inferences and judgements about a person they take a second look at, it also acts as a reference: from the least obvious such as what gifts to buy, to the most obvious such as the books one likes or dislikes, these sections allow for a friend to refer back to. Should we say this to such and such person? Will they take it well or will they get angry or upset? In context of the physical social reality, our judgements are based on past experiences with this individual, whether directly or indirectly, our references mostly coming from memory. Where two individuals meet, not all may be said about hobbies, likes and dislikes, it is noted that a lot more is said about oneself online, partly because we believe that no immediate judgment will be made, and more because we may not have to immediately react to these judgments. Then consider, is Facebook alternate reality, or an extension?
Let us now briefly look at the Marketplace. The Marketplace allows individuals to list items for sale or items one wants to purchase, or even trade. We do this in addition to letting our friends know about these developments or showcasing them in a store. This is exactly what is done on Facebook. The differences are that items are not physically existent, tangible and available for testing. There are on the other hand, photographs of the item, some of them showing the item in use. Just like these “items” are showcased in stores, so it is done online for an indefinite period. The difference is that the product is available to a much wider, global audience. Is Facebook then not an extension of social reality?
By now those reading this are wondering about, at the least, about the paragraph pertaining to the Marketplace. This is, according to me, more disputed than clear-cut in defining Facebook’s role. Listings may serve as an extension to business, but there is no discontinuity if the products are not displayed in stores or having friends informed about. On the other hand, items that are required (Willing to purchase, trade) are constantly existent, atleast visually in text and images. These stay solely in the back of the mind of potential customers and friends, otherwise.
With so many ideas, some perhaps disputed, how is the question about Facebook’s nature answered? How do we draw a conclusion that Facebook is a social universe that exists independently of physical society? How do we draw a conclusion that Facebook is an extension of physical social reality? The answer lies in individual human activity and approach. Each individual uses Facebook to a varying degree with varying ideas about what goals it will help them achieve. For an individual who finds it a burden to work without digital technology, Facebook is definitely an important tool (or rather, array of tools) for my day to day living. On the other hand, for those we call hermits, they form an entire different world where their personalities differ, almost as a mirror image online. For them, Facebook may be reality and not an extension to such. For the average user (and by average I do not mean mediocre), however, Facebook allows to accomplish certain tasks much more conveniently. Log on and leave a message on the wall or send a private message instead of calling on thep hone and leaving a message on voicemail. Or comment on photographs and previous events.
I believe the main difference between Facebook and physical social reality is the time lapse. In actuality, conversations are conducted spontaneously and immediately, whereas, even when both individuals of a conversation are online, there is still a time lapse between refreshing the page, waiting for a reply while the individual does something else. In ways this is painful. In a society where time means everything (including, but not limited to money), we have lost patience. On the other hand, it is convenient: we know that when the individual logs on, they will read the message and so we need not have the person physically present and have a live conversation. Thus, Facebook serves features that physical society does not yet allow us, acting as an extension to physical social reality.
I would really really appreciate some critical feedback on this. This work may be a bit superficial, so by all means, if there is anything you would like to add or refute, please do so.