Is Online Social Networking Changing the Way People Relate to Each Other?
Guest Contributor

08 July 2009

Greetings.  My name is Malcolm Parks and I'll be joining John and Ken to discuss this topic at an event at Pacific University on April 17th.  I'm a communication researcher at the University of Washington, where I've been looking into online and offline social networks and relationships for some time.

Facebook, now the world's largest online social networking site, enrolled its 200 millionth member earlier this month.  Sites like Facebook, MySpace, Hi5, Orkut, Twitter, and many others have become so successful that we forget they are all less than 5-6 years old.  It's far too soon to have definitive answers, but we do know social networking sites (SNS) raise some intriguing questions about the nature of social relationships and how it might be changing.  Here are a few ideas to get us thinking...

Does Facebook Change the Way People Relate to Each Other?   When researchers like me think about the social impact of communication technologies like Facebook, we try to look beyond simple things like saving time or money.  Instead we ask four questions about SNS like Facebook and MySpace: 

Too soon to know for sure, but here are some of the things we might consider.  Right off the top, let's ask what it means to be a "friend" in an online setting like Facebook.  Research shows that most people list 2-20 friends in offline settings.  But the average number of "Facebook friends" is typically 300-500.  So who are all these people?  Acquaintances?  Friends of friends?  Lapsed friends? 

Thanks to everything from personal profiles to google searches, it is possible to learn more about people before first meeting them.  Some have suggested that this might make us more critical-- more quickly sorting down to those few people who match some preset criterion.  Perhaps we harshly winnow out people who might be turn out to be more interesting if they had more of a chance.  Also, SNS make others' social connections more clearly visible to us than ever before.  What is the impact of that?  Does the old adage about judging people by the company they keep take on extra weight?  We think it might.  We also think that discovering that your friends have friends who belong to groups you don't like might have an impact on how prejudiced your are.  If nothing else, SNS and the internet generally have greatly increased contact among members of extended families (yes, that's right-- the net is pro-family!).  It also greatly increases access to social support for people dealing with diseases or difficult life changes. 

Does Facebook Change What it Means to "Know" Someone?  This is one of the more engaging questions for me-- and one that confronts us with basic philosophical questions about what we mean when we say we know another person.  Is "knowing" just having information about others?  If so, what kinds of information have the greatest knowledge value?  Or does true "knowing" unfold in a process of mutual revelation?  If so, does having all that additional information from someone's Facebook profile disrupt the process or does it just mean that we start farther along?  And what about the information itself?  Deception is a universal human behavior, but the internet makes it easier than ever to craft the image one wishes others to have.  So do we have more "information" but less real knowledge of others?  Are we beginning to assume that all online presentations are somewhat deceptive or, putting a less judgmental spin on it, playful or ironic?  These are important questions, but there are two more subtle questions that also interest me.  When so much information about us is public, what remains of the private or personal?  I'm always surprised that people don't worry more about all the personal information they put up online.  Finally, shouldn't we be worrying at least a little about the fact that Facebook and MySpace and many other SNS encourage us to describe ourselves in terms of standardized categories?  Are we commodifying ourselves?  Maybe we always have, but I'm particularly concerned when I see MySpace users present themselves in terms of product logos and symbols.  Do I really "know" you if I know what products and services you consume?  If so, what does that say about the nature of what we have become?

Good stuff to think about.  I'm looking forward to hearing what others think about these questions. 

Comments (13)


Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, July 9, 2009 -- 5:00 PM

Hmm, did you say April 17? That's quite a bit down

Hmm, did you say April 17? That's quite a bit down the line. At any rate, I just crossposted this column on FB, wondering what my "friends" will think (I have 921 of 'em...).
One question: why is it that finding out through a SNS who your friends associate with increases your prejudice? Could that information not actually be an important reflection of a person's traits that I may have missed otherwise, and which may lower the esteem I have for that person? Just some food for further thought.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 -- 5:00 PM

While i was reading down the post and I was hoping

While i was reading down the post and I was hoping some sort of answer :D Anyway the questions are what impulse us.
By the way this is the first time I stumpple this blog and at a glance I see you can really improve the comments form, mainly by allowing to post whithout living the pòst.
Cheers

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, July 25, 2009 -- 5:00 PM

Hi! I find this subject really pertinent to my li

Hi!
I find this subject really pertinent to my life. In 1997 I created my first "personal website" (some kind of ancestor to Facebook) at the age of 11. Ever since then I've been involved in socializing electronically. I had friends both online and off (not necessarily the same folks) until I fell into a social scene of people more similar to myself who did spend time with each other away from computers, but also did a lot of back-and-forth on online forums and blogs. These are people who are very much still in my life now almost 10 years later, and we all continue to write online and socialize out in the "real world".
Isn't it tricky to philosophize about something while being in the midst of it? I'm glad other people out there are having discussions, because it's such a personal thing to me at this moment that I don't know how to objectively talk about it!
But I do think that interacting via online personas does involve some amount of fantasy play--filling in gaps within people's personalities that don't necessarily get filled out via day-to-day interaction. Then again people could very well do this without the use of the internet or social networking tools. Hmm
Thanks for the Wicked Radio Shows!
-Silvi

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 -- 5:00 PM

I think that social networking has managed to chan

I think that social networking has managed to change the way interact and relate with one another. It has become a medium of communication that has unprecedented potential, both positively and negatively. What I'm wondering about is if this is merely a new medium for interpersonal relations, or if this is a new form of it entirely.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, August 2, 2009 -- 5:00 PM

It is definitely a change for one another to know

It is definitely a change for one another to know things about each other prior to ever even meeting for the first time.
Additionally, it is also a change that one can so easily represent themselves via textual descriptions however they want to. This also opens the door for possible deception.
Finally the point about putting so much information in a public forum where it can easily be saved in some server farm or on someone's hard disk is a bit unnerving for people who care at all about privacy.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, August 20, 2009 -- 5:00 PM

Friends Complete Series 1-10 Collection DVD Box Se

Friends Complete Series 1-10 Collection DVD Box Set (40 dvds),a sitcom behemoth of the last 10 years, Friends shot out of the gate in 1994 with snappy writing and an attractive cast.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, August 22, 2009 -- 5:00 PM

Some interesting points here, but i feel the main

Some interesting points here, but i feel the main issues regarding this topic are the issues of identity, perception and community, none of which were really discussed in full here.
We all know that the info about ourselves will be used as useful marketing research for companies looking to market products etc...and whether this is a bad thing or not is kind of secondary, as far as i'm concerned, in regards to the important aspects of understanding why SN has become such a prominent aspect of our culture (and i say culture in the broadest sense as this is now a global issue).
Questions i am interested in with relation to this subject are:
1: How much of our true identities go into the construction of our SN (online/web) identities and to what extent are these identities a manipulation of perception in order to create a desired perception by others.
2: What are the true perceived reactions by others to these identities and how far are they removed from the original desire of the person?
4: (possibly the most metaphysical) Are SN identities an attempt to exist outside of the realms of 'real life' human mortality in an attempt to create an immortal self.
3: Is the popularity of SN a direct reaction to the break down of real life communities and if so what does this mean for the future of person to person relationships and communication?
Although i have opinions on these questions (and these are but a few of the questions i find interesting with regards to this subject) i would like to start a discussion based on these questions if anyone is interested???
Thanks
Simon.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, September 1, 2009 -- 5:00 PM

I actually just finished a project, producing a ph

I actually just finished a project, producing a philosophy based social network, where people can ask questions in exchange for philosophical answers for members. If anybody is interested it's called qphia - the quest for philosophical answers, and can be found at http://qphia.com

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, February 11, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Once again you fall fawnfully under the spell of t

Once again you fall fawnfully under the spell of the hard AI guys. Heed the mysterians! Read Roger Penrose! Enter the Chinese room! Ray Kurzweil is bunk. Experience great art and refute solipsism.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, February 13, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

There were some good questions you have put up, so

There were some good questions you have put up, some thing to think over. Are we commodifying ourselves? thats a brilliant question.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, April 27, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Though a funny stuff but it

Though a funny stuff but it needs several rounds of thought. Identifying oneself to some products or logos tells a great deal about one's mental state but it does not characterize one's personality. No doubt it shows how little we know about ourselves and our true potential as a human being. Regarding knowing someone by some information only is not a good idea though this is practically happening now in social media. It only signifies what we want others to know about us not about our true self.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, May 4, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Actually the intricacies of

Actually the intricacies of relationship is beyond the understanding of common man. People generally can't feel the cause behind their urge to relate to other. There are so many criteria and driving forces but they only act instinctively. Yes, social networking sites change the equation of relationship or how we relate to each other. But it is like exploring new possibility or horizon of human understanding of relation. Social media give the platform to perform relationship experiments and tomorrow we will be at a better position to define the basic question of society and that is about relationship.

 

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