Social Networking

Sunday, April 3, 2011
First Aired: 
Sunday, July 5, 2009

What Is It

From online bulletin boards at the dawn of the internet to the modern mammoths of Facebook and MySpace, people have used communications technology to associate in innovative ways.  How do our old-fashioned values fit in to our new digital playgrounds?  John and Ken network with Malcolm Parks from the University of Washington, author of Personal Relationships and Personal Networks, for a program recorded in front of a live audience at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.

Listening Notes

Does technology affect us or do we affect it?  Do internet social networking sites operate as a substitute for face-to-face contact?  How have sites like Facebook and Twitter changed how we conceive of and publicly present our identity?  These questions guide this edition of Philosophy Talk, where John and Ken are joined by a live audience and guest Malcolm Parks, Professor of Communications at the University of Washington.

John opens the show by relating his skepticism about social networking, describing his use of Facebook and its bizarre concept of friendship, where a “friend” might be someone you’ve never met.  What does friendship mean in this context?  How has social networking changed how casual friends, businesses and customers, lovers, and activists united in a cause relate to one another?  Malcolm Parks joins the conversation and suggests that these relationships are enhanced by the immediate connectivity social networking offers.

Ken proposes that social networking not only opens up new forms of social organization and connection, but also encourages new ways of thinking about who we are as people.  Social networking profiles, such as Facebook, operate as a theater for the public declaration of identity.  These sites give us unparalleled control over how we present ourselves publicly, and Ken argues that who we are is shaped is shaped by how we declare ourselves in such situations.  An audience member poses the question whether representing yourself as a certain identity makes you that person, further problematized by our ability to be multiple people online.

The conversation turns to how social networking undermines top-down structures of authority, such as peer-reviewed publications, by giving anyone with a computer and access to the internet the ability to connect with others and publish material.  While older forms of authority allow for quality-control and a degree of exclusivity, the dissemination of knowledge through social networking is competitive and dialectical but unmoderated and open to potential hazards such as trolling.  The show closes with the conclusion that social networking is reconfiguring the social world, for better or worse.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 6:42): April Dembosky interviews Bob Hyatt, a pastor at Evergreen Christian Community in Portland, Oregon, about his use of social networking sites to further religious fellowship.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (Seek to 49:22): Ian Sholes describes the linguistic phenomenon of Twitter.