In her article “Sociable Media,” Judith Donath discusses the advances of social media networking and the opportunities it has created for individuals to connect and communicate on a totally new level irrelevant of time and space but rather focusing on personal interests and an online identity. However, Donath concludes her paper by posing a number of questions. She notes that, “the network’s ability to connect us with more and more people may be infinite, but our attention is not.” Thus, we must ask ourselves – is our ever-expanding online community of “friends” destabilizing our physical relationships? “Are we replacing stronger ties with a greater number of weaker ties?” (Donath). Shawn Knight seems to think so, explaining that the reason he left Facebook was because he was overwhelmed with the expanding online community. In his article, “Why I Left Facebook After 7 Years, But Was Forced Back In,” Knight discusses how his interest in Spotify and watching boxing matches forced him to reopen his Facebook account.
Knight originally left Facebook after being an early adapter for the first seven years of the site’s existence. He grew overwhelmed with his ever expanding friend list and despite attempting to remove hundreds of friends from his Facebook page, he realized that checking the social media site for a couple of minutes every few hours was incredibly addicting. He describes a feeling of withdrawal upon first deleting his Facebook account: “I instinctively reached for my phone after waking up the first few days to check my news feed, getting as far as the “social” folder before realizing it was all for naught.” These withdrawal symptoms subsided, however they demonstrate two of Nancy K. Baym’s social discourses of new media technologies: technological determinism and social shaping (Personal Connections in the Digital Age).
Baym describes technological determinism as technology being “conceptualized as an external agent that acts upon and changes society” (Baym, 25). In Knight’s case, not only checking his phone first thing in the morning for Facebook updates become apart of his daily routine, it has shaped his morning and his behavior. He notes that whatever he would read on Facebook when he woke up contributed to his mood as he got out of bed. Certain things he read on the site upset him including “political rants, religious preaching, relationship drama and grammar that would disappoint a first-grade teacher” (Knight). In a society with 552 million daily active users, that’s a lot of cranky moods to deal with all because of a Facebook status or a photo comment.
The result of Knight’s behavior brings to mind Baym’s definition of another discourse – social shaping. She explain that, “the consequences of technology arise from a mix of “affordances” – the social capabilities technological qualities enable –and the unexpected and emergent ways that people make use of these affordances” (Baym, 44). Although Knight cancelled his account because his “addiction” to the website began to worry him, he was forced to reopen it for the sake of using his Spotify account and watching UFC matches which are streamed live on Facebook “before the main card airs through various television outlets” (Knight). In the example of social shaping, Knight fell victim to Facebook and was forced to create a dummy account in order to access other forms of entertainment online. It has become such that users of the Internet are no longer able to access certain websites without having a Facebook account that will connect them with whatever it is they are looking for.
Donath seems to think this is a good thing. She recalls that social media allows users to not only communicate beyond physical distance, but it saves us money, time and effort, to “maintain personal ties via email” rather than pay personal visits (Donath). Knight suggests that this large roster of contact names is impersonal and redundant. He doubts that “outside of a few close friends and family members… most of the 300+ people on [his] friends list will even notice [he’s] gone” if he deletes his Facebook account. He suggests that this act of carelessness and unnecessary social media ties demonstrate “how disconnected we all are in such a connected world (Knight).” Donath argues that, “for millions of people, mediated sociability will be with them at all times, no matter where they are or what they are doing.” This mediated sociability is the addictive behavior Knight mentioned in his morning routine. Donath notes that the “challenge for the field of sociable media is not simply to invent ever newer ways of communicating, but also to understand the social implications of ubiquitous and omnipresent communication media.”
While we figure out whether virtual or physical relationships are more important to us, we must also consider the implications social media websites have brought upon our day-to-day lives. Beyond becoming addicted to all of our technological gadgets to the point that we hit refresh on our keyboards compulsively to see if we have a new friend request to accept or a new picture to comment on, we must also think about what other entertainment we would be giving up along with cancelling our Facebook account and whether we are prepared to do so.
Note: I don’t know how to do trackbacks so I hyperlinked the articles I used in the blog post…