What is a Friend?

What is a friend? (Sorry, impossible question to answer, I know!) My definition is simple: someone who will be there for me through the good and the bad. Others may say someone to hang out with or someone who you’ve known for a long period of time. Either way, we all have some version of a friend in our lives.

Googles Images pictures friends as:

(The whole scale thing is a lil creepy, but cute I guess?)

(They don’t appear too friendly…)

(Friendship revolving around working out! A foreign concept to me.)

Social network sites enable us to stay connected to these friends and give us the possibility to make new friends if so desired. In 2006, danah boyd wrote an article, titled Friends, Friendsters, and Myspace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites. Though a wonderful flashback to the days of my creeping around on Myspace, I found a major problem with her piece. What was this problem? The idea of “connecting” does not work today or with the most popular modern social network, Facebook. boyd, when analyzing Friendster and Myspace, wrote that many of their users were interested in amassing as many friends as possible. For example, Friendster “limits users from surfing to Profiles beyond four degrees (Friends of Friends of Friends of Friends)” (5) so one would desire to friend as many people as possible to see any many profiles as possible. It appears almost like a game: whoever can see the most profiles wins. Terms like “gateway Friends,” a Friend who would enable you to see a multitude of new profiles, or “collectors,” people who literally collected Friends, were created to describe this phenomenon. On Myspace, one could connect to bands, movie stars, politicians, and porn stars personally. Collecting these Friends could make one appear cool or hip and allow one too see their bulletins. So, basically, the affordances of these SNS’s allowed connecting to thrive.

Why is this not true today on Facebook? Is it because one cannot personally friend a band or a movie star, instead can only like their page? Is it because there are no restrictions created by the SNS itself over who can see what? Or is it because there are no such things as bulletins? These all may be accurate, but I find it is because people do not want to connect with those they do not know personally anymore. The Guardian’s article, Facebook and Twitter: the art of unfriending or unfollowing people, talks about a writer named Arlynn Presser, who went on an audit of her friends because she found herself asking,

“Seriously though, who are these people?”

Too many Friends creates “Friend clutter,” and that just ain’t good. Suddenly, having too many Friends is possible. Being popular isn’t necessarily a good thing anymore! So, boyd should (in my opinion) update her analysis because people find no joy in just collecting Friends anymore, a relationship needs to be involved. SNS’s are often used nowadays to simply stay connected to friends that one may have in the physical world.

But boyd’s piece does still hold some truth (obviously). “Friending as context creation” (13)  is still oh so true. Your Friends describe your own identity on social network sites. What friends choose to write as comments on your wall is our of your control, but reveal information about who you are. Though, as boyd’s piece says “it is not completely uncontrolled as people can reject Comments, delete Friends, and pressure Friends to write Comments…” (13) What others may see on your social media profile, including what your Friends say, gives them an impression of who you are. The Mashable article, Facebook Users Judge Attractiveness Based on Others’ Comments,” proves this point. Just look at the title and you will get the gist of the article. Material that is personally written, like Friend’s comments, are able to inform about a person better that what that person may put on her SNS herself. So, who your Friends are on Facebook, for example, do matter because what they may say about you does have some impact on what others think. So, why is this still true today, when the idea of collecting Friends may not be? There have always been comments or walls on popular SNS’s, like Myspace and Friendster, so this has been and may always be an issue.

boyd’s article has a powerful insight into the reasoning behind social networking sites, like Myspace and Friendster. Though it has only been six years since her article was written, that is a far amount of time in the social media world. Friendster is now defunct and Myspace is somewhat of a joke. With new popular social networking sites comes new practices behind them, and thus, new analyses have to be formed. Collecting Friends may no longer be popular, but the importance of Friends’ comments still are. Hey, in six years from now, in 2018, the ideas about social networks may be totally different again. Let’s just wait and see!

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2 comments

  1. I have to say that I disagree with you, to an extent, because I don’t believe that Facebook has eliminated the importance of collecting. Instead, I feel it has just caused a shift in what we are collecting. While we are on Facebook, we may not be looking to attain new friends as on previous social networking sites, but we are collecting something even more telling about ourselves – social capital.

    Furthermore, I’m curious as to what you think about collecting from the point of view of other social networking sites, where it seems one of the goals people have on websites like Twitter/Tumblr/etc is to collect the most followers, not to follow the most people. It almost seems selfish, we want people to pay attention to us, to listen to what we have to say, but we don’t want to pay these people the same respect. Do you think these changes in what we collect are a reflection of what is important to members of our modern society? If so, is this something we should be concerned about?

  2. Hmm, that is an interesting question. (I do not have a Tumblr at the moment, so I will answer with the example of Twitter.) It is very true that people would rather have more followers than those they follow. So, if I wanted to be pessimistic, I would say this shows a horrible trend in out society: the idea of popularity. Have we never escaped our middle school selves, obsessed with looking as cool as possible? It’s ridiculous that having more followers may reflect our self worth. Should we be concerned? I don’t know. I feel like this is a normal human trait (as sad as that might be) and social networking websites just showcase this, so we are able to see it more.

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