Ah, the Great Battle: screams were heard and tears were shed. I remember. The day MySpace introduced “The Top 8.” It was anxiety inducing, like America’s Next Top Model, where either Tyra (your “best” friend) was holding your picture (in the Top 8) or not. Even if your picture was there, where were you in the list of 8? It was a major social move either add, move or delete someone on the list. As dramatic as that scene appears, it was important. It was a visual representation of your friendships for the rest of the MySpace community to see. Trust me, when your entire grade only has 33 students, it is kind of important–definitely a “psychological warfare” (Boyd 11).
In Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites by Danah Boyd, two–now outdated–platforms are used as examples in the discussion of “friendship” within the online community. Danah Boyd discusses the entire process of the Friendship, from defining a friendship to defining ourselves through the social context we’ve created for ourselves. The original concept of friendship–“an exceptionally strong relationship with expectations for emotional and practical support”–becomes re-established by social network sites (3). However, friendships are complex, as Boyd explains, “there is a difference in how people perceive others and how they express their perception of others” (3). Enter, the concept of “save face.” When there is a discrepancy between the perception and the expression of perception, we use the term “friend” to bridge the gap. The term establishes a connection, negative or positive and therefore, saving face from a potentially awkward situation. For social media, as a public forum, Boyd says, we “show face” (4). Social media helped us show face, and we liked it. A lot.
Privacy is now a prized commodity–or, it should be. We’ve been on major binges: Friendster, Myspace and Facebook. Our preferred platform has changed and our perspective of social media has changed. At the beginning of the rise of social media, it was about overindulgence; add everyone and everything. We liked showing face so much that we started “connecting and “collecting.” The semi-public forum allowed us to establish our identities and social standings through our “friends.” Get MySpace famous. Show everybody how many people want to be your friend. See how many people comment on your photos. Lines between public and private were blurred and the concept of “online privacy” was questioned. Now, the binging phase is winding down.
Now, we’re on a diet to cleanse ourselves of the previous social media munchies. Shelly Palmer explains the process of trimming the fat in Personal Facebook Cleanse. He wanted to cleanse his profile of those “grade school” and “PTA people,” citing, “some have become lifelong real friends, but the others were really only there so we could sort out who was handling snack after various games and meets.” Palmer wants a small group of people that have a genuine real-life connection, “to hang out with whenever they’re in town, well enough to want to share family gossip with.”
Our social media mirrors too closely to our real lives. Some of our profiles may not simply be an extension of our lives, but rather be our lives. This is evident in our want for more privacy. We want our private lives separate from work, and even the people we feel close enough to “friend” into our lives. Understandably, we are Gen Y and the majority of our peers are on Facebook–social media network has become domesticated–but it doesn’t mean that you should add everyone you know and more.
Boyd is right; she has correctly defined the social workings of social network sites within their context–6 years ago. Her article helps readers understand how, at a certain point, we redefined interpersonal connection. The entire media platform had different social cues and social definitions. However, even six short years ago, social media was at its beginning. We are currently at its prime. Social network profiles may have been established as extensions of the user’s offline social life, but we’ve adjusted. It is a part of our lives, not as an extension but as a, now, integral portion. As discussed in class, we made the distinction between “establishing” and “maintaining” a relationship. When social network sites began to rise, with the example of MySpace, we were excited to discover a new platform and thus began our process of establishing connections. Now that we’re getting over this “I’m Internet Famous” phase, we’re now maintaining relationships–like Shelly Palmer. Since we’ve feasted on online platforms for the last decade, maybe it is time for us to start a cleanse of our own. Decide what social network means for you.