Sorry, I Can’t Friend You. I’m On a Cleanse.

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Where am I on your top 8?

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In Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites by Danah Boyd, two–now outdated–platforms are used as examples in the discussion of “friendship” within the online community.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.

You win, Tom.

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.

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5 comments

  1. The fact that the American’s obsession with dieting/cleansing has somehow managed to sneak its way into online communities is almost laughable, though I think it speaks to the point that individuals value the extremes. Either we’re popularity-crazed, trying to have as many friends, Friends, and “friends” as possible, or we’re privacy obsessed, trying to keep as much to ourselves as possible. Or worse, both at once- where we want as many friends as possible, yet our profiles are restricted to only those “select” gems who we deem worthy of accessing our information.

    It would interesting to consider the psychological effect of the unfriending craze in comparison to the Myspace Top 8 meltdowns that many experienced. This article (http://mashable.com/2012/09/27/facebook-unfriending/) points to this point specifically- being unfriended on Facebook is a serious blow to many, as it is a blow to our online ego and identities. Not to mention, people are often unfriended in the online world for reasons that took place offline- Talk about bridging the two worlds! Clearly, the two are interconnected.

    I wonder what you/anyone else thinks about the emotional effects of being unfriended. Is it less depressing because it is less public than being removed from someone’s Top 8? Or because sometimes it goes unnoticed? And what about the possibility of being- dare I say it- blocked?!

    *Also, as a side note, perhaps my cultural capital is lacking, is there a socially agreed upon difference between unfriending and defriending?

  2. It’s great that you point out the shift that’s occurred since early SNS use to now in terms of friending. As we become savvier and more aware of how we want to use social media, we’ve definitely changed and shaped our friending practices accordingly by valuing quality over quantity. I can certainly remember being conscious about my friend count on MySpace, or how many people commented on a photo, or whether or not I got any comments that day. With something like Twitter though, the following:followers ratio can seem important, although we understand the nuances in these categories. For instance we don’t expect to be followed back by celebrities or new sources, so it’s okay in this sense to follow more people than you are followed by. Then again, I’d be interested to know how closely the average Twitter user monitors when they have been unfollowed and by whom. But for the most part, we have grown up, and thank goodness! Now we can focus more on gaining value from our online interactions, which also speaks to your point of the online mimicking the offline. Though instead of including every person we meet in the physical space in our online space, we are adapting to these social changes by more carefully determining how we ourselves engage and how we engage other users of SNS’s.

  3. I agree that the concept of social media “friends” was once the most prominent display of one’s social capital. Today it seems we are somewhat choosier in who we allow into our network, but I would argue that is because technology has provided us new ways to measure our social capital. That is to say that while a friend or follower count may be less important, I think our network engagements are still a critical metric for how we value our social media self-worth.

    For instance, the Facebook “like” button allows your network to expediently approve of your online performances. Whether it is a status update, a link or an image, the like button is a reinforcement that your friends approve. I think a lot of people consider the like button before they post anything. And I would also suggest that some people either take pride in the amount of likes they receive, or feel a lot of disappointment when the likes fall short. Likes probably don’t generate the anxiety of a Top 8 list, or a lackluster friend count, but I think they do show that our quest for social capital has not subsided, but the way we measure it has simply changed. So instead of adding everyone we have ever met to our SNS, we instead try to engage our network with performances they will approve of.

  4. I think the key idea of a lack of privacy in current social media that you point out is a great observation. With social media networking affordances like friend/follower lists, tags, and even the new-ish Facebook feature, Timeline (which essentially broadcasts your social activities for all of your friends–and possibly friend groups–to see <>), online privacy is becoming extremely hard to achieve while simultaneously maintaining a reasonably connected social network. My question is: how private is too private? I can understand weeding out your friends list if you’re un-friending people whom you barely know, whom you’ve literally said “Hi” to once in your life, or whom you haven’t even met in person (in which case the question remains of why you friended them in the first place <>). But if you start cutting ties, what’s to stop you from un-friending the person who’s worked at that company you’ve been dying to get a job internship from? What about the girl from your high school that is looking to sell her awesome apartment in downtown Manhattan? While there is a downside to flooding your friends list and becoming too involved with forming inconsequential relationships, how do you sort out a useful weak tie from a useless one? Can you ever really tell?

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