Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Understanding Facebook

For many parents and teachers the world of Facebook is an alien place: it certainly operates under a different set of rules. This article is an attempt to unpack two of the dynamics of social networking sites:

Making Friends

When we [parents and teachers] meet someone new, say at a drinks or dinner party, we trade snippets of personal information about ourselves as part of the "friends-making process". Where we work, where we went on holiday, our favourite film and what music we listen to - such is the stuff of social small-talk. As we get to know someone better, we share more personal information about ourselves and, over time, the transition is made from casual acquaintance to friendship.

Friend-making is at the heart of sites like Facebook. When young people “make friends” on social networking sites they operate in a totally different way - cocktail party conventions do not apply here. The whole process is truncated into a millisecond as they disclose their life story in a single mouse click, disgorging enormous amounts of personal information to relative strangers.

The dynamic in the world of social networking seems to be that the more information that you give out the more “friends” you will have. Openness here is virtue, a lack of disclosure is met with suspicion. Thus there is a contractual basis to the way in which young people use social networking sites they trade personal information for popularity – this is a key driver behind these sites.

“Famous for …….”

Social networking sites enable young people to emulate their role models. We live in the Age of the Celebrity. The famous live their lives in the eye of the media – the gossip pages of glossy magazines and fan websites share minute details of teenagers’ role models. Reality TV progammes such as Big Brother have fuelled this craze with celebrities’ most intimate moments being broadcast to the world for public scrutiny.

So why should we surprised that young people want to be any different? Unprepared to wait for Warhol’s “fifteen minutes of fame”, Facebook enables anyone to behave like celebrities and to put themselves permanently in the public eye. Young people are able to share their thoughts with their friends and to update the world on even the most banal aspects of their daily lives. For some, Facebook is their diary, for others is a vehicle for a “second life”: an opportunity to present themselves to world as they would like to be seen.

Ultimately Facebook harnesses the timeless need of young people to spend time together [our generation did it on the phone] and satisfies a basic twenty-first century need to receive public recognition from ones peers.

This blogpost was based on an article written for the GSA MyDaughter website

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