Monday, April 23, 2012

“Close Friends Share Salt Together?” -- Friendship Under the Context of Networked Media (By Amber Li&Amy Lu)

“Close Friends Share Salt Together?”
Friendship Under the Context of Networked Media
Ziqian (Amber) Li & Beixi (Amy) Lu
Option 2 – Multimedia Essay

The development of networked media has enlarged our social networking venues, and thus adding new meanings to what means to us as friendship.
In this multi-media essay, we are trying to explore the meaning and value of friendship under the context of today’s networked media, and further investigate how such media landscape has altered people’s social behaviors. After a considerable amount of literature review and artifacts analysis, we argue that networked media has redefined the friendship, and significantly shaped people’s social behaviors targeted to friends – people adjust their way of developing friendships and interacting with friends.

The History of A Friendship  

The Traditional Value of Friendship
“Close friends share salt together” – Aristotle
Greek philosophers believed that true friends are the ones that people share life with, emphasizing that shared real-life experiences are the foundation of true friendship. This is in accordance with the definition of  “a friend” given by American Heritage dictionary –  “people you know, like and trust” through interpersonal interactions. Prior to the mass emergence of social media technologies, people made friends mainly thorough face-to-face encounters, which are the foundation of “shared life.”

 Aristotle and Plato

Social Media Redefining The Meaning and Value of Friendship
Making connections rather than making friends
As networked media enlarges the platform of interpersonal communication and enables real-time interaction regardless of location and time differences, the prerequisite of befriending –face-to-face encounters – has been devalued, and building friendship now could be entirely virtual.
The definition of Facebook friendship has always been vague, ranging from established  close relationships to merely bing acquainted (Boyd, 2006). Once accepted as a friend, the two users’ personal profiles as well as their entire social networks will be exposed to each other, even their friends’ friends. Over 90% of users on social networking sites believe that such media help them stay in touch with or stay updated with activities of longtime acquaintances, such as high school friends (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). According to Tufekci and Spence (2007), over 50% Facebook users said having discovered something very important about friends from their social media profiles.
Some website builders promote their sites as a new channel for “making new friends”, in terms of connecting with previously unacquainted people (Donath & boyd, 2004). Think about the “accounts” you have on social media websites, you will realize what a massive network our cyber friendship reside in – Email (usually more than two), Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Google +, blog, Skype, text messages, Instagram, iMessage, and more.  Thus, through such impersonal media, we make connections rather than making friends (Jay Bear, 2011). In a research by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it is suggested that, based on the size of the human brain that processes language and thoughts, one person can only maintain relationships with up to 150 people in total (Dunbar, 1993). However, the majority of social networking websites users have larger numbers of online friends than 150. And Facebook even sets one’s friends capacity as 5,000.  Apparently, Dunbar’s friend-limiting number doesn’t work in the cyber world.
             The episode You Have 0 Friends (Season 14 Episode 4) from South Park – a popular American animated sitcom, used crude language and dark humor to satirize the pervasive usage of networking websites like Facebook as well as social media user’s behaviors. In this episode, “hanging out” with friends means visiting each others’ “farms” on Facebook; kids consider having no Facebook friends as the most humiliating thing; parents feel very proud if their kids have more Facebook friends, and announcing “relationship status” is a sign for serious relationship.
 South Park S14E04 You Have 0 Friends 
*Please Note: Due to copyright protection, we couldn’t find a complete video of this episode. The one we are showing here is ten minutes long and is in black and white sketches, but it still demonstrates our point comprehensively. For those who are interested in watching the full episode, we recommend you watch it on Netflix or purchase from Amazon. We apologize for the inconvenience.  

The following song called Maybe by pop singer Jay Sean sings about how a man misses a girl desperately; and interacting via social and mobile media is the major way for him to express his affection. Although this song is about romantic relationship, we think it reflects the change in people’s interpersonal behavior under the influence of networked media.

 Maybe         by Jay Sean

Beep, beep, oh look, now there goes my phone
And once again I'm just hoping it's a text from you
It ain't right, I read your messages twice, thrice
Four times a night, it's true

Everyday I patiently wait
Feeling like a fool but I do anyway
Nothing can feel as sweet and as real
As knowing I wasn't waiting in vain

And maybe it's true, I'm caught up on you
Maybe there's a chance that you're stuck on me too
So maybe I'm wrong, it's all in my head
Maybe we're afraid of words, we both hadn't said

I'm always connected on-line, check Facebook all the time
Hoping you've checked my profile
Just can't help wondering why you play it cool
But see I'm hopelessly falling for you

Every night on my phone I flirt with you
And I know that you like it, girl
All jokin' aside, what say? You and I
Come out and say what we're trying to hide

In addition, according to “Social Compensation” model, introverts or people have difficulty in building real-life social networks would rely on cyber relationships to socialize and interact with others. They usually feel free and easy-to-talk while interacting online (Kraut et al. 2002).

I Made A Friend

Last but not least, social media added values to modern friendship and enlarged its scope in a sense that it opened up a new channel for people to connect and “make friends” with those within their professions or for career purposes.
Let’s look at an example. In a blog posted by freelance digital marketing specialist Tamar Weinberg (, she provided several graphs to demonstrate how she built her connections via Facebook and how her Facebook friends were categorized in terms of social relationships. We can see that, in 2010, among her 1,508 Facebook connections, 37% (the highest percentage) are industry acquaintances. The second biggest group is college connections, which accounts for 16% of her entire list. Only 5% of all her connections belong to the “personal friends and family” group. 

However, this graph looks a little different in 2007, which is shown below.

We could see a significant increase of the “industry connections” from 2007 to 2010, and a decrease or event extinctions of “extracurricular programs”, “college”, “social media”, etc.
Tamar’s Facebook friendship distribution might be very similar to a lot of social media users, which further indicates that people tend to maintain connections online with people at workplaces and within their professions because the potential benefits or opportunities such connections could bring in the long run. This is also in accordance with some previous research findings which suggested that most social networks mainly support already existing social relationships (Byod, 2006). In another word, people engage in online networking activities primarily to maintain established offline relationships or to enhance offline connections. 

The Cruel Reality of Cyber Friendship  
Social media consultant Jay Baer pointed out some false perceptions people possess regarding online networking and friendship on his blog. 
The first false perception is, more relationships produce more opportunity. People continue to use social media to maintain offline relationships because it’s easy, convenient, and beneficial. We always say that it is not about what you know, it is about whom you know; thus we spend much time and energy to build friendship online. However, Bear points out, when we really look into our friends list, most of us would find a disturbing truth – “we hardly know anyone”. We couldn’t really rely on cyber connections to introduce us to a new career or to get a raise out from the online interactions. Thus people’s belief in the benefit of keeping cyber connections is somewhat false, or at least doubtable.
A second false perception is the feeling of intimacy and closeness conveyed though cyber interaction. Here, we have to bring up the South Park episode You Have 0 Friends again. This episode vividly shows how absurd social media users’ behaviors could become if they are addicted to online social networking. We see in the episode that having no friends on Facebook means this person is unpopular or not sociable in real life as well; parents even grandparents get mad if their kids refuse to befriend them; girls get irritated if see other girls comment on their boyfriends’ posts; one might consider someone his “best friends” just because they have been interacting actively online… some of the plots in the episode might be exaggerating, but they do show the truth somehow. 
Also, in the iconic movie Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg, as the founder of Facebook, has “500 million” Facebook friends, while in real life he barely has a person to talk to. We highly recommend this movie to all of our blog readers, because it doesn’t only show the audience how Facebook was developed, it also explains why online social networking has become a necessity of people’s lives.     

People may consider those who they follow on Twitter and once had a couple of interaction with as friends, or those who are simply in their Facebook friend list as friends, but such connection, more than often, does not produce any real meaningful communication. In short, we just need to ponder whether it is worthwhile for us spending much time and energy building large online networks of superficial connections, at the expense of maintaining a few cherished reliable real-life friendships

Friendships Count, Not Friends Count
We would also like to conclude our essay with this TED Talk given by Kelly Page – Rediscovering Friendship. 

Kelly Page looked at how the emergence social media has influenced people’s relationships with others, especially friendship. By 2008, there were 8 million friend connections on the Facebook. Technically people thought of their Facebook friends as friends, but Kelly Page pointed that the friends connecting via Facebook are just Facebook connections, not friendships.
She explained her idea by arguing about the definition and her own perception of friendship. She pointed out that friends are people that always love, support and be there for each other. Friendship is about the behavior and action that people involve that actually influence others. Most people update the status on Facebook everyday, upload pictures, and chat with their Facebook friends. These are just normal behaviors that could be open to everybody you know on Facebook, according to Kelly. However, friendship is not a word, status updates, or chatting over Internet, instead, it is about the meaning of interactions with people, and the behaviors that enable the connectedness.
Therefore, social technology is not able to change the friendship itself, but it does change the way people connect with others. People should keep in mind that it is the meaning of the interaction that matters, not the media.


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