Signing up for Friendship: Facebook and Socializing in Cyberspace

The following post is not fashion related, yet since the topic of Facebook and privacy is a reoccurring issue I decided to share a few excerpts from a study I did in May 2009 called “Signing up for Friendship: Facebook and Socializing in Cyberspace”. I am not a Facebook expert by any means. These are just my thoughts  and findings which I’d like to share with you.

Within our post modern culture, the face of communication is constantly transforming and conventional methods of socialization, for instance face-to-face conversations, are being challenged by social networking services offered by the internet. Social networking services, such as ‘Facebook’, are currently used as a primary form and tool of interaction amongst a new generation of teenagers and young adults, otherwise known as “Digital Natives”, a termed coined by scholars John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, and adults themselves are quickly learning to adapt. Through the digital era, social networking services have enabled individuals to form their own identities and connect with friends and form relationships through online personal profiles which divulge intimate information about users. 

Nevertheless, “Digital Natives” refers to those who were all born after 1980 and have been exposed to a world without borders due to digital technology. Unlike “Digital Immigrants” or “Digital Settlers” who have adopted the internet and related technologies, yet were born prior to the advent of the digital age. As Palfrey and Gasser claim, “unlike most ‘Digital Immigrants’, the ‘Digital Native’ live much of their lives online, without distinguishing between the online and offline” (Palfrey and Gasser 2008: 4). There is no distinction between online or offline identity, the internet is a mere tool of connectivity and acts as an extension of social activity for the “Digital Native” and more rapidly for the “Digital Immigrants” as well, although it may be to a lesser extent.

Virtual communities bring a multitude of individuals together regardless of geographical placement. As writer Patrice Flichy describes, “Individuals develop conversations that are intellectually and emotionally rich as those in real life, in a world of balanced interaction between equals. The internet is presented as helping to recreate a social link and breathes life into public debate and, more generally, into democratic life” (Flichy 2007: 90). The internet acts as a reinvasion of the public sphere, we as civilians, can express ourselves through an array of communication avenues whether it be through the use of e-mails, chat rooms, or instant messaging. These categories have enabled many to interact with individuals regardless of location through the assistance of affordable connectivity and widespread availability.

A new type of citizenship has been labeled in the twenty-first century, “Digital Citizenship” which describes those who use the internet regularly and effectively on a daily basis. Through user created content, which is defined as “content made publicly available over the internet, which reflects a certain amount of creative effort and which is created outside of professional routines and practices” (http://oecd.org, 2007), social networks have created a haven of friendship, connectivity, gossip, entertainment, communication and exhibition which aims to keep all members constantly updated by tracking a users life when ever he/she decides to publicly post personal information.

“Digital Natives” pay a high price for living their lives in a mediated environment were their words and personal data becomes a product of cyberspace. Palfrey and Gasser claim that through the production of online personal profiles, digital dossiers called (“personally identifiable information” or “PII”) are being created. Personally identifiable information outlines the fact that “individuals are losing control of information because the data collection practices of corporations, among others, are changing at a rate that is faster than the rate of change for society’s methods of protecting data” (Palfrey and Gasser 2008:39).

In other words, market information about individuals is being developed and users are left having little to no rights to protection over their data. The “Digital Native” unlike people born into pervious generations, for instance those known as “Digital Immigrants” or “Digital Settlers”, will grow up having a large amount of digital files kept about them which will only accumulate. Internet search engines such as Google have the ability to use web crawlers who copy information without asking permission and expose of it online.

Social networking sites work hand in hand with search engines to develop a massive index of information. The sites carry detailed information about their users, who willingly post personal data such as one’s cell phone number, home address, birthdate and so forth which one would never intentionally reveal to a foreigner.

Which leads to the question, in an age of digital media, do we really have any privacy? The answer is we probably do not. Using the metaphor of a panopticon, an architectural design that allowed prisoners to be monitored by observers, surveillance systems can exert the same type of control in contemporary culture. As Communication professor, Susan B. Barnes expresses, the internet is viewed as a panopticon because it is in “constant view of individuals through parasocietal mechanisms that influence behavior simply because of the possibility of being observed” (Barnes 2006: 3).

This is the future of communications. Mark Zuckerberg is not responsible for what you chose to share on Facebook, so for your own sake, post responsibly.

One thought on “Signing up for Friendship: Facebook and Socializing in Cyberspace

  1. I have thought about this many times. To be completely honest, you could probably find out virtually anything you would want to know about me by Googling me and putting in enough effort and time. It is pretty intimidating, truthfully, and although I don’t really think I’d want to hide any of the information that I’ve shared, I imagine that collectively it’s probably too much to be public. But really, who needs privacy? 😉

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