Facebook has become the latest fad worldwide, connecting people all over the globe. What began as a phenomenon for students has spread to adults and children of all ages, making Facebook a vast cyber-culture in itself. Facebook has created a whole new method for people to judge each other without even meeting each other face to face. Facebook has created a whole new method of voyeurism and easy access for communication. This essay will examine Daniel S. Holder’s ethnographic study of the “Effects of Facebook.com on Interpersonal relationships” as well as the document called “Profile as Conservation: Ethnography of Communication on Facebook”. I will interview a friend of mine, a man who is very interested in the social dynamics of Facebook and how someone can tell someone else’s popularity or social status on Facebook. By conducting this interview, I will validate the current anthropological study of Facebook as well as add my own contribution to the study to better understand the Facebook phenomenon and why so many people of all ages are using it.
Both documents look at the phenomenon of Facebook as a new era of for ambiguous conversation, changing from interpersonal cues and gestures being observed in person, to pictures and other methods on a screen. Facebook has become famous among college students and has become part of their daily habits as a topic of conversation. Conversations on Facebook are uncomfortable because of the lack of personal connection with the audience, in which “digital’ adaptations are created as cues for the Facebook user.(Holder, 2006 p.41) Users can regulate how public or private their profiles can be. Many people enjoy taking their profiles as a joke and write witty and absurd statements for their religious or political views or about how friends met one another. By doing this many people avoid the “social awareness” of having to declare their social and relationship statuses. (Holder, 2006 p.42) Facebook has redefined the meaning of friend. Two people who do not know each other can become friends without meeting- just by clicking “accept”. Since anybody can establish friendship with any stranger, the definition of what a real friend means on Facebook is disoriented. Many people just accept people as friends, so as not to be rude and create pretentiousness; however, they will not respond to that person when messaged. Groups of friends usually remained localized. Unlike in reality, people can make conversation on Facebook based upon people’s pictures or other devices on their profiles. Facebook has also enabled people to type the way they would speak by using ellipses and commas or periods. Facebook allows people to hide certain pieces of information from the general public. Facebook also extends into many different places such as emails and cell phones. It is also a great way to organize social gatherings. This website reinforces already existing relationships as well as creates new relationships. Facebook creates the intimate idea of someone’s birthday through its “upcoming birthday” list for all of the people’s birthdays that week, so that their “friends” could wish them a happy birthday. Facebook in many ways has become a “living high-school yearbook”, in which people comment on each other’s pictures.(Holder, 2006 p.39) Facebook succeeds in strengthening relationships that would in the real world become distanced.
I arrived at my good friend’s house on a Saturday afternoon. The plan was to conduct the Facebook.com interview and then go for a bite to eat to wrap up the interview and then later go out with other friends. The interview at his house lasted for about an hour and a half. I conducted my interview by observing how he managed his profile and how he communicated with other people or any other daily Facebook ritual he performed. The interview unfortunately took longer than it had to because we got off track talking about plans for later on that night, or where we were going to eat. A definite weakness was trying to stay focused with the interview and maintain my role as interviewer and observer, instead of being a friend. I was proud to say that I maintained objectivity throughout the interview because I found it fascinating how other people, no matter how well or not well I know them, maintain a cyber culture. At first, I assumed that everyone would do the same basic things when using Facebook, but I soon discovered how vast and widely different Facebook.com can be used by an individual. I did not expect to hear what my friend would say during this interview, since the only conversation we ever spoke about concerning Facebook was about upcoming events or if one of us had a certain person as a friend on their page.
I began my interview with my friend and quickly discovered that he would check his page at least four times per day and he would update his page and his status bar called “What’s on your mind” in which it says the person’s first name and last name with a blank space to be filled in, at least twice a week. I watched as he updated his status and began to organize all the notifications he received. On the home page, he checked to see whose birthday was upcoming or on that day. He checked at the upcoming events. He noted to me how he was so annoyed by how many notifications he gets from club events and other similar events, which bombard his inbox. He also commented on how everyone’s “What’s on your mind” creates a huge long list of statuses on his homepage which is annoying because he doesn’t have the patience to read them. He did note how he likes the highlights because some people post funny clips of themselves and also it shows who is recently in a relationship or broken up. I then asked him if he were to be in a relationship if he would he change his status to in a relationship. He responded by saying how he would only do that if his girlfriend would do it also. He added how some people put themselves in relationships with friends just for fun, or some people just say they are in a relationship anonymously, which could mean either they are truly in a relationship but like privacy or they either are trying to be cool or not want people to try to pick them up. Before checking his profile page, my friend noticed he had a friend’s request. It was a buddy het met at a party, who added him through a mutual friend. My friend accepted his request and was going to later on write on his new facebook friend’s wall to say thank you for the add. This allowed me to bring up several questions about how one defines a “friend” on Facebook and the conditions that are meant to be friends. I asked him how he would make new friends on Facebook.com and if they met in person prior to the add. I also asked him if there is a portion of people he added based on their Facebook.com profile alone. He responded by saying how he only would add friends that he met a few times, and unless they were really interesting, he wouldn’t add them if he only met them once. He said he never accepts when people he doesn’t know add him and he would not add someone he doesn’t know because he considers that “stalkerish”. Finally, after about twenty minutes of chatting and reading the home page and notifications, he opened his profile page. He showed me how he attempted to clean up his page by deleting useless applications or by rearranging some information and pictures. He told me from time to time he would add new pictures and edit personal information. He then checked to see if any of his friends wrote on his wall and when he found that he had several new “wall posts”, he began to respond to the things they wrote to him. When he checked his newly added friend’s wall, I noticed he looked at two things: how many friends this guy had and his pictures. When I asked him why he thought these two variables were important, he explained how just through these two things alone “I could pretty much make an accurate image of the individual’s personality, who he hangs out with, how popular he is, how cool he is…..” I then asked him whether he judges people in real life based on their Facebook accounts and he replied that he only uses Facebook to back up certain ideas about the person. He showed me an example of a friend of his, who when they first met, this friend told him that he was very artistic and creative, so my friend confirmed this by checking the man’s facebook page and discovered it was full of artistic groups and pictures. He explained how someone with four hundred to six hundred friends would be considered truly popular, whereas someone with more would either be a promoter of some sort, a celebrity or someone desperate for attention, while someone with a lower amount is either, anti-social, new to facebook or not popular. He explained that when he looked at someone’s photos, the pictures had to be genuine – for example, the people were really having a good time in the photos. Otherwise the pictures were a ploy to make the person look cool or to fill up their Facebook with. Towards the end of our interview, I asked my friend if would ever delete his account off Facebook and what the reasoning would be behind it,. He replied that he would only do that if all his friends stopped using it. He generally stated how he approved of Facebook because it allowed him to rekindle old friendships and keep his real friends together, by forming events and by posting comments on their walls, which enabled him to keep contact without having to spread out his time calling each of his friends or having to see them every so often to keep up the friendship. He concluded the interview by saying “if it wasn’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t have made half the connections I have made with old friends and new ones I just met.I also wouldn’t have been able to attend all those parties that I would have only have seen on Facebook. My friend is I studying commerce in university, and he also commented how Facebook is a great way for someone to start a small business. For example, my friend has a small company selling t-shirts called 514 Avenue, which are plain T-shirts with an outline of the island of Montreal. He uses Facebook to advertise. To conclude, I asked him how he felt about employers that use Facebook to check up on their workers and he replied how if someone wants to put up crazy pictures of themselves, they should privatize their page. He said how “it’s unfortunate people have to hide their profiles to prevent themselves from losing work, but at the same time, not only employers spy on people’s walls, but sexual predators and other scammers or weirdoes, therefore, just like one would change in their room with their blinds closes, one has to keep their Facebook privatized.”
I found that my interview related in many ways to the content of the two articles I read. The fact that Facebook can show the birthdays of people, so other people can know was a very important fact in both the articles and the interview. As my friend said, without Facebook he wouldn’t have gone to half of the events and birthday parties that he went to and the articles also explained how this phenomenon helps better organize events and social gatherings. Facebook is used as a method to keep in contact with friends one would otherwise cease to speak to. I uncovered that there was a method of rating someone’s social worth online by checking out if the person has a decent amount of friends and if the individual has interesting pictures. If a person has either too many or too little friends, his/her social status is questioned. People’s profiles are judged through their pictures as well. The Facebook.com phenomenon has gained much popularity because it allows people to stay in contact and become closer with each other, as well as allows people to judge others on the cyber level by collecting the data given in one’s profile to make an assumed judgement about that person.
pp. 34-44: Holder, Daniel S., 2006: Ethnographic Study of the Effects of Facebook.com on Interpersonal Relationships. Available: http://home/uchicago.edo/-holder/fethno.pdf