Fanatics - Customized NFL Gear

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ramble On ... The Strength of Facebook

Great Article - That I did not have time to write a short preamble to when I grabbed it from the great Boston Globe and posted in advance of a Round-trip from The Hub to NYC and back (thank God) on Monday.

Funny that I know Emily quite well and I think the world of her.
Read on:

Social media
How Twitter, Facebook, and others are - surprise! - strengthening friendships

By Don Aucoin, Globe Staff

When Emily Lippard went to a wedding in her home state of Virginia last weekend, it was chockablock with old friends she hadn't seen for a while. Yet Lippard wasted little time on the usual, pro forma "So, what have you been up to?" questions.

Lippard already knew.

She had, after all, been following their exploits on Facebook. She knew that the male college buddy who had always vowed not to marry till he was 35 had just gotten engaged, even though he is only in his mid-20s. She had seen the dramatic pictures taken by another friend during a white-water rafting trip. And her friends, in turn, knew that Lippard had relocated to Boston, was working for a public relations firm, and was loving it.

Yet somehow all this advance knowledge, rather than making their face-to-face conversations redundant, actually made them more vibrant. Lippard, 24, came away from the wedding feeling closer to her friends than ever. "I could skip past some things and get to the deeper stuff because I know what they are doing on a day-to-day basis," she explains. "It definitely strengthened my bonds with them. It does kind of merge both worlds."

This may have been a watershed week in the brief life of social media, with worldwide attention focused on the use of Twitter in Iran to organize protests against the disputed results of a presidential election and to convey information to the outside world. By midweek, in recognition of the microblogging site's emergence as a key communication tool in the crisis, the US State Department asked Twitter to delay previously scheduled maintenance of its worldwide network because it would have cut off service to Iranians.

Eight weeks ago, MySpace and Facebook were used to spread word of a mass hooky day that brought thousands of Boston high school students to Revere Beach (one person was stabbed and six were arrested).

But far from the public spotlight, on a much quieter level, social media are extending their reach into private, everyday life - and overturning some conventional wisdom in the process.

In the view of some early doomsayers, online social networks threatened to undermine flesh-and-blood human interaction. In this view, real-world social ties would weaken as users crouched before their computers, as with online chat rooms, rather than go out and socialize. Actual friendships and old-fashioned human contact would steadily give way to virtual friendships.

Yet as Facebook marks its fifth anniversary and Twitter-mania spreads, it is becoming clear that many users employ social media to spend more time with friends, not less.

Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter make possible the sort of impromptu, instantaneous get-togethers that keep friendships from dissolving amid the demands of job, family, and the inevitable evolution of personalities and interests that can sometimes erode once-common ground.

Consequently, especially for young people, these Web-based tools don't just help them coordinate their social lives, but also, over time, tighten the bonds of their real-world friendships. Online contact seems to deepen offline contact. When it comes to social media, the emphasis is on the social, not the media.

Catie Schadlick, 24, of Brookline says she has "bonded much closer" with friends near and far thanks to Facebook, noting that she recently used the site to get together with local friends on a hiking trip, a trivia contest, and a concert, while keeping close tabs on far-flung friends. It's helped us avoid that slow drift into friend limbo-land, where you're like, we were really good friends three years ago but now I don't know what their life is like," she says.

Gina Cotter, 19, a college student from Medfield, says that in an average week she gets a steady stream of "Event" invitations on Facebook: sorority parties, birthday dinners, philanthropic fund-raisers, student panels on studying abroad, invitations to go to a club.

"There's no other way to reach as many people as efficiently," Cotter says. "You can put up as many posters as you want, but a poster is a poster. It is very rare that I stop, write down the date, and remember it. But I'm on my computer all the time, and by the end of the week I'll have seven events on my page right there."

The net effect, Cotter says, is to widen her circle of friends and to deepen preexisting friendships. "It definitely facilitates relationships," she says. "If we didn't have those means to bring all those events together, I'm not sure we'd be doing face-to-face interactions as much."

So could social media be changing the nature of friendship, turning it into a blend of online and off line? Some of the leading Internet theorists seem to think so.

"We are witnessing the death of cyberspace, the death of the idea that the Internet or digital networks are an alternative to real life," says Clay Shirky, author of "Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations," which examines the cultural implications of online social networks. "Once everyone you know is online, the Internet becomes an augmentation of real life rather than a replacement for it."

Howard Rheingold, who teaches social media at Stanford and UC Berkeley and who published "The Virtual Community" in 1993 and "Smart Mobs" in 2002, echoed that view. "We are seeing very strongly that people are using social media to extend their classroom or their neighborhood or their face-to-face relations beyond what they might normally be," Rheingold says. "It's a means of staying in touch with people that you do know in the face-to-face world."

It can also be a way to discover new dimensions of longtime friends, according to Caroline O'Reilly, 20, a college student from Holliston. "It strengthens the relationships because we're able to understand everyone more, how everyone has changed," says O'Reilly. "You see the activities that they're doing and the kinds of friends that they have now. So it's just easier to understand their stories and how they are as a person now."

Jennifer Taddeo, 35, of Franklin gets together once a year with half a dozen college friends for a few days. Last year, the first since she and the others had begun using Facebook regularly, they were able to move right past the basics of "who-what-when-where" straight to the emotionally richer territory of "why?"

"We just jumped in, because we had been getting these daily updates," says Taddeo. "So we could say: 'I notice you've been complaining a lot about work. Are things better with your boss? Or are you moving on?' It's cut off that first day of round-robin where we're all sitting around asking, 'So, what is going on?' It made a big difference."

Even so, some believers in the usefulness of social media are also mindful of its limitations. At that Virginia wedding last weekend, as Lippard and her friends discovered fresh depths in their Facebook-fueled relationships, they also promised that from then on, they would deliver status updates more frequently via the telephone, with a human voice at the other end.

"We made a vow," says Lippard. "We know we see what's going on in Facebook, but we can't just rely on that. We need to do a better job about keeping in touch once a week, or at least once a month."

No comments: