March 10, 2009

The awkwardness of collapsed (social) contexts

I may be a 30-something year old graybeard* but it seems 
  "Adults, far more than teens, are using Facebook for its intended purpose as a social utility .... as a tool for communicating with the past."
And that 25-things-about-me meme (that I did NOT participate in)... well.. it seems..
"Adults are crafting them to show-off to people from the past and connect the dots between different audiences as a way of coping with the awkwardness of collapsed contexts."
* per this article in the NYT:

Facebook says it is the world's largest social network, with 175 million members. But...Many over-30 graybeards have yet to sign up..
Though, I should add that I am on Facebook and am "mildly" ("severely", the wife would opine) addicted too! :)

Also, while I agree with the aforementioned NYT article that..
"..the popularity of Facebook and other social networking sites has promoted the sharing of all things personal, dissolving the line that separates the private from the public. As the scope of sharing personal information expands from a few friends to many sundry individuals grouped together under the Facebook label of "friends," disclosure becomes the norm and privacy becomes a quaint anachronism."
... I do not put personal stuff on Facebook and am keeping work-related acquaintances away from my FB "friends" list. Even so, it boggles the mind that I have 80 "friends" in that e-world. Wonder how many are really friends! :)
"A friend is one who walks in when others walk out" -Walter Winchell  
Reminds me of this great article in the Economist earlier this month that tells us that anthropologists have found it is "impossible to maintain stable social relationships with more than 150 people and that "the number of people on an individual’s friend list with whom he (or she) frequently interacts is remarkably small and stable." In fact, they found that even on Facebook: average man—one with 120 friends—generally responds to the postings of only seven of those friends by leaving comments on the posting individual’s photos, status messages or “wall”. An average woman is slightly more sociable, responding to ten. When it comes to two-way communication such as e-mails or chats, the average man interacts with only four people and the average woman with six.
Yikes...despite what the gender analyzer says, either I am a woman (or perhaps not an average man). I'd say I interact with 10-15 of my FB friends regularly and another dozen once a month or so. The other's perhaps have gotta go (i.e. get "defriended"). But I agree with the Economist article, which ends by saying that adding more friends may not increase this core network of friends one keeps in contact with regularly but ...

What mainly goes up ... is the number of casual contacts that people track more passively. This corroborates Dr Marsden’s ideas about core networks, since even those Facebook users with the most friends communicate only with a relatively small number of them. Put differently, people who are members of online social networks are not so much “networking” as they are “broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances who aren’t necessarily inside the Dunbar circle,” says Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a polling organisation. Humans may be advertising themselves more efficiently. But they still have the same small circles of intimacy as ever.
And so, this loosely knit network of acquaintanes, that we have chosen to categorize as "friends", shall remain and probably even grow from 80 to the "average" of 120 soon! Afterall, we do not want to not be average, no? (Reminds me of the dialogue from the Hindi movie, Andaz Apna Apna:: "Tum purush hee naheen ho..... tum maha-purush ho", which loosely translates to: "You're not a're a super man." :))

Related: Read this article from the McKinsey Quarterly:
The increasing popularity of online social networking is changing not only the way people manage their careers but social networking itself. 

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