Out With the Old
While I have not used any of the three "friending machines" we talk about this week. I am part of many technological communities. I think I am well networked into a lot of places, and my network resembles my friends and people of similar interests. For example, Facebook is by far my favorite network. I was much happier with it when it was "only for college kids", while that wasn't of course the case because anyone can get a .edu address from the U of M or anywhere else, but it seemed like college kids just having a good time. I use it mostly for pictures. I like to see what people do for fun. While there are some crazy and some boring ones, the unique parties and ideas are fun to look at and then think about how your friends would act in that situation. MySpace seems like that part of town that is pretty cool, but your parents would never want to know you went there. For me, there is just too much on a page to care about. Facebook seems more like a more readable format. Of course formats also limit freedom and creativity, but if I want to know what my friends are doing, Facebook lets me know, and doesn't keep me confused.
I also have my blog, which started out as a daily conversation for my family and friends with me. I would post, and they would comment or email me to react and talk about their day or things I would like to know about. Then, it expanded. I was searching google at the beginning of my bloggings, by just entering my name, and nothing would come up. I was happy about this because the more intimate it was, the better I feel about sharing information. But one day, a press secretary in my office was searching for information and stumbled upon it (because I talk about the Member of Congress I work for and issues that she was looking for were talked about in my blog). My boss called me into his office, I hadn't done anything illegal, unethical or even put in information he wouldn't like, but he just reminded me that it is now public information, and to realize what I say may be taken as the attitude of our office. So luckily he just said to ask if I thought anything I would be posting is contriversial, but instead of asking, I just stay away from controversy (and have less dramatic writing). A week after that incident, two people had found it while searching the web or being contacted through one of my friends, and came to our office to give me their business card. I apologize, but needed to be long winded to explain the progression of what started out as a daily intimate conversation turned into a job advertisement to some extent.
My final network I will discuss is my office email. While email can be bad at any office, I assure you that the US Congress is horrible as far as the volume you receive each day. It's one thing for people to be able to email you from their work stations but after 9/11 everyone was issued a Blackberry. Now you can get emails from workstations, while people are going to and coming from meetings, and even in meetings. While the messages are not "all business", they are a lot of time, most of which spent making sure you DO NOT have to reply to them.
I think Baym's arguments and examples hold up today. I see Facebook as an application for making a tangent, or a TAN (Baym, 109) as they called them in years before. Here comments like "are you going to ..." or "did you do homework for ....'s class" can turn into 40-post conversations, that will double as instant messaging if you are both online. Another thing about the Facebook-type applications is that they can be used as instant messaging, with an added kick of opinion (as talked about in the texts somewhere that I can no longer find). When you post on someone else's Facebook wall, some people are able to see your post when they login. If it is two of your best friends talking, you may add to the conversation by posting on both of their walls.
On blogs (and even more so, message boards), I see a lot of what I just named "Soap Opera Syndrome". People get so obsessed with something that it goes on forever. You have, like the Soap Opera addicts, the daily posters, the people who randomly butt in and out of the conversations, and the people who disagree with everything the daily posters say. Besides my blog (where I am obsessed with my day, my family, and my political science grade), I have been on niketalk.com. It is really a site for all stakeholders in Nike. There is of course a shoe page ("Post pics of your shoes"), many sport pages, and topics you wouldn't expect that Nike people agree on.
My work email relates a lot closer to the Friendster/Myspace/Facebook research than I originally thought. Yes, there are many emails from user to user, but there are many from user to list. In responding to a list, you send the response back to the whole list, directed at the person with the original message. This is the business-style Facebook as you are promoting yourself to others (but in this case showing that you answered the question) while at the same time completing the task. Your signature at the bottom of each email can also tell people about your personality, especially when adding an inspirational or humorous quote. The one thing this community doesn't have is friends. In Facebook I have friends, in blogging, I can link to other and related blogs (although I don't), but in this email, you just have contacts. I can reach anyone and everyone on Capitol Hill. Your friends/most often emailed do get saved to a list of people recently emailed, but that's as far as it goes. There are no public displays of affection in email via saying which people you like and which you do not.
While I think the ideas and concepts Baym discusses move on, the old technology gets left behind. I can reminisce about the post on how to not make people mad (Baym, 117-8), and remember the first time I left the caps lock on in a chat room. At the time I had no clue it was another form of yelling, and was instantly booted by some robot in the room. boyd is on the right track, we are not that removed from who we are on the net, but at the same time, some people are constrained. I think the social norms of real life give way on the net, and this allows/forces people who want to branch out and explore, everything from soap operas to pornography and chat rooms to kitty litter, to do so in a manner where they will not be looked down upon by others. So my conclusion is that while, as boyd explains, the internet helps people "define themselves and the context in which they are operating", through friending and everything else, they are also changing and exploring. In other words, I think people can truly change, not just continually get closer to finding who they always were. Without the internet, many people would not be who they are no matter how long and hard they searched, because it is just a different medium of creativity.