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You've Got a Friend In Me

I'd like to call into examination the term MySpace Whore. The mere existence of such a word signifies the presence of a sharp divide and ever-widening gray area in the appropriate use of social networking sites. Some, like myself, try hard to limit their use to relationships that do indeed exist in reality. I'm friends with my brothers on facebook for example, but I'm also friends with Devendra Banhart (see: anti-folk hero) but I count our relationship as something tangible even though I'll probably never meet him since I'm a fan. Others see myspace as a way to meet new people or simply dive headlong into the growing world of socio-technology. SNSs have even proved a roadway to fame for some who maxed their friends list out and gained attention for their uninhibited electronic acceptance of every web-persona that came their way and ability to harness this massive population into something useful for their career, be it nefarious or not. ( Example: Tila Tequila (Time Article))
Most people, however, are just another of us "normals" looking to keep up with the times and maybe find a n easier way to keep in touch with people out of our geographic range or regular social circle. No matter what the case, there are definite socio-cultural norms that have developed over time that apply specifically to online communities. The Baym article this week, while indeed dated, had some nice encapsulations that apply everywhere, not only to soap-opera-junky newsgroups. Before I get into the meat though, wanted to single out one line for its ability to date the article as well as bring up memories of caps-lock-chat-room-arguments of yore. I am referring to the second paragraph in the Participation section on page 105. It begins, "R.a.t.s participants are well educated, as in most of the internet," and I spit up a little tea. Not to stray to far from my goal though, I'll move on.
The points I found most interesting in the Baym article were regarding online social-status building, which is definate present in any social environment, and perhaps even magnified in online environments. At the bottom of page 111 she writes of the act of responding to a post as a sign of approval, or simply validation. "Receiving responses is considered flattering and fairly exciting," and later on "The worst feeling I ever had was when I thought I was bringing up something interesting and got *no* replies." (I found her use of asterisks here amusing as well, straight from the message-board she is). This passage reminded me of posting pictures on myspace and waiting to see if anyone would comment. Granted, I can't hope for the astronomical number of replies a scantily-clad young woman would receive, given the environment and motivations behind picture surfing, but even one can brighten my experience. I'm a real boy!
Baym also speaks of status-building traits like a deep understanding or knowledge of the subject matter and the ability to use humor in posts. Of course in an environment like the one she's focusing on, if you aren't aware of Stacy's evil-twin, you should probably remain a lurker. But if you can get a laugh you're one step ahead of the lurkers. It seems to me something about the energy put into a post that is satirical or clever is enough to merit praise. People like to think others put as much energy into something (possibly something trivial in some eyes) as they do, and this is highly appreciated.
This translates directly to things like facebook or myspace. Myspace profiles are no longer boxed in and homogeneous, but can be tailored to fit individual tastes. I once had a friend who plastered the background of his myspace with a repeating picture of Hulk Hogan simply to spite those with gaudy pages. This effort, like humor or emoticons in a newsgroup, is appreciated and seen as a status symbol. Much like the size of a friends list, or the members of your Top 8 as mentioned in the Boyd writing. I especially liked the line about Myspace Top 8 as Psychological warfare because truly it is no different from the pecking order and saved-seats of the lunch table for many younger users.
Finally, I like the term Identity Performance used in Boyd's article numerous times. This is such a fitting label for much of our online social-lives whether we know our friends or not. The information we share, pictures we post, and friends we...friend--that's a verb now right?--come together to form a composite image of our status and cultural identity; even if we simply are someone's friend to "save face" as examined by Ms. Boyd. I'm definitely one of those people--at least one a site like facebook (see: anti-anonymity)--that will accept someone as a friend rather than reject them simply because I'm Minnesota nice; but you can count on it that my top 8 is reserved for those near and dear to my heart. Am I kidding? I don't even know.