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Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Facebook and the Influence of Social Networks

November 7th, 2009 No comments

Recently I read an article about how we are influenced by our digital social networks. I assume that most of us are familiar with the proverbial phrase “you are who your friends are”. This same idea may also be applicable to your digital friends and your friends digital friends and your friends friends digital friends. And if you are active in one or more social networking cites than that is probably a whole lot of individual many of whom you have probably never meet either face to face or digitally.    The article, Obesity, STDs flow in social networks by Elizabeth Landau, reiterates the idea that we are impressionable creatures and that those impressions may just as easily be made digitally as in person.  “New research shows that in a social network, happiness spreads among people up to three degrees removed from one another. That means when you feel happy, a friend of a friend of a friend has a slightly higher likelihood of feeling happy too,” states Elizabeth Landau in the article  Happiness is contagious in social networks and the video The Power of Social Networks . The same may be true for your eating habits, voting preferences, etc. However Landau explains “at the fourth degree the influence substantially weakens.” Dr. Nicholas Christakis the author of “Connected,” and Dr. James Fowler an associate professor at the University of California, have expanded on this new theory to explore the trends in cigarette smoking and obesity. An article by Fowler and Christakis in New England Journal of Medicine stated that when an individual quits smoking than their friends’ likelihood of quitting smoking was 36 percent. Moreover, clusters of people who may not know one another gave up smoking around the same time”.

These theories are still in their initial stages and somewhat experimental.  But, it will be interesting to see how their might affect other areas such as marketing and advertisement placing.  Already Facebook advertisers target their ads to individuals based on their personal information, tastes, hobbies, opinions, etc. so that their ads will be more appealing and you are more inclined to make purchases.  It will be interesting to see if knowledge of your friends and social spheres will increase that.

However, some people are unnerved by this influence or find that the lines between different aspects of their lives have become too blurred.  Christopher Butcher is an employee of The Beguiling a comic book store and has a Facebook group for the Toronto Comics Arts Festival. Butcher explains that when Facebook was just for college students it “provided a inbuilt system of boundaries” but when everyone was able to join, Facebook “lost the aspect where what network you’re in defines the information you get.”

Similarly Fowler and Christakis have proposed that even though individuals may call hundreds of people on Facebook and other social networks their “friend”, or an equivalent term that points to some sort of connection or interest in an individual, the number of close friends that a person has did not necessarily change.  Christakis and Fowler found that people had approximately “between six and seven close friends on Facebook, which is not far from sociologists’ estimate that most people have four to six close friends in real life”.  They believe that a better measure of friendship is found though pictures.  If individuals tag each other in posted photos than they are more likely to have a close relationship not just the person you sat three rows behind one semester in class but never talked to.  Overall Fowler states that social networks like Facebook and Myspace are “just yet another way through which humans exert their inherent natural tendency to try to connect to other people that they care about.” With this knowledge it will be interesting to see how social networks evolve in the years to come.

The definition of literacy evolves with the blog

September 9th, 2009 1 comment

Jill Walker Rettberg does a fantastic job of following the development of “web-logs” and the expanding definition of literacy in her book, Blogging:  Digital Media and Society Series. She finds the progression of communication is directly proportional to the broadening definition of literacy, making some of the same points and references that we mentioned in class.
Rettberg uses the introduction of the written word in ancient Greece as her starting point. Plato favored oral communication for its immediate acceptance of a response or objection from the listener. Stories, theories or arguments that were written, rather than spoken, and were questioned or found to be incorrect, could not be retracted as easily (32).
We’ve come a long way since Plato’s time. Since the creation of high-speed Internet and the ever-declining cost of computers, many more people are able to become a part of the “participatory media” (1). The shift from the uni-directional mass media that Plato seems to almost have predicted forming, to participatory media, via easy-to-use technology that is in many cases mobile, has many journalists concerned about the future of news.
Rettberg does a fairly good job of remaining unbiased while portraying arguments for bloggers’ comments on current events and the reporting news, and the opposing views of media-employed journalists in pursuit of truth.
She lists three types of bloggers without structured guidelines to abide by that may convey more truthful, unfiltered angles to stories: chance witnesses, gatewatchers and opinionists. Journalists, however, check their sources and represent the companies they work for, and so, would not publish falsities to protect the credibility of both their own names, as well as company names. The bloggers refute the argument of credibility by arguing that all news is filtered and chosen by the editors. Comments are at the discretion of the editor (85).
I’m left thinking about one puissant quote by journalist Abbott Joseph Liebling that Rettberg uses to introduce both arguments, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one” (84). Maybe bloggers need to be respected as reporters, too, as literacy evolves to support participatory media.